The American Interest

Robert Hanssen and the New Meaning of Treason

A year ago, Robert Philip Hanssen apparently felt the need to explain to the Russians his motives for supplying them with thousands of top-secret U.S. intelligence documents over the preceding decade and a half. The veteran FBI agent wrote them a letter, confessing that he is neither insanely brave, nor merely insane, but "insanely loyal" to his adolescent ideal of becoming "a new Kim Philby."

A degenerate, Stalin-worshipping British traitor, boozing his fugitive days away in a Moscow apartment block, seems an odd choice of a role model for an American teenager. But to spend the next 40plus years acting out the fantasy, undetected and unsuspected—and then to confess it all to his invisible foreign contacts—is ridiculous. It sounds like a joke an overconfident Mr. Hanssen wanted to play on his paymasters. Hanssen appears to have been primarily loyal to his wallet—to the tune of $1.5 million in used, small notes and precious stones, spread over 15 years.

In return, this counterintelligence specialist—whose job was to keep an eye on the KGB in America —provided top quality goods. Just for starters, he identified three Russians working from the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., who had been recruited as double agents by the United States.

News reports invariably referred to Hanssen as a "spy." They are wrong: He is a traitor. A spy is an American stealing...

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