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By Larisa Alexandrovna
June 12, 2007

Agent's riveting account is basis for the film, Breach. [1]

Ask anyone in the intelligence community who was the most damaging spy 
in US history and the answer comes quickly: Robert Hanssen, a senior FBI 
agent who spied for the Soviet Union =E2=80=93 and, after the Cold War, for the 
Russians =E2=80=93 on and off for a period of 15 years. While much of the 
information Hanssen provided to the Russians remains classified, what 
has been released to the public illustrates the real life meaning of 

At various times throughout his double-agent career at the FBI, Hanssen 
served as the head of the Soviet Analytical Squad, the chief of the 
National Security Threat List Unit, part of the Bureau=E2=80=99s computer 
espionage squad, and even part of the State Department=E2=80=99s Office of 
Foreign Missions. By all accounts he was an outstanding computer 
technician, even a hacker according to some, and a brilliant analyst. 
But he was also as enigmatic a person as counter-intelligence has ever 

Hanssen was a devout Catholic, a member of the controversial and 
influential conservative religious group known as Opus Dei; he was 
fiercely anti-Communist, a good father, a good husband, and mostly an 
underachiever, seemingly by choice. At the same time, Hanssen was also 
selling the most sensitive information from across several US 
intelligence agencies to the Russians, making pornographic films of his 
unsuspecting wife and later showing them to his friends, and 
masturbating at work to images of screen goddesses such as Catherine 
Zeta-Jones. For the information he provided to the Russians, he got 
comparatively little compensation, roughly $1.4 million in cash and 

According to a 2003 Department of Justice Inspector General=E2=80=99s report 
[2], what Hanssen sold included some of the most classified and guarded 
information in the US government:

=E2=80=9CDuring the next six years =E2=80=93 the last stages of the Cold War =E2=80=93 Hanssen 
delivered thousands of pages of highly classified documents and dozens 
of computer disks to the KGB detailing U.S. strategies in the event of 
nuclear war, major developments in military weapons technologies, 
identities of active and historical U.S. assets in the Soviet 
intelligence services, the locations of KGB defectors in the United 
States, analytical products from across the Intelligence Community, 
comprehensive budget and policy documents, and many other aspects of the 
Soviet counterintelligence program.=E2=80=9D (A Review of the FBI's Performance 
in Deterring, Detecting, and Investigating the Espionage Activities of 
Robert Philip Hanssen)

Although he managed to avoid detection for over 20 years, by 2000 an FBI 
task force was well in place and focusing exclusively on Hanssen. They 
only needed to catch him in the act of making what is called a dead drop 
for the Soviets.

Enter Eric O=E2=80=99Neill, a 27 year old FBI investigator on the Bureau=E2=80=99s 
Special Surveillance Group, specializing in surveillance of terrorism 
suspects. O=E2=80=99Neill was assigned to be Hanssen=E2=80=99s assistant in a newly 
formed FBI computer squad. It was largely O=E2=80=99Neill=E2=80=99s attention to detail 
and confidence that provided the smoking gun needed to bring Hanssen in 
and led to his arrest on February 18, 2001.

O'Neill on the film, Breach

O=E2=80=99Neill=E2=80=99s riveting account of what transpired between himself and 
Hanssen over that final crucial period is the basis for the film Breach, 
released in theaters to high critical acclaim early this year. O=E2=80=99Neill 
is portrayed by Ryan Phillipe and Hanssen by Chris Cooper in an 
astonishing performance that, according to those who knew the spy, is 
chillingly accurate.

RAW STORY's managing editor for investigative news and frequent reporter 
on intelligence and national security, Larisa Alexandrovna, caught up 
with O=E2=80=99Neill to discuss his role in the capture of Hanssen, the PROMIS 
software, the Valerie Plame leak, and other topics involving espionage 
and government secrecy.

Even though O'Neill never had experience going face-to-face with a 
"target," he was trained as a "ghost," able to follow someone closely 
for weeks, "but you would never know I was there."

Along with exposing the identities of foreign agents the US had 
"turned," According to O'Neill, Hanssen "gave the Russians our nuclear 
information, information about agents and assets working penetration, he 
even gave them the source code to the FBI=E2=80=99s automated case system 

Although he doesn't think there is any "correlation" between the Hanssen 
and Plame cases, O'Neill tells RAW STORY [3] "a journalist that 
knowingly or negligently releases/reveals classified information should 
face federal prosecution."

O'Neill also believes "there are still moles in government agencies."

"I=E2=80=99d like to think that Hanssen was the last FBI mole, but that=E2=80=99s 
probably wishful thinking," O'Neill said. "I do think that the Hanssen 
case made the FBI more sound =E2=80=93 better able to screen for spies, and 
better able to catch them once they activate."

O'Neill added, "I think there will always be spies, for the same reason 
there will always be crime. Some people are so morally broken they see 
no problem with taking the easy road at the cost of others."



Raw Story: Nice to meet you, Eric.

Eric O=E2=80=99Neill: Yes, nice to meet you as well

RS: Let=E2=80=99s begin with the obvious question, for me anyway: Why were you 
picked to get close to Hanssen? You were not an FBI agent, but an 
operative for the FBI =E2=80=93 working toward becoming an agent. Is that 

EO: I was a member of a group of specialized FBI investigators called 
the SSG, Special Surveillance Group. It was [essentially] based on the 
[British] MI5 model=E2=80=A6 We were intelligence investigators in [the 
equivalent of] counterintelligence and handled such things as 
surveillance work =E2=80=A6 using technology to target suspects, as well as 
penetration work, data collection, etc.

RS: But you were on your way to becoming an agent?

EO: Well, there are two separate tracks; you eventually hit a glass 
ceiling as an investigator. I originally applied to the FBI for the 
Special Agent=E2=80=99s class. At the time I was 22 years old and was told that 
22 was too young to become a Special Agent. Instead, I was offered a 
position with the Special Surveillance Group =E2=80=93 a group of specially 
trained counter intelligence and counter terrorism operatives who focus 
on clandestine vehicular and foot surveillance of foreign nationals and 
American citizens known or suspected of spying or terrorism. The FBI 
made a decision to create squads of SSG =E2=80=9CInvestigative Specialists=E2=80=9D in 
order to overcome an institutional problem that Special Agents have 
always had with surveillance. SSG are called ghosts. When an 
Investigative Specialist is =E2=80=9Cghosting=E2=80=9D a target, we are invisible.

RS: And the schooling and training are comparable to that of Special 

EO: SSG are graduates of the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA, carry FBI 
credentials and badges, and conduct much of the same investigative work 
the Agents carry out. The singular distinctions are that SSG personnel 
do not carry firearms and do not make arrests. The goal of SSG is to 
follow a target without ever being seen. I eventually wanted to re-apply 
to Special Agent=E2=80=99s class, which would require me to return to the FBI 



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