WASHINGTON (AP) — Robert Hanssen, a former FBI agent who took more than $1.4 million in cash and diamonds to trade secrets with Moscow in one of the most notorious espionage cases in American history, is in jail Monday died.
Hanssen, 79, was found lifeless in his cell at a federal penitentiary in Florence, Colorado and was later pronounced dead, prison officials said. He is believed to have died of natural causes, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. The person was not authorized to discuss details of Hanssen’s death publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
He has been serving a life sentence without possibility of parole since 2002 after pleading guilty to 15 counts of espionage and other charges.
Hanssen had revealed a wealth of information about American intelligence gathering, including lengthy details of how US officials had tapped into Russian espionage operations since at least 1985.
He was believed to have been partly responsible for the deaths of at least three Soviet officers working for US intelligence who were executed after being exposed.
He received more than $1.4 million in cash, bank balances, diamonds and Rolex watches in exchange for leaking top-secret national security information to the Soviet Union and later Russia.
He didn’t lead an obviously lavish lifestyle, but lived with his family of six in a modest suburban home in Virginia and drove a Taurus and a minivan.
Hanssen later said he was motivated by money rather than ideology, but a 1985 letter to his Soviet superiors explains that a large payout may have led to complications because he couldn’t spend it without ringing the warning bell ring.
According to the authorities, he handed over around 6,000 documents and 26 computer disks to his employees under the pseudonym “Ramon Garcia”. They explained wiretapping techniques, helped confirm the identities of Russian double agents, and revealed other secrets. Officials also believed he alerted Moscow to a secret tunnel the Americans had built under the Soviet embassy in Washington for wiretapping.
He went undetected for years, but later investigations revealed that warning signs had been missed. After being targeted in a hunt for a Russian mole, Hanssen was caught taped a garbage bag full of secrets to the underside of a footbridge in a park that was a “dead abyss” for Russian aid workers.
The story was adapted into a 2007 movie called Breach, which stars Chris Cooper as Hanssen and Ryan Phillippe as a young office worker who helps bring him down.
According to the Bureau of Prisons, the FBI was notified of Hanssen’s death.
Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.