Since America’s national security apparatus silenced the Bureau’s Robert Hanssen right before the 9/11 attacks for the rest of his life for spying for 15 years for the Soviets – what it accomplished seventeen years ago with the Agency’s Aldrich “Rick” Ames for similar offences at the same time – the public deserves an account now since the crisis has passed of what they did, and why, especially since a trial in both cases was doggedly avoided by the authorities for fear that they would divulge information which was allegedly not in its interest.
Instead the Justice Department preferred to engage in a drawn-out plea bargain-process in which it seemed to plumb the depths, risks, and costs of their betrayals (“Feds Stand By Plea Deal With FBI Spy,” AP, May 14, 2002, and DeWayne Wickham, “Spy wife’s pay yields truth.” USA Today, May 15,2002 ) while, in fact, it was just giving other agents time to spread seemingly convincing tales of why they did it. In sum, the government avoided putting itself on trial, and in the process did the best it could to limit its losses.
The time could have been better spent in ‘connecting the dots’ which led to September 11th – what FBI agent Ken Williams was suggesting about Arabs attending flight training in Phoenix, agents in Minneapolis were suspecting about Zacarias Moussaoui, agent John O’Neill in NYC was claiming about Khalid Al Midhar’s and Nawaq Al-Hamzi’s role in Al-Qaida’s attacks, and I claimed in a May letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft about the recklessness of former Director Louis Freeh, and his cohorts Buck Revell and James Kallstrom claiming that the President should take action against the biggest source of terror, the Iranians! (Julian Borger, “Test for Bush as FBI Names Bombers,” The Guardian, May 9, 2001)
I was so angry about the Justice Department’s foot-dragging over the Hanssen affair that I wrote to Ashcroft no less than three times, describing in greater detail what this article is about, and promising to testify in his defense if it persisted in seeking his execution, a possibility counsel Plato Cacheris indicated to me over the phone in July 2001 he might take advantage of if it did. While, of course, Ashcroft never even acknowledged receipt of my letters, he let the Webster Commission, Paul Redmond’s CIA Assessment Team, and the JD’s Inspector General go through the 200-hour charade during 75 meetings of debriefing Hanssen to determine what he disclosed to Moscow, and whether he was being fully cooperative. Webster, as Bureau Director when his spying started, and DCI when everything had to be covered up, knows full well what Hanssen did and why, and Redmond, as you shall see, was largely responsible.
On the surface, it is hard to imagine cases more deserving of the death penalty than the spying by Ames and Hanssen. According to their accusers, they risked putting the Cold War back on a level playing field when the USSR, in fact, was starting to suffer its death throes. David Vise, in The Bureau and the Mole, claimed that Hanssen increased the risk of nuclear war, especially a first strike by Moscow, “…by giving the KGB the U.S. plan to protect the president and other top government officials should the Soviets attack,” and the ones for U.S. retaliatory responses. (“What made the American turncoat tick,” CNN, May 10, 2002) In the process, Hanssen allegedly sold the Soviets software which enabled them to track the handling of double agents, leading to the execution of two of them, and the imprisonment of another. The espionage act under which he was charged specifically allowed for the death penalty under these circumstances. (Neil A. Lewis, “Zigs and Zags of Spy Cases Put a Damper on Predicting,” The New York Times, Feb. 22, 2001, A15)
Former Director of Central Intelligence James R. Woolsey called Ames a “serial killer”, comparing him to the betrayer of American independence, Benedict Arnold. (Pete Earley, Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames, p. 203) According to Earley, Ames was responsible for the execution of at least 10 double agents in the USSR. Ames even tipped off Moscow in the mid-1980s that the CIA had tapped a major underground telephone cable in the city with a miniaturized recording device, like the sea pods the US Navy was using to tap Soviet naval cables. (Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, p. 309, note)
Neither Hanssen nor Ames did anything to soften public hostility for what they had done either. In a June 8, 2000 letter to the Russian successor service to the KGB, when Hanssen increasingly feared being exposed, and was trying to indicate that he was a different spy from the one in 1985 in order to avoid the death penalty, he, acting as if he had modeled himself on Philby since he was 14 (making Kim’s autobiography appear 10 years before it did), wrote:
The U.S. can be errantly likened to a powerfully built child, potentially dangerous, but young, immature and easily manipulated. But don’t be fooled by that appearance. It is also one which can turn ingenious quickly, like an idiot savant, once convinced of a goal. The (deleted) Japanese (to quote General Patton once again) learned this to their dismay. (“Excerpts from the F.B.I. Affidavit in the Case against Robert Hanssen,” The New York Times, Feb. 22, 2001, A15)
FBI agent Paul Moore, a friend of Hanssen’s, claimed he explained his conduct thus: “He wants to be the best spy ever,” modeling himself after Britain’s Kim Philby, another serial killer of Western agents in the Soviet bloc who escaped without any punishment. According to another friend, Lt. Col. Jack Hoschouer, Hanssen spied so that he could afford to observe through closed circuit TV Hanssen and his wife, Bonnie, having sex, and suggested that he give her a date rape drug so that Hoschouer could take advantage of her. Then there was the Mercedes convertible that Hanssen purchased with the $1.4 million he received from the KGB for “go-go” dancer Priscilla Sue Galey for services rendered.
