Robert Hanssen: A Spy Who Betrayed USA and Russia

Robert Hanssen

Robert Hanssen, Full name Robert Philip Hanssen, was born in April 1984 in Chicago, Illinois. he was the son of a police officer. His father was abusive to Robert in his childhood.

Robert graduated from the William Howard Taft High School in 1962. He attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and Russian in 1966. He wanted to be a dentist, but he changed his mind and decided to get an MBA degree. He became an accountant after some time. He got married in 1968 to a believer in Catholicism. Inspired by his wife, he converted himself to Catholicism.

Career In Law Enforcement:

Robert Hanssen worked for a few years as an accountant; then, he decided to serve as a police officer. He served in Chicago PD for three years; later, he applied to the FBI and became an agent in 1976. he worked in the Indianapolis, Indiana, field office for two years.

In 1978, he was transferred to the FBI in New York City, and sometime later, he got the field office. A year later, he was transferred to a counter-intelligence unit and assigned the task of compiling the database of the soviet union for the Bureau.

This unit’s work was to keep track and keep an eye on the persons posing as the diplomats posted in New York City. Most of them were spies gathering intelligence for the soviet intelligence agency KGB and its military counterpart GRU. Possibly, this was the time when he saw the chance of making big bucks.

Robert Hanssen

Robert Hanssen’s Espionage

In 1979, Robert Hanssen took that chance. He contacted the GRU (Soviet military intelligence agency) and offered his services. He clearly showed his motive to make a profit, nothing else, neither political nor ideological reason. It was just profit.

He started working for the GRU. He informed the Soviets about bugging their activities by the US intelligence service numerous times. But his most important work was the betrayal of Dimitry Polyakov. he gave up an American CIA spy in the Soviet army.

Dimitry worked his way to the general in the Russian army, and he had been passing the information to American intelligence since 1960. and he got busted due to Robert Hanssen. which made Robert trustworthy to the Soviets. And eventually, Dimitry Polyakov was arrested in 1986 and executed by the Soviets in 1988.

One Step Further

In 1981, Robert Hanssen was transferred to the Washington DC FBI Headquarters budget office, which gave him an enormous amount of information on many ongoing US operations, including wiretapping and electronic surveillance. These were Hanssen’s responsibilities.

However, in 1980, his wife caught him with some suspicious papers. He admitted to his wife selling information to the Soviets but convinced his wife that all the information was worthless he had given.

He promised his wife to cut all ties with the Soviets, but of course, he didn’t keep his promise and resumed his espionage activity in 1985 with the KGB. This time, he gave three names of the Soviet spies working for the FBI and CIA. They were called to Moscow and arrested And executed two of them. The third one is sentenced to six years in prison. On the other side, in the USA, Robert Hanssen continued to rise through FBI ranks and eventually made his way to work in the senior counter-intelligence unit.


Robert Hanssen’s downfall began when the CIA and FBI came together to find the culprit who gave up the name of those three soviet officers.

Both agencies suspected the mole to be in those higher ranks. The investigation started, and two cases were found to be complicated enough to confuse both agencies. These two cases were the Felix Bloch investigation and the embassy tunnel.

Felix Bloch was an official for a state department that was suspected to be a spy. This was when Hanssen informed the Soviets that Bloch was under investigation, which resulted in the Soviets abruptly breaking all the ties with Felix Bloch, and the lack of hard evidence against him, he got away.

This failure put the FBI on high alert for a mole hunt because of the suspicion of how the KGB found out that US intelligence was investing in Felix Bloch. The mole hunt began and eventually ended with the Hanssen arrest.

The second case was the embassy tunnel. When the Soviets began constructing the new embassy. FBI dug a tunnel to their decoding room. The plan was to eavesdrop. But they never did for fear of being caught. That information was passed to the Soviets by Hanssen. In return, he received a $55000 payment in 1989.

There were two times when Robert Hanssen disclosed the complete list of American double agents.

The Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991. at that time, fear of being exposed made Robert break all the communications with his handlers. He served as the FBI liaison to the state division. He once again started selling secrets for the SVR (post-soviet Russian Intelligence Service).

Hanssen eventually went down when the FBI was sure to have a mole amongst them, so they paid 7 million dollars to an Ex-KGB officer to reveal the information from the SVR headquarters. And to help the FBI to identify the mole. And they did just that. 

In 2000, the FBI put Hanssen under surveillance, which led to his arrest. He was arrested at a park in Vienna, Virginia; when he was about to drop some classified documents in a plastic bag for the Russians, US agents found 50000$ cash nearby, Hanssen’s payment.

When he was being cuffed, he exclaimed: “What took you so long? “.

 He very well knew that the death penalty was waiting for him, so he dealt with the government to help them disclose 15 counts of espionage.

In May 2002, he was sentenced to 15 consecutive life sentences behind bars with no parole, then sent to a federal supermax prison near Florence, Colorado. with some of the most dangerous criminals like Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bombing co-conspirator Terry Nichols, and Ramzi Yousef, who carried out the 1993 world trade center bombing.

Robert Hanssen is considered the most notorious mole with Aldrich Ames. Aldrich Ames was a CIA operative who spent 30 years in the agency and specialized in Soviet and Russian intelligence services. Ames was arrested seven years before Hanssen was caught.


Robert Hanssen’s story is one of betrayal and espionage that shook the very core of American intelligence. From his early career as a police officer to his rise within the FBI, Hanssen’s path to becoming one of the most notorious moles in U.S. history was marked by deception and greed.

His actions not only compromised national security but also resulted in the loss of American lives and the exposure of countless double agents. Hanssen’s eventual arrest and sentencing to life in prison without parole serve as a stark reminder of the dangers posed by individuals who betray their country for personal gain.