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Former FBI agent offers apology for espionage, gets life in pri

Saturday, May 11, 2002

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Expressing shame over spying for Moscow, former FBI agent Robert Hanssen was ordered Friday to spend the rest of his life in prison in a final courtroom appearance that closed a chapter in one of America's most-damaging espionage cases.

U.S. investigators intend to question Hanssen further about his activities, and he will spend his years behind bars with tight restrictions about what he can say to outsiders and with no access to computers.

In an unexpected twist, authorities suggested Friday that Hanssen probably will be assigned to the same U.S. penitentiary as Aldrich Ames, the CIA agent convicted of spying for Moscow in 1994.

The effects of what authorities describe as Hanssen's extraordinary betrayal in exchange for cash and diamonds will resonate for years through the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies. Chastened FBI officials already have broadened the use of lie detectors and financial checks into the backgrounds of agents to try to prevent future spying.

"I apologize for my behavior. I am shamed by it," Hanssen, 58, told a hushed courtroom in this Washington suburb filled with former co-workers from the FBI. "Beyond its illegality, I have torn the trust of so many. Worse, I have opened the door for calumny against my totally innocent wife and our children. I have hurt them deeply. I have hurt so many deeply."

Authorities said that over a period of two decades, Moscow paid Hanssen with two Rolex watches and $600,000 in cash and diamonds, and promised that $800,000 more had been deposited in a bank overseas on his family's behalf. The FBI also recovered $50,000 from the Russians when it arrested Hanssen.

Under a plea agreement, Hanssen agreed to tell U.S. investigators about all his damaging disclosures to avoid a possible death sentence. His wife, Bonnie, also was permitted to receive the survivor's portion of his FBI pension and to keep the family's home in Vienna, Va., and their three automobiles.

"He took our nation's most sensitive and critical secrets ... and used them as his private merchandise to sell to our enemies, regardless of the lives it cost or the jeopardy in which it placed every American adult and child," Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Bellows told the court Friday.

While in prison, Hanssen will not be permitted to discuss with outsiders any information about his FBI work and must allow the FBI to attend interviews he conducts with reporters.

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