A solidly paced, richly detailed account, by intelligence-community insider Wise (Cassidy’s Run, 2000, etc.), of the FBI desk jockey who sold secrets to the Soviet and Russian governments for two decades—and came close to getting away with it.
Robert Hanssen was apparently an average sort of fellow, a good churchgoer and father who kept the lawn mowed and the bills paid; his fellow FBI officers thought of him as a colorless, humorless sort, “a computer guy, a weenie, a number cruncher,” as one put it, “somebody you want to have on your team, to use. He was never going to lead the team.” Wise hazards that Hanssen may have gone over to the Soviets, way back in the late 1970s, precisely because he felt the need to show that he had executive potential; whatever the case, in his checkered and sometimes clueless career as a traitor, he gave up as many as 50 double agents, spies, and informants working around the world, most of whom wound up dead. It took federal counterespionage agents from several bureaus years to track down the spy among them, in part, as Wise writes, because Hanssen himself was involved in the investigation—and in part, it seems, as is so often true, because the feds bungled and stumbled everywhere they went. Still, they finally caught up to Hanssen just a couple of years ago, to some extent thanks to Hanssen’s own ineptitude. Wise is a bit easier on the FBI and CIA than are some of the operatives who worked on the Hanssen case—as one remarks, “There’s absolutely no excuse for the FBI not, at some point, to have identified Bob Hanssen,” as it could not do by itself. Wise writes well and capably, as always, but this story is largely narrative, if full of nice twists and turns, and readers may miss the analytical, explanatory power he has brought to bear on broader-themed works such as The Politics of Lying (1973) and The Invisible Government (1964).
Still, a first-rate true-crime story that gets inside the shadowy—and astoundingly average—world of spooks, moles, and ops.