WASHINGTON (AP) # One of the most damaging espionage cases in U.S. history was more the result of poor oversight by the FBI than master spying by Robert Hanssen, said a Justice Department report released Thursday.
The FBI’s deficiencies, including an almost blind trust in its own agents, enabled Hanssen to spy for the Soviet Union and Russia for more than two decades, according to the investigation by inspector general Glenn A. Fine.
The report concluded that Hanssen, a top FBI counterespionage official, received little supervision and the bureau had few checks in place that would deter him from spying or track the secret documents he was taking. The FBI also was reluctant to consider one of its own as a spy, even as agents investigated the source of Soviet assets and operations that were being compromised by a mole in the U.S. government.
“While Hanssen escaped detection for more than 20 years, we found that this was not because he was a master spy or because of any expert knowledge of espionage tradecraft,” Fine said. “We found that significant deficiencies in the FBI’s internal security program played a major role” in the case.
The report says that Hanssen had strong technical abilities but “was a mediocre agent” with weak managerial skills.
Hanssen, who spied between 1979 and 2001, was sentenced in May 2002 to life in prison after pleading guilty. Hanssen’s actions led to the deaths of at least three U.S. spies overseas.
During his 25-year FBI career, Hanssen never took a polygraph test and underwent only one financial background investigation. During his career as a spy, Moscow paid him with two Rolex watches, $600,000 in cash and diamonds, and promised $800,000 more.
The complete inspector general’s report runs some 674 pages, but it is classified top secret. A less sensitive but still classified 383-page version also was completed, with only a 31-page summary released Thursday to the public.
The report makes 21 recommendations for the FBI, including greater emphasis on detecting moles within the U.S. government, creating a central computer repository for analysis of information about FBI employees with access to sensitive information and implementing an annual financial disclosure program.
In a point-by-point response Thursday, the FBI detailed the steps it has or will take to improve its oversight of counterintelligence agents, such as creation of a centralized security program, more random polygraph tests, more extensive background investigations and a financial disclosure program.
“Today, there is a nationally directed program for counterintelligence, centralized at FBI headquarters, to ensure accountability, control and leadership, and to allow the FBI to be more proactive in protecting critical national assets,” FBI Director Robert Mueller said in a statement.