Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 5, 2001; Page A01
Accused spy Robert P. Hanssen allegedly brought a D.C. stripper to religious services at his suburban Virginia church and spent at least $10,000 on a car for her in what authorities believe was a proselytizing effort, sources close to the investigation said this week.
Federal investigators, who have interviewed the woman, are also examining whether Hanssen bought her an airplane ticket to Tokyo or other gifts in the early 1990s, according to law enforcement and intelligence sources.
The purchases may provide important clues to what happened to some of the $600,000 in cash and diamonds that the former FBI counterintelligence agent allegedly received from Soviet and Russian governments in return for spying since 1985, according to the sources.
Counterintelligence experts said that such purchases, combined with $275,000 in debt incurred by Hanssen and his wife, Bonnie, since 1992, could have provided warning signs to FBI officials that Hanssen deserved scrutiny.
Law enforcement officials say they have no evidence that there was ever a sexual relationship between Hanssen and the exotic dancer. But their friendship further complicates the public portrait of Hanssen, who is described by friends and colleagues as deeply conservative and religious but is accused of selling U.S. secrets to a communist superpower.
"It would certainly cause concern in the bureau if an agent was having some type of relationship with someone like that," said Robert M. Blitzer, who worked closely with Hanssen and headed the FBI's domestic terrorism division. "That would send up warning signs. If he's buying her a car for anywhere around that kind of money, you've got to say, 'What's he getting for it? What's he paying for?'. . . . God knows how many kinds of lives this guy was living."
Hanssen's attorney, Plato Cacheris, declined to discuss the issue this week. "I will not comment on such scurrilous allegations," he said. "I think it's highly improper if sources close to the investigation would repeat these kinds of scurrilous charges."
Cacheris has said his client intends to plead not guilty to the espionage charges, which could carry the death penalty.
Bonnie Hanssen's attorney, Janine Brookner, declined to comment through a spokesman. FBI officials also declined to comment.
An FBI affidavit filed in federal court alleges that in addition to the $600,000 in cash and diamonds paid