FBI Expands Use of Lie Detectors
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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nearly a decade before Robert Hanssen was convicted of spying, Russia complained to the United States that a ``disaffected″ FBI agent tried to give U.S. secrets to one of its military intelligence officers, according to a new study on security at the bureau.
The disclosure that Russia itself provided details that might have led to Hanssen’s arrest is the latest in a string of embarrassments suggesting the FBI flubbed the investigation into its most damaging spy case ever.
The bureau previously acknowledged that Hanssen’s brother-in-law, an FBI agent, had suggested as early as 1990 that Hanssen might have been spying for the Russians, and another FBI agent caught spying for Russia _ Earl Pitts _ told the bureau in June 1997 that Hanssen deserved a ``look-see″ because of suspicious activities.
The FBI study, which runs more than 100 pages, reveals that in 1993 Hanssen identified himself to the Russian officer as ``Ramon Garcia,″ the cover name Hanssen used while spying for Moscow since at least 1985, according to people familiar with the report. Fearing discovery, Hanssen had reduced his spying for the previous two years.
But the Russian officer _ apparently unaware of Hanssen’s previous espionage activities _ rebuffed Hanssen’s offer of documents and convinced his government to formally complain to U.S. officials about the incident, the new FBI study said. The Russians told the U.S. government at the time that Hanssen described himself as a ``disaffected FBI agent″ during the encounter, which took place inside the parking garage of the Russian officer’s apartment outside Washington.
The FBI said Wednesday it investigated ``and there was simply not enough information to identify the agent.″
The FBI report does not suggest why the Russians might have lodged a formal complaint with the U.S. government about the 1993 encounter, but diplomats have complained when they believe they were being entrapped in a counterespionage sting.
FBI spy-hunters investigated the Russian complaint, the FBI study said. But Hanssen surreptitiously monitored the investigation by tapping into the FBI computer files, and he backed off his espionage activities until 1999 out of fears the bureau might identify him, said people who asked not to be identified publicly.
When Hanssen did resume contact, in October 1999, his Russian spy-masters wrote: ``Welcome! It’s good to know you are here. ... We express our sincere joy on the occasion of resumption of contact with you.″ The FBI began following Hanssen as early as December 2000.
The report, prepared by a commission led by former FBI and CIA director William H. Webster, could be released as early as this week. It harshly criticizes lax security inside the agency.
Anticipating the study’s conclusions, FBI Director Robert Mueller said Wednesday that the bureau will dramatically expand the use of lie detectors on its agents and do more to verify their financial dealings as part of its overhaul stemming from Hanssen’s arrest in February 2001.
Mueller acknowledged issues of privacy and trust. But he said FBI employees must realize that security needs to be improved after the betrayal by Hanssen, who has pleaded guilty to selling secrets to Moscow in exchange for about $1.4 million during at least two decades.
``In the FBI, every employee is proud to say they’re FBI agents. When you have something like Hanssen happening, it diminishes your pride in the institution,″ Mueller said. ``We’ve got to balance privacy concerns, have to balance the necessity of making sure there never again is a Hanssen with showing that you trust your employees, which we do.″
Mueller, appointed FBI director months after Hanssen’s arrest, candidly acknowledged past security failures.
``I will say, anybody who looks at our organization realizes that security was not a priority,″ he said. ``We’ve moved to address that.″
Some members of the seven-person Webster commission met with Hanssen over four days while preparing the study. Webster, who said he did not meet with Hanssen, is to testify next week about the findings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Mueller and his new chief for internal security, Kenneth H. Senser of the CIA, said the FBI will soon administer new lie-detector tests to 1,000 more employees.