FBI says Hanssen spy suspect in 1997


A former FBI agent, after pleading guilty to spying, raised concern four years ago that a colleague, Robert Hanssen, was involved in suspicious activities, but did not single him out as a spy, the agency said in a statement.

Hanssen, a longtime FBI agent accused of spying for the Soviet Union and later Russia, was arrested last February and is charged with 21 counts of espionage.

Earl Pitts, who was arrested on spy charges in 1996, told investigators in June 1997 of an “unusual” computer hacking incident involving Hanssen, acknowledged the FBI in a statement.

The agency said the information already had been known to the FBI, but was passed onto FBI headquarters anyway. Hanssen, accused of spying for Russia for 15 years, was not targeted as a possible spy until last year.

Pitts is serving a 27-year sentence at a federal prison in Kentucky.

The FBI in a statement Monday said Pitts was asked in a debriefing after his 1997 guilty plea to name others involved in spying, but “did not identify anyone.”

“Pitt did describe as ‘unusual’ a computer hacking incident involving Hanssen,” FBI spokesman John Collingwood said in a statement. “Pitts did not identify Hanssen as a spy.”

“When asked if he was aware of anything or anyone beyond this hacking incident already known to the FBI, Pitts said ‘no.’,” according to Collingwood.

The indictment accused Hanssen of giving U.S. secrets, including information about satellites and early warning systems, to the Soviet Union and later to Russia in return for a total of US$1.4 million.

The disclosure that Pitts had raised suspicions about Hanssen provides the first evidence that the FBI had received a counterintelligence warning specifically raising Hanssen’s name.

Pitts comments concerning Hanssen was first reported in Monday’s edition of the New York Times.

In an interview with the Times, Pitts said he did not know Hanssen may have been spying for Russia. But he said the computer incident suggested that Hanssen was “trying to collect information covertly.”