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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

(7:00 AM ET) February 27, 2001, Tuesday


ANN CURRY, anchor:

Congress holds a closed hearing later this week in the case of accused spy Robert Hanssen. This, as new details emerge on just how much damage he may have done. NBC's Pete Williams now.

PETE WILLIAMS reporting:

American intelligence officials tell NBC News that the biggest secrets betrayed by Robert Hanssen involve a supersensitive operation headquartered in suburban Washington, called the Special Collections Service. Its job, say intelligence experts, to get inside foreign government agencies overseas and bug telephones and computers as close to the sources as possible before those lines can be encrypted, making them much harder to intercept.

Mr. JOHN PIKE (Intelligence Expert): The Special Collections Service is sort of like America's "mission impossible" force. They do exactly that sort of close surveillance, burglary, wiretapping, breaking and entering.

WILLIAMS: Analysts say revealing the technical details of how that's done, as the FBI now claims Hanssen did, would limit the ability of the US to gather intelligence from existing secret sources. The program is so secret that when the FBI revealed the charges against Hanssen, it described the Special Collections Service only in general terms, as a program of enormous value, expense, and importance to the US government. And new details out now about Robert Hanssen himself, seen here in this home video taken at the wedding of this journalist and author, James Bamford, who says he became friends with Hanssen nearly 10 years ago, inviting him out for trips on Bamford's boat, and to his wedding almost five years ago. Bamford recalls how eager Hanssen was to know every detail of an interview he did in the mid-'90s in Russia with Viktor Cherkashin, a former top Russian spy and the man the FBI now says was one of Hanssen's top handlers. 'Maybe,' Bamford now says, 'Hanssen was eager to know if the Russian let slip anything about spies in the FBI.'

Mr. JAMES BAMFORD (Author, "Body of Secrets"): I think he had a couple of interests. One of them was--one was sort of a warning sign to see if Cherkashin might have said anything that might tip off somebody to him.

WILLIAMS: But he says Hanssen was so deeply religious and such an outspoken anti-Communist, Bamford never dreamed he might be a spy.

Mr. BAMFORD: Because I've spent my career looking into the intelligence community and people in the intelligence community, and he was just not on my list of possible Russian suspects.

WILLIAMS: FBI officials say when they got KGB files listing a spy only by code name, they became convinced it was Hanssen when they found his fingerprints on some of the documents. For TODAY, Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington.

Copyright 2001 National Broadcasting Co. Inc.