Vise even claimed that Hanssen’s spying for the Soviets may have enabled Osama bin Laden to purchase software which permitted him to mastermind the September 11th attacks, what Vice President Dick Cheney, a central figure in the cover up of Iran Contra (Lawrence E. Walsh, Firewall, p. 48ff., and Gregory Vistica, Fall from Glory: Men Who Sank the U.S. Navy, p. 283 passim), conveniently used to justify keeping him alive.
Ames was hardly more solicitous of public sympathy during his debriefing to determine his punishment, and subsequent imprisonment. David Wise in another book ridiculed his explanation for his spying, denying that he started doing it innocently for the money, thinking that the double agents he identified risked no more than he did by spying for the Soviets, and that in any case he had not injured American national interests. (Nightmover, p. 112 passim) James Adams, in Sellout: Aldrich Ames, The Spy Who Broke the CIA, attributed his spying to simple arrogance, quoting him from an article in The New York Times Magazine shortly after he was sentenced to life in prison:
I got myself in the position where I thought, and still think – call it arrogance if you will but I’d say: I know what’s better. I know what’s damaging and I know what’s not damaging, and I know what the Soviet Union is really all about, and I know what’s best for foreign policy and national security….And I’m going to act on that. (p. 51)
When I wrote to Ames in researching this article, he manifested the same arrogance, refusing to reply to my questions until I wrote a second time, assuring him that I had never thought that he and his minders were simply working in concert. (A. H. Ames’ letter, Nov. 23, 2000)
So what really did make these intelligent, anti-communist agents into Soviets spies, and why are American authorities so eager to spread the wildest stories about them; yet, suffer the most humiliating result when they escaped the expected execution? Even Ames would have received the death penalty if his fate had been left up to a jury.
Students of deviant psychology, and writers on counterintelligence are inclined ultimately to explain such treacherous behavior upon the upbringing of the principals, and the nature of their assignments, though such explanations in these cases have little evidence to back them up. Both Ames (Wise, p.50 passim) and Hanssen (Pam Belluck, “Time in Elite Police Unit Included Secretive Work,” The New York Times, Feb. 16, 2000, A16) followed in their fathers’ footsteps, so it is difficult to believe that they were badly abused by them while growing up.
Also, despite what Abram Shulsky in Silent Warfare and Tom Polgar in his biography of the CIA’s infamous James Angleton have written about counterintelligence promoting paranoia, allegedly the primary breeding ground for treason, it is also the most interesting aspect of intelligence work, leading to information, and understanding which can induce underlings to second guess, and outwit their superiors on occasion, as I know from experience in the US Army Counter Intelligence Corps.
This seems to have been the case with Ames and Hanssen. Up until their service in New York City in the late 1970s, they had been advancing quite well. Ames was working in the Agency’s FR/New York office under Peter Koromilas, and then Rodney Carlson, handler of the famous defector Oleg Penkovsky during the Cuban Missile Crisis (Jerrold L. Schecter and Peter S. Deriabin, The Spy Who Saved The World, p. 310ff.), while Hanssen was assigned to the New York Field Office’s Soviet division (Johanna McGeary, “The FBI Spy,” Time, March 5, 2001, p. 32) Too junior or too young to have known about the uncoordinated, rogue operations of Helms’ and Hoover’s time, they were involved in independent double agent operations in the wake of Watergate, and the ending of the Vietnam War which threatened to replicate the same conditions.
