Prayers To Save A Spy's Soul

Bonnie Wauck married alleged Soviet spy Bob Hanssen more than three decades ago, said her sister Liz Rahimi, because "he treated her like a queen." The parents of six children, Bob and Bonnie "were the picture of a perfect family. He was always devoted to them--completely. He was never gone." So on the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 18, Bonnie Hanssen was naturally worried when her husband failed to return from Dulles Airport, where, he had told her, he had gone to drop off a friend. Bonnie, a devout Roman Catholic, was so worried that she called another of her sisters and her mother, Fran, and asked them to begin praying for Bob. Meanwhile she drove out to Dulles and paged him. Her car was quickly surrounded by FBI agents. She was told that her husband, a 25-year veteran of the bureau, had been arrested for espionage. Along with two of her children, she was interrogated in a hotel room until 4 a.m.

She could not tell the gumshoes much. Once the FBI determined that Bonnie knew nothing of her husband's alleged spying, she was allowed to call Hanssen's 88 year-old mother, Vivian, in Florida, "to break the news to her and tell her it was OK to let the [FBI] agents in," Rahimi told NEWSWEEK in an exclusive interview. Hanssen's mother was devastated. "She says she's got a chain around her neck and she can't get up," said Rahimi. For the next four days, Bonnie Hanssen could not eat. She was permitted to speak to her imprisoned husband for less than a minute. Hanssen told his wife "that he was very sorry and that he'd always love her." Finally one of her children read her the allegations laid out in the 100-page FBI affidavit. Her response, she has told friends, was to pray harder for her husband's eternal soul.

While the Hanssen family sorts through the emotional wreckage, the U.S. government, too, is assessing the damage. During his 15 years as an alleged Russian mole, Robert Hanssen had access to many vital secrets. As an FBI liaison to the State Department, he sat in on meetings that discussed the progress of investigations into the smuggling of "loose nukes" and other potential weapons of mass destruction. If he passed along this information to the Russians, did the Kremlin share it with more sinister enemies, like suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden? Intelligence experts are divided over the risk of such a leak. "The Russians hate bin Laden more than we do," said one, noting that bin Laden has been stirring up Islamic militants inside the breakaway republic of Chechnya. On the other hand, almost everything is for sale in the crumbling Russian empire, and on the black market a renegade Russian intelligence officer could profit nicely off the secrets contained in the 6,000 pages of documents and 23 encoded computer disks Hanssen allegedly passed along to his Russian handlers.

A computer expert, Hanssen may have tapped into secret databases coveted by America's enemies. The FBI counterintelligence expert allegedly gave away a highly classified operation mounted by U.S. intelligence to bug espionage targets. Conceivably, such treachery could hamper U.S. intelligence from eavesdropping on conversations between terrorists and the governments of so-called rogue states like Iran, Iraq and Libya. Nonetheless, a senior administration official told NEWSWEEK that the initial damage assessment found that Hanssen does not appear to have significantly harmed U.S. counterterrorism efforts. The real investigation into the Hanssen affair is just beginning. A task force has been created under former FBI and CIA director William Webster. Its chief investigator is Michael Shaheen, who led earlier probes into FBI abuses.

Hanssen's family members are left pondering the more inscrutable question of motivation. They doubt it was money. Though Hanssen allegedly was paid more than $600,000 in diamonds and cash by the Russians and opened secret Swiss bank accounts, he lived frugally. Indeed, when he went to Rome in 1999 to see his nephew ordained as a priest, his in-laws paid for the trip because they thought the Hanssens were hard up for cash. Hanssen, who converted from Lutheranism to Catholicism at least five years before he allegedly sold out to the Russians, was a member of Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic order that is strongly anti-communist and morally righteous. (According to knowledgeable sources, the government has so far refused to allow Hanssen to see his priest.) He had no hobbies except reading spy novels and going on his computer, which he kept in a small basement room. He apparently visited a James Bond Web site on Oct. 28, 1999, just after he had begun spying for the Kremlin again after a long hiatus. Hanssen listed his favorite Bond--Sean Connery--and his favorite movie: "From Russia, With Love."