A spy in plain sight The inside story of the FBI and Robert Hanssen--America's most damaging Russian spy

Lis W. Wiehl

Book - 2022

As a federal prosecutor and the daughter of an FBI agent, Wiehl has an inside perspective. She brings her experience and the ingrained lessons of her upraising to bear on her remarkable exploration of the case, interviewing numerous FBI and CIA agents both past and present as well as the individuals closest to Hanssen. She speaks with his brother-in-law, his oldest and best friend, and even his psychiatrist. In all her conversations, Wiehl is trying to figure out how he did it--and at what cost. But she also pursues questions urgently relevant to our national security today. Could there be another spy in the system? Could the presence of a spy be an even greater threat now than ever before, with the greater prominence cyber security has tak...en in recent years? Wiehl explores the mechanisms and politics of our national security apparatus and how they make us vulnerable to precisely this kind of threat.

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Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 327.1247/Wiehl Due Mar 9, 2024
New York, NY : Pegasus Books 2022.
Main Author
Lis W. Wiehl (author)
First Pegasus Books cloth edition
Physical Description
xviii, 316 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 283-290) and index.
  • Author's Note
  • Prologue: Strange Encounter
  • Part I.
  • Chapter 1. TOPHAT
  • Chapter 2. Spying 1.0
  • Chapter 3. "What Are You Hiding?"
  • Chapter 4. Grooming a Mole
  • Chapter 5. Spying 2.0
  • Chapter 6. "Holy Shit!"
  • Part II.
  • Chapter 7. Who Is Robert Hanssen?
  • Chapter 8. All-American Boy
  • Chapter 9. Black Is White/Good Is Evil
  • Part III.
  • Chapter 10. Trust Me!
  • Chapter 11. Puffs of Smoke
  • Chapter 12. "Do You Think Bob Could Be a KGB Agent?"
  • Chapter 13. Sumo Wrestling
  • Part IV.
  • Chapter 14. The Vault People
  • Chapter 15. Odd Couple
  • Chapter 16. First Blood
  • Chapter 17. And the Winner Is ...
  • Part V.
  • Chapter 18. Whac-a-Mole
  • Chapter 19. He's Back!
  • Part VI.
  • Chapter 20. PENNYWISE
  • Chapter 21. Baiting the Trap
  • Chapter 22. Takedown
  • Part VII.
  • Chapter 23. Collateral Damage
  • Chapter 24. The Mind of a Spy
  • Chapter 25. Another Hanssen?
  • Sources and Methodology
  • Acronyms and Agencies
  • Endnotes
  • Index
  • Acknowledgments
Review by Booklist Review

For some 20 years, FBI agent Robert Hanssen sold classified information to the Soviet Union. Even after the Soviet Union collapsed, he made contact with Russian intelligence apparatus to continue his betrayals. Something of an outlier within the ranks of FBI agents, Hanssen was adept in information technology and in financial crimes. A very conservative, devout Roman Catholic convert, he seemed the least likely person to be a turncoat. But living an upper-middle-class life in New York and Washington proved more expensive than his salary could afford, so he clandestinely exchanged documents for cash, passing information that led to the deaths of Soviet citizens who had been aiding American intelligence. Hanssen is now serving multiple life sentences in a federal maximum security prison. Wiehl (Hunting the Unabomber, 2020) relates Hanssen's treachery in vivid, emotionally laden prose, sparing no judgment. She seems particularly revolted by Hanssen's outward religiosity, sexual escapades, and utter disdain for the oaths he had taken to protect the U.S. Fans of spy stories will revel in Wiehl's recounting of deadly serious real-life espionage.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Bestseller Wiehl (Hunting the Unabomber: The FBI, Ted Kaczynski, and the Capture of America's Most Notorious Domestic Terrorist) more than justifies another book about Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent who had been a spy for the former Soviet Union for decades until his arrest in 2001. She uses new interviews, including with Hanssen's brother-in-law, and extensive research to flesh out the story of Hanssen's consequential betrayals. Those included high-level asset Dmitri Polyakov, a Soviet general who had provided the U.S. with essential intel since the 1960s and who was tortured and executed after Hanssen informed the Soviets of his activities. The collateral consequences of Hanssen's treachery make this anything but a cold-blooded account. Among his unintended victims was CIA officer Brian Kelley, who was falsely suspected of being the Russian mole and who suffered psychological brutalization by his employers, who subjected him to harsh interrogations, and whose family members also were suspected of complicity and stigmatized while the criminal case against Kelley was still pending; the case was ultimately dismissed; the author's access to Kelley's emails makes that experience vivid. Wiehl closes with a valuable section exploring whether America's national security apparatus is better prepared today to prevent such an event from happening again, concluding, disturbingly, that another Hanssen is possible. This is likely the definitive look at a spy case that continues to shock years later. Agent: Todd Schuster, Aevitas Creative. (May)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Perhaps the best of the many books on Robert Hanssen (b. 1944), the agent who, for more than 20 years, sold American secrets to Russia. The daughter of an FBI agent, Wiehl, a former federal prosecutor and legal analyst for a variety of networks, delivers a fine account that will make readers squirm but not put it down. Most Americans associate espionage with the CIA, but the FBI is responsible for intelligence within the U.S. and has a considerable presence abroad. Burned repeatedly, the CIA had tightened security by the end of the 20th century, but as the author shows, "the FBI--one of the world's most honored and famous investigative bodies--has almost no capacity to investigate itself." Hired in 1976, Hanssen was first posted to Indianapolis and then to New York City. FBI agents are not highly paid, and, of course, the cost of living in NYC is far higher than in Indiana. Soon after being assigned to Soviet counterintelligence in 1979, Hanssen, married with three children, walked into a local Soviet office and offered to sell his services. Not a field agent but a computer specialist, he took advantage of access to the FBI's electronic record system as well as its far-too-trusting culture. Until his arrest in 2001, he handed over a steady stream of secrets that crippled U.S. intelligence and resulted in the deaths of many American assets behind the Iron Curtain. An exhaustive researcher, Wiehl seems to have interviewed everyone in Hanssen's family and his professional life, and she contributes her own expertise to deliver a fascinating, detailed chronicle of her subject's crimes and personality. The author does not take the easy route by assuming that the FBI was staffed by dimwits, and her unnerving final chapter concludes that, despite some reforms, other Hanssens are not only possible; they're probably already at work. A superb account of a long-running intelligence disaster. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.