With the weakening of the Freedom of Information Act, the consolidation of congressional oversight into just two committees, the increase of risks for any whistle-blowers through secrecy contracts, and the establishment of the Agency’s Publications Review Board (Angus Mackenzie, Secrets: The CIA’s War at Home, p. 58ff.), they unconsciously experienced increased tension because of the unsavory demands of their assignments.
Ames and Hanssen were responsible for recruiting Soviet agents by any means possible – bribes, blackmail, entrapment, you name it – not only to prove what defectors, especially former Soviet Ambassador Arkadi Shevchenko (cryptonym DYNAMITE), were still claiming about Moscow’s aims of world domination, but also to deny them the technical means of achieving it. Carlson was totally committed to getting back at the Soviets by any means possible because of Penkovsky’s fate, and the alleged fate of the IRBMs in Cuba after the Missile Crisis, and his minions were eager to oblige.
The only trouble was that they were too reckless in the pursuit of targets, needlessly risking the lives of their sources, especially Alexander Ogorodnik , Dimitri Polyakov, Aleksei Kulak, and Sergei Fedorenko, in the process. Polyakov and Kulak were the FBI’s most valuable agents whose loyalty to the West, however, Carlson had long denied, thanks to the claims by former CI Chief Angleton, and whose fate did not particularly concern him. Consequently, Ogorodnik was forced to commit suicide when exposed, and the others were recalled to Moscow under a cloud of suspicion. (Earley, p. 55ff.)
While Ames had expected to be richly reward for his “gangbusting” which denied Moscow much needed technical information, and rolled up Soviets assets, he wasn’t. Turning more and more to drink while his marriage was falling apart, he left New York for an assignment in Mexico City in the hope of gaining more rewarding experience. Recently, Ames explained: “By the late 70s I had come to question the point, the value, of a great deal of what we were doing, in terms of the (CIA’s) overall charter, and to question whether this was having any significant impact on American policy.” (“Rationalizing Treason: An Interview with Aldrich Ames,” CNN.com)
Hanssen, who had been obliged to sign a secrecy contract in 1976, became disenchanted quicker, and more surprisingly. While Fedorenko was working with Ames, KGB agent Valdek Enger was pressuring him to steal documents from the Hudson Institute, and to pacify the likeable Enger, Fedorenko fed him some information, some of it even accurate, to keep his bosses, especially Yuri Drozdov, happy. “…Unknown to Fedorenko, the FBI and the Naval Intelligence Service (NIS) were running a naval officer as a double agent against Enger.” (Wise, p. 84) When he and another KGB officer went to retrieve a package left by the navy man, they were arrested, and, subsequently, they were sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Two years later, Hanssen told his wife about selling some information to another agent to trick the Soviets, expecting that she would be most appreciative. Bonnie, a most devout Catholic, was outraged, making him promise never to do so again, and requiring him to confess his sins to their priest. (Kelli Arena, “Sources: Accused spy told wife he was tricking Soviets,” CNN, June 16, 2001) (It was this incident that the Justice Department used during the plea-bargaining process to claim that his spying had begun earlier in order to throw the public off about its origin being contemporaneous with Ames’s.) Increasingly, as the process lurched towards Armageddon, Hanssen and Ames found that the only effective operatives they could deal with for what they wanted to avoid was the Soviet enemy.
Their new assignments just increased their disaffection. In the Mexican capital, the CIA was totally committed to proving that leftist guerrillas, particularly Nicaragua’s Sandinistas, were Soviet stooges, and that Castro’s Cuba was a most willing helper in the process. Ames, while working for Agency “cowboy” Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, initiated a program to prove that Americans visiting the city were really spies of some sort, a project for which Clarridge, until then most unimpressed with his work, promoted him. (Earley, p. 93ff.) While Earley has indicated that it just concerned US military personnel, and was soon shelved because of legal concerns at Langley, it was the Agency’s counterpart of what the FBI was doing domestically with groups opposed to Reagan’s policies. (For an outline of this, see Appendix, “Targets of Domestic Spying,” in Mackenzie, pp. 203-7.)
