In early 1999, FBI chief Louis Freeh was told by senior FBI investigator Thomas Kimmel that Moscow might have a mole working in Bureau, according to a New York Times report.
Top Bureau officials, however, convinced Freeh that Kimmel was wrong, and that if there was a mole that person was working at the CIA and not the FBI, the Times says.
Kimmel told the Times he had never warned Freeh or other bureau officials that he suspected that Hanssen was a spy.
"I wasn't saying that I knew there was a mole in the FBI," Kimmel said. "I was saying, in effect, you can't rule out that possibility. I thought it was more of a possibility than they did. They were saying that we think the focus of our investigative efforts should be on the CIA."
Kimmel, however, said he did believe strongly that the evidence was persuasive enough to have prompted an intensive counterintelligence investigation of bureau operations.
Hanssen, a 25-year FBI veteran and counterintelligence expert, was caught leaving a package of secret documents for his Russian handlers in a Virginia park Feb. 18. He is accused of having betrayed some of the nation's most closely guarded secrets to the Russians, even including the existence of a secret tunnel the FBI had burrowed under the Russian Embassy in Washington.
Neal Gallagher, the bureau's assistant director for national security who has jurisdiction over all counterintelligence investigations, told the Times that Kimmel's belief that there was a spy in the FBI was "a gut instinct," not a well-reasoned position. He added that
Kimmel never provided substantive evidence or investigative leads to support his assertion.
"There was nothing there that we could use for investigative purposes to open a case," he said, adding that while bureau officials had considered the possibility there was a mole inside the upper echelons of the FBI, they discounted it because the strongest evidence available at the time pointed to a mole at the CIA.
The Times reported that when, in the summer of 1999, Kimmel realized that there was no indication that the Bureau was taking his reports seriously, he said he wrote a personal letter to Freeh.
Kimmel said he wrote Freeh that he had provided a more detailed briefing on his findings to FBI counterintelligence officials since he had last seen Freeh, and he offered to brief Freeh again. He told the Times he never got a reply. FBI officials told the times Freeh does not remember getting such a letter.
Bureau counterintelligence agents continued to seek a mole inside the CIA until a source inside Russian intelligence gave the FBI indisputable evidence that Hanssen was a mole.
working for the Russians.
The Times revealed that the Russian agent gave a copy of the SVR's (successor to the KGB) case file on their American spy in the fall of 2000. Later, the source came up with a plastic bag that was also kept in the SVR files tha had been used by the American agent for documents left for his SVR handlers at the Virginia drop site.
The FBI laboratory quickly checked the bag for fingerprints. FBI counterintelligence officials were astonished to discover that the prints belonged to one of their top counterintelligence officials, Robert Hanssen.
On Sunday, Feb. 18, the day Hanssen was arrested, Thomas Pickard, the FBI's deputy director, telephoned Kimmel. Pickard told Kimmel that he had been right, Kimmel told the Times. Pickard ordered the Bureau’s National Security Division to take another look at Kimmel's work, FBI officials said. That review, the Bureau said, once again concluded that there was nothing in Kimmel's work that could have pointed to Hanssen earlier.
"He was right - but for the wrong reasons," Gallagher told the Times.
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