Robert Hanssen, a former FBI agent who used more than $1.4 million in cash and diamonds to trade secrets with Moscow in one of the most high-profile spying cases in US history, died in prison on Monday.
Hanssen, 79, was found unconscious in his cell at a federal prison in Florence, Colorado, and later pronounced dead, prison officials said. He is believed to have died of natural causes, a person familiar with the matter told the Associated Press. The person was not authorized to publicly discuss the details of Hanssen’s death and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Hanssen had released a large amount of information about American intelligence gathering, including extensive details about how American officials had taken advantage of Russian spy operations, dating back to at least 1985.
He was believed to have been partly responsible for the deaths of at least three Soviet officers working for US intelligence and were executed after being discovered.
He obtained more than $1.4 million in cash, bank funds, diamonds, and Rolex watches in exchange for providing highly classified national security information to the Soviet Union and later Russia.
He did not adopt an obviously lavish lifestyle, instead living in a modest suburban house in Virginia with his family of six children and driving a Taurus and a minivan.
Hanssen would later say that he was motivated by money rather than ideology, but a letter written to his Soviet supervisors in 1985 explains that a large payout could have caused complications because he couldn’t spend it without ringing warning bells.
Using the alias “Ramón García,” he passed some 6,000 documents and 26 computer disks to his handlers, authorities said. They detailed espionage techniques, helped confirm the identity of Russian double agents and revealed other secrets. Officials also believed that he had tipped Moscow off about a secret tunnel the Americans built under the Soviet embassy in Washington to eavesdrop.
It went unnoticed for years, but subsequent investigations found missing red flags. After becoming the center of a search for a Russian mole, Hanssen was caught sticking a garbage bag full of secrets to the bottom of a pedestrian bridge in a park in a “stalemate” for Russian controllers.
He had been serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole since 2002, after pleading guilty to 15 counts of espionage and other charges.
The story was made into a movie titled Breach in 2007, starring Chris Cooper as Hanssen and Ryan Phillippe as a young bureau agent who helps bring him down.
The FBI has been notified of Hanssen’s death, according to the Bureau of Prisons.