It was MH-CHAOS, and COINTELPRO all over again, with the “subversives” this time being such well-known groups as the Center for Defense Information, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Central American Solidarity Association. Clarridge even went along with Ames’s plans to bug Soviet luxury vehicles in the hope of obtaining vital information, totally unsuccessful operations which apparently disposed of at least one double agent.
Hanssen, who had moved to Headquarters, became increasingly troubled by similar operations, though they had finally become somewhat coordinated in Washington between the two agencies. (Operation Courtship) The biggest trouble with trying to “harmonize relationships” on a functional basis (Mark Riebling, Wedge: The Secret War between the FBI and CIA, p. 341ff.) was that it was promoted by the most unreliable people, especially the Agency’s Scotty Miler.
He was CI’s counterpart to Carlson. Miler soon showed how obsessed he was by persuading the infamous defector Anatoliy Golitsyn to put his latest thoughts about Soviet penetration to paper (Editors’ Forward, pp. xiii-xvi), resulting in the appearance in 1984 of New Lies for Old. According to Golitsyn, the Soviets’ most dangerous agent of influence was Sweden’s Olof Palme, not Castro and the Sandinistas, and that the West should take the necessary steps to eliminate such influences. (p. 55 passim)
The agents Courtship first recruited, Valery Martynov, Sergei Motorin, and Boris Yuzhin, hardly should have inspired confidence either, men who would sacrifice anything for a waterbed, a gold cigarette lighter, and the like. They soon were supplying information that the Soviets were engaged in an aggressive, disinformation program, similar to the one before the Missile Crisis (Riebling, p. 350), music to the ears of all Reagan’s “cowboys”.
By the time Ames and Hanssen joined Operation Courtship, Carlson, Clarridge, Miler, and the Bureau’s Buck Revell already had it well up to speed. Hanssen became a counterintelligence squad supervisor in the New York bureau. (Benjamin Weiser, “Spy Chasers Feel Betrayed by One-Time Top Gun,” The New York Times, Feb. 22, 2001, A16) Carlson had taken over from Miler, and he invited Ames to take over CI’s Soviet branch to penetrate and undermine the Soviet services in any confrontation. (Wise, pp. 94-5)
No sooner had the now totally disaffected Ames heard that Britain and America were planning something dramatic, once the KGB’s Oleg Gordievsky, who was most well-versed in operations in the northern Europe, had defected to the West, than he started singing in April 1985 to the Soviets about their double agents. The agents immediately concerned were Gennady Varenik, the Smetanins, and Adolf Tolkachev who were to supply information about the terrorist steps Moscow would allegedly take to stop the “zero option” over the installation of medium range missiles in Europe (Wise, pp. 269-70), to promote communist advances on its periphery (Earley, p. 144), and to meet any military showdown. (Adams, p.109)
Instead of reassessing operations, and cutting its losses over their disappearances, American and British intelligence services moved boldly ahead, refocusing their operations on Scandinavia, and the targeting of statsminister Palme if he won reelection in the fall with the help of the communists. (Operation Tree) It was this cynical use of double agents which led Ames to compare his bosses to British MajorJohn Andre, Benedict Arnold’s handler. (Earley, p. 204) While Gordievsky went to Stockholm for MI6 in early October to tell the Swedish Commander in Chief, General Lennart Ljung, that his boss was indeed a Soviet stooge, like Afghanistan’s Babrak Karmal, and Carlson apparently followed, after officially retiring (Wise, p. 139), to recruit imprisoned Soviet spy Stig Bergling as the scapegoat for the Palme shooting, hoping to persuade him to flee while on personal leave when the assassination took place.
Then the KGB’s Vitaly Yurchenko “defected”, and was being debriefed, a process which enabled him to determine Ames’ bona fides, and to recruit Hanssen in place of spies who had outlived their usefulness, the Agency’s E. L. Howard, and NSA’s Robert Pelton. (Wise, p. 127ff.) When Yurchenko “redefected” in November, taking sleeper Martynov back to Moscow as part of his honor guard, Courtship’s leadership was so ecstatic about possibilities that it let Howard escape to reassure the Soviets that they were on top of things. (Riebling, p. 357ff.)
