Tags: FBI | Procedures | Hanssen | Spy | Case | Get | Scrutiny

FBI Procedures in Hanssen Spy Case to Get Scrutiny

Thursday, 10 May 2001 12:00 AM

Former CIA and FBI Director William Webster is leading the commission to examine what can be done to prevent security breaches like those that occurred when Hanssen, a veteran FBI counterintelligence agent, allegedly sold top-secret information to Moscow during a 15-year period.

In the Hanssen case, federal prosecutors and Hanssen's lawyers have opened plea bargain negotiations, government officials said on Tuesday.

But the prosecutors, the officials said, have so far been unwilling to make any commitments to waive pursuit of the death penalty in return for Hanssen's admitting espionage.

Neither side has publicly acknowledged that the conversations are under way, and Plato Cacheris, Hanssen's lawyer, would not comment on the case on Tuesday.

But the officials said the discussions began in secret several weeks ago. The talks have proceeded sporadically, however, and it is unclear whether the two sides are close to an agreement or can reach one before a court hearing scheduled for May 21.

The government seeks an agreement in which Hanssen would give a complete account of his espionage activities in a thorough debriefing. Legal documents filed when he was charged in February say he began spying for the Russians in October 1985 and continued until he was arrested on Feb. 18 in a Virginia park where, the government says, he had dropped off a bag of classified documents.

Among other things, prosecutors want Hanssen to explain what he did with $1.4 million he is believed to have received from the Russians. Investigators are perplexed in their efforts to unravel how he spent much of that money. The Hanssen family lived modestly and had heavily mortgaged its home, and Hanssen himself displayed few signs of wealth.

The matter of the death penalty appears to be central to the current negotiations. Officials said that Hanssen's lawyers had asked specifically whether the government intended to seek it but that so far the prosecutors had been unwilling to say.

Webster was tapped by FBI Director Louis Freeh in February to head the panel and recommend changes in current procedures. He has chosen six officials to work on the review, said a Justice Department official speaking on condition of anonymity.

Freeh and Attorney General John Ashcroft have approved the commission members, the official said.

The panel: Clifford L. Alexander Jr., a Washington consultant who worked in the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Carter administrations. He was a foreign affairs officer for the National Security Council in 1963 and secretary of the Army under Carter. Griffin Bell, a former appeals court judge and attorney general under Carter. William Cohen, a former Republican senator and defense secretary for President Clinton. Robert B. Fiske Jr., a former federal prosecutor appointed by former Attorney General Janet Reno as special prosecutor to investigate Clinton's Whitewater business deals. Fiske was eventually replaced by Kenneth Starr. Thomas Foley, former Democratic House speaker and ambassador to Japan under Clinton. Carla A. Hills, U.S. Trade Representative during the previous Bush administration.

Webster also has recruited former Justice Department watchdog Michael Shaheen to the commission's staff. The commission is headquartered in offices on the first floor of the Justice Department building.

Copyright 2001 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Former CIA and FBI Director William Webster is leading the commission to examine what can be done to prevent security breaches like those that occurred when Hanssen, a veteran FBI counterintelligence agent, allegedly sold top-secret information to Moscow during a 15-year...
FBI,Procedures,Hanssen,Spy,Case,Get,Scrutiny
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2001-00-10
Thursday, 10 May 2001 12:00 AM
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