The Last Day In the Sun

Robert Philip Hanssen (Associated Press)
Robert Philip Hanssen (AP)

Bob Hanssen was about to retire from his life’s work. But instead of receiving a gold watch or a modest pension like most employees, he would instead be getting $50,000 in non-sequential $100 bills. And he would have to pick it up in a local park. In five more weeks he would also be retiring from his day job—as an FBI agent. His first job was trading American secrets to the Russians for cash.

Just before daybreak, alone in the gloom of his basement office, he tapped out a letter to his Russian “handlers” while still dressed in his jet-black pajamas. It was virtually the only color he would wear over his bulky 6-foot-3-inch frame.

The spy thought he could feel something or somebody getting close. He had begun to believe his Ford Taurus was bugged. The radio was making strange crackling sounds.

He was right. His phone was tapped, an FBI surveillance squadron had bought a house across the street, and he was being followed.

Hanssen tapped out his resignation letter on an IBM laptop 365E. He encrypted it, copied it on to a disk, and added it to the package he would be delivering late that afternoon.

Dear Friends:

I thank you for your assistance these many years. It seems, however, that my greatest utility to you has come to an end, and it is time to seclude myself from active service.

I have been promoted to a higher do-nothing Senior Executive job outside of regular access to informaiton (sic) within the counterintelligence program. I am being isolated. Further, I believe I have detected repeated  bursting radio signal emanations from my vehicle. The knowledge of their existence is sufficient. Amusing the games children play.

Something has aroused the sleeping tiger. Perhaps you know better than I.

Life is full of its ups and downs.

I will be in contact next year, same time, same place. Perhaps the correlation of forces and circumstance then will have improved.

Your friend,

Ramon Garcia

Ramon Garcia was one of his code names. He thought he had been cautious, never giving Moscow his real name and never meeting with the KGB. But he had not been careful enough. His biggest mistake had been leaving his fingerprints on the plastic garbage bags in which he delivered state secrets. When his file was sold by a former KGB higher-up in September 2000, the FBI lab had asked for everything. Surprisingly, the Russians had kept the Hefty bags and once the prints had been dusted and traced, his fate was sealed.

Bob Hanssen had a friend staying at his house in Northern Virginia that weekend. On this Sunday he took that pal, Jack Hoschouer, to church with the family. The Hanssen brood was large. There were six kids, though only two, Lisa and Gregg, were still living at home. The other four had either married or were in college. The Hanssen family members were Catholic conservatives. They belonged to Opus Dei, a small but powerful faction of Catholicism that many called a cult. The Hanssen family displayed their conservative beliefs prominently, marching in pro-life rallies, slapping anti-abortion stickers on the family van, and attending gun shows. Bob collected guns; there were 14 in the house ranging from an Uzi semiautomatic rifle to Walther PPK pistols. The Walther PPK was James Bond’s weapon of choice and Hanssen, a Bond fan, had two in his collection.

Despite Hanssen’s conservatism, he and Hoschouer, buddies since high school in Chicago, had done some kinky things together. Bob had once taken nude photos of his wife Bonnie and mailed them without her knowledge to Hoschouer when he was in the Army and stationed in Vietnam. Years later, he topped that by hiding a miniature video camera in his bedroom where he photographed himself making love to Bonnie. Hoschouer and Bob later watched the homemade sex film together in the family den.

After church Hanssen changed from his black suit to a black turtleneck sweater with a black collared shirt over it. The monotony was broken by a pair of dark gray slacks. He drove Hoschouer to nearby Dulles Airport but surprised his friend by not coming in with him to wait for the plane. There were some errands to run, he said, and drove off.

“It struck me as odd that Bob didn’t come in for a Coke,” Hoschouer would say later. “I may have been the last friendly face he saw.”

But Hanssen was already speeding back down the Dulles Access Road towards a strip mall near the Washington Beltway. The team in the FBI surveillance vehicle was right behind him and watched as he walked around to the trunk of his car. He was photographed taking out documents from the FBI’s intelligence files that were each stamped SECRET. There were seven in all. Some detailed the bureau’s current surveillance results in recent foreign counterintelligence operations. He added his farewell letter and wrapped everything in the sturdy plastic Hefty bag.

Foxstone Park entrance, dropsite (Associated Press)
Foxstone Park entrance, dropsite (AP)

Bob was being tailed by the FBI’s Special Surveillance Group and it knew exactly where he was going: Foxstone Park. The 14-acre flood plain-turned-recreation area was less than a mile from his home in Vienna, Va. The group had already watched him drive  by the entrance to the park four times in December trying to catch a glance of a white strip of tape that would signal that his Russian handlers were ready to receive his package. In January, his drives by the entrance increased. The agents were certain that this would be the day. They had already intercepted the $50,000 cash dropped at a nearby nature center.

Long Branch Nature Centre, another drop site
Long Branch Nature Center, another drop site (AP)

They were right. As the sun fell below the horizon, the agents followed him back to the park and watched him walk into the wood. He stopped at a footbridge and put a package under the trestle. It was the last drop he would ever make.

“Freeze! FBI!,” yelled one of 10 young men who surrounded him. Another agent began reading him his rights. A third cuffed his wrists behind his back.

'After viewing the arrest video, you could tell that Hanssen knew it
was over.  You could literally see his shoulders slump.'

1. The Last Day In the Sun

2. The Spawning of A Spy

3. James Bond Meets Natalie Wood

4. NYC to Washington and Back

5. Secret World of A Spy

6. Inside Robert Hanssen's Weird World

7. On the Road to Oblivion

8. Epilogue

9. The Author

- Book Titles