• Detective Chris Brooks

FBI Top Spy who took down America's most notorious traitor

I was given the opportunity at the recent CEC (Communications Engineering Company) Business Technology Conference in Iowa City, where O’Neill was the keynote speaker.

You won’t know his name, but you likely know what he did. In 2001, Eric O’Neill arrested his boss and fellow FBI agent Robert Hanssen for spying on the United States on behalf of the Soviet Union and Russian Federation. These series of events lead to an American spy thriller film, Breach (2007).

O’Neil told the conference when he first applied to the FBI, he was too young to become a special agent. O’Neil was trained to be an undercover surveillance specialist. O'Neill underwent training on how to conduct surveillance, videotape, photograph and follow targets. "We were Ghosts. We are invincible," he said, "because you're following someone without being seen."

The spy is always "where he has access to the information that he knows he can use to do the most damage and get the most money. And he knows how to use it and get away with it." Robert Hanssen

O’Neill was selected for the assignment even though he was not yet a full-fledged FBI agent. What characteristics O’Neil did have was he was catholic, a male that was good with computers, and they believed Hannsen would trust.

The FBI promoted Hanssen and gave him access to secrets that he may sell to the Russians, while spying on Hanssens every move. This is where d O'Neill. Came in as Hanssens assistant.

According to O'Neill, Hanssen said the spy is always "where he has access to the information that he knows he can use to do the most damage and get the most money. And he knows how to use it and get away with it."

O'Neill said, "I really felt at that minute that he was saying, if you're onto me then try and catch me because I'm better than you and all these guys at the FBI. Because I'm the great Robert Hanssen."

Step One: Examine His Behavior

O'Neill began to observe hansens every move and slowly begin to build a rapport. On the outside, Hanssen spoke about God, prayer, confession, and family. However he began to observe a different side of Robert Hanssen. We now know that Hanssen reportedly had an obsession with Internet pornography and dated and lavished gifts upon a stripper.

O’Neill observed Hanssens obsession with wanting know one in his office. Also that Hanssen carried his Palm Pilot with him every where he went, and used it for all his contacts and information.

O’Neill attempted to give Hanssen a “new palm” which had spy wear put on by the FBI. However Hanssen did not want new palm pilot, as his palm pilot had special programing.

O'Neill said Hanssen's Palm Pilot was key to under covering Hanssen's contacts with the Russians. However, according to O'Neill, Hanssen almost never let it out of his sight. So, they developed a plan. It was a long shot, but they gave it the green light.

Getting the Palm Pilot

Hanssen's bosses surprised him in his office and invited him to go shooting with them in the basement firing range. That created an opportunity; leaving O'Neil alone and with an opportunity to gather the information off the palm pilot.

O’Neil grabbed the palm pilot and data card and ran down one floor to have the information downloaded onto a computer. It was all going smoothly until Hanssen cut the target practice short after just a few minutes. O'Neil got another page indicating that Hanssen was probably returning to his office.

As the data on Hanssen's palm pilot was downloading to a computer, he was on his way back. The download was going slowly, because, according to O'Neill, Hanssen had encrypted the data on his Palm Pilot.

Former Senior FBI Agent Robert Hanssen, serving Life in Prison for espionage and treason.

For the FBI, the Palm Pilot was the nail in the coffin, as Hanssen had kept copies of the documents he had given his Russian contacts on his palm pilot, and he also had stored a "drop date" on it, according to O'Neill.

The drop would be the end of Hanssen. Hanssen was followed to a Virginia park, where he allegedly left another packet of classified material, which was then intercepted by the FBI.

The double agent surrendered without a fight. On July 6, 2001, in order to avoid the death penalty, he pleaded guilty to 15 counts of espionage. He was sentenced to 15 life terms without the possibility of parole. His activities have been described by the Department of Justice's Commission for the Review of FBI Security Programs as "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history."

O'Neill, who has not spoken to Hanssen since, said, "If they let him watch 20/20 in prison that I was the one who helped bring him down … he will feel so betrayed." O’Neill said one day he may just ask the FBI for permission to interview Hanssen in prison.

The investigation into Hanssen not only proves he was a taitor of the United States, but proves that even a person on the surface appears to be a “good husband” and devoted religious person is capable of the unthinkable.

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