On Oct. 4th, Hanssen had sent a letter by mail for Viktor Cherkashin, the Washington Embassy’s counterintelligence chief, outlining what the West was planning, how it hoped to succeed, and with whose help. Not only did he identify double agents Motorin, Martynov, and Yuzhin (op. cit – “Excerpts…”), he described in detail how they would promote operations, what Ames might not have known much about.
Motorin would telephone from Moscow confirmation of KGB, and hopefully Bergling’s, involvement in the shooting; Martynov would inform, possibly through the network of ham radio operators, how the Soviets were reacting to the surprise; and Yuzhin, most well versed in the naval standoff in the Barents and Batlic Seas (Wise, p. 103), could supply information about how Soviet forces, especially the Red Banner Fleet, were reacting to the challenge. Hanssen described the whole electronic network by which Washington and London hoped to keep on top of Moscow’s every move. A few days later, he sent Cherkashin a box of documents to confirm what he was claiming.
Washington and London received an immediate surprise of their own. Despite the widespread existence of mercenaries, and known hitmen, the CIA was unable to recruit one who would kill Palme. At this time, former SAS Major David Walker’s KMS and Saladin firms were recruiting counterterrorists without difficulty to kill Sandinistas and their supporters (Nick Davies and Jonathan Foster, “British dogs of war recruited to fight in Nicaragua,” The Observer, May 26, 1985, p. 1), but none were willing to shoot the statsminister despite promises of up to $2,000,000, and no worries with the police.
In November, Felipe Vidal Santiago aka Charles Morgan, a famous anti-Castro recruiter of assassins, despite premature notices of his death, going all the way back to the Dallas killing (Noel Twyman, Bloody Treason, p. 598ff.), came to Stockholm to recruit a hitman, but without success. (SSI Joel Haukka’s report, “Samtal med Jovan von Birchan,” April1986) “Milan”, another CIA agent, was no more successful in recruiting police informant Kenneth Neilberg. Then, according to Duncan Campbell in the New Statesman, they went to London looking, but still without success, though MI6 warned the Swedish secret police what these private individuals were seeking. (“MI6, Whistleblowers in Baltic Battle,” June 17, 1988, p. 7)
Palme unwittingly ratcheted up operations by stopping a secret transshipment of 80 HAWK missiles through Sweden on Nov. 17, what Oliver North’s Enterprise had arranged with the Israelis and Teheran to help gain the release of hostages, and for the Contras to fight better their war, but had failed to get clearance for. (William S. Cohen, and George J. Mitchell, Men of Zeal: A Candid Story of the Iran-Contra Hearings, p. ixff. N.b. that they are not permitted to identify the six countries which supplied arms to the Contras, Sweden apparently being the sixth, claiming instead that Portugal, which was not one of them, was the country concerned.) The statsminister, in doing so, was only adhering to official US policy (Operation Staunch), and quieting critics who claimed that he had long been allowing the Soviets to violate Swedish territory, and carrying on a secret nuclear weapons program to help their surrogates. (Chris Mosey, “Secret nuclear weapons row breaks in Sweden,” The Observer, April 28, 1985, p. 17)
Since Palme had proved to be an outdated Soviet stooge, Courtship, now led by Paul Redmond (Wise, p. 140), planned to take him out as part of a first-strike showdown with Moscow, one which would so radically degrade its submarine-based nuclear deterrent that it would surrender. Washington and London were confident, Senator William Cohen’s reservations notwithstanding, that despite the arrest of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard for providing satellite and signal intelligence to Israel, Moscow wouldn’t have a clue about what was planned, not knowing that it may have been passed on to the Soviets by the Shamir government in return for emigration of Soviet Jews to the Holy Land.
Since the plan would allegedly avoid a nuclear war, land damage, and civilian lives, as Joseph Nye had argued in Nuclear Ethics, operations just called for coordinating the shooting in Stockholm with biennial NATO maneurvers Anchor Express Exercise, scheduled for the beginning of March 1986. The biggest fallacy with the plan was that the Soviets had 82 SS-23 nuclear missiles under the command of hawk Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, undiscovered by the spy satellites, and vaunted BRIXMIS missions in the GDR (Mark Urban, UK Eyes Only, pp. 79-80), so while the US subs were attempting to knock out the 12 Soviet nuclear subs on station, Ogarkov’s SS-23s would have reduced Western Europe to rubble.
In the meantime, US Navy Secretary John Lehman, Jr. would move his attack submarines into position to sink the unsuspecting Soviet nuclear ones (Sontag and Drew, p. 354ff., esp. Appendix C, U.S. Submarine Awards, pp. 426-7), then Atlantic Fleet Admiral Carlisle Trost’s Task Force Eagle would come ashore in northern Norway to lead the charge into the Kola Peninsula, the public would be prepared for such events by the publication of a special January 1986 supplement of the authoritative US Naval Institute Proceedings, Europe would be put on a state of highest alert by attacks that The Enterprise’s Manzar al-Kassar arranged with the PFLP’s Abu Nidal on the airports in Rome, and Vienna. (Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall, Cocaine Politics, p. 16)
MI6 would see that an appropriate reassessor of the statsminister’s bodyguards carried out the assassination at just the right moment, apparently Captain Simon Hayward of the Life Guards, and the Royal Tank Regiment (Raymond Murray, The SAS in Ireland, p. 343ff., and notes 122 and 123, p. 470), and American intelligence services would try to connect the shooting with the Soviets. Operations received a decided boost, as Richard Reeves described in “The Palme Obsession” in the March 1, 1987 issue of The New York Times Magazine, when an Iranian military delegation came to Stockholm three weeks before the shooting to complain about Palme’s having stopped the deliveries in November (p. 56), giving Washington and London an almost iron-clad alibi for the assassination.
The only trouble with the new plans was that they drove Hanssen and Ames to even more desperate countermeasures. No sooner on Nov. 8th did Hanssen, who had already been paid $50,000, get wind of what the West was now planning with its most important double agents than he wrote hurriedly to Cherkashin by mail to explain: “I cannot provide documentary substantiating evidence without arousing suspicion at this time.” (op. cit.- “Excerpts…”) Little wonder that when James Kallstrom, whose special operations division was supporting Hanssen’s squad, heard about his betrayer, he exclaimed:
The notion that he’d sell out his country as a citizen, as an F.B.I. agent and as a fighter in the cold war – knowing what he knew, and the circumstances of what he was doing – is unbelievable. He was a lieutenant in that war, and the war was being fought in the streets of New York. (op. cit. – Weiser)
Once all the plans were falling into place, the CIA’s Jennone Walker even getting the Swedish Security Service, Sapö, to bug the KGB residency, and its telephones on the night of the assassination in anticipation of party policeman Bergling calling for help while on personal leave from prison to marry, Ames, when he was briefed by Gordievsky in February in Washington (Christopher Andrew, For the President’s Eyes Only, p. 499), rushed, with Hanssen’s connivance, to tell Cherkashin the last details, especially its timing at the end of the month.
Little wonder that while Palme’s assassination went off like clockwork on the night of the 28th, British and American intelligence services having completely hoodwinked their Swedish counterparts, the Soviets were totally prepared to avoid any final showdown with the West, thanks to the spying by Ames and Hanssen. The KGB went to the unprecedented length of having its chief, Viktor Chebrikov, announce to the CPSU Congress on the morning of the shooting that all the double agents had been rounded up (Christopher Walker, “KGB reveals big swoop on state spies,”The Times, March 1, 1986, p. 1), making the assassination pointless.
It even closed down the residency that night, so there would be no calls from Bergling. Of course, there were no communications from Motorin, Martynov, Yuzhin or anyone else either. (Wise, p. 254ff.) But you know what they say about cocksure zealots, so the assassination went ahead as scheduled, making the fate of all the double agents involved a foregone conclusion.
Only trouble with the weather in Norway, and with Admiral Trost’s Task Force Eagle arriving prevented NATO’s Anchor Express Exercise from developing into a full scale attack on the Kola peninsula – whose outcome would undoubtedly have been the incineration of us all. When the crisis finally passed by the summer, Cherkashin, and six other KGB counterintelligence officers were awarded the rarely given Order of Lenin by FCD Chief Vladimir Kryuchkov at an unprecedented ceremony at Yasnevo (Wise, note, p. 327), for work we should all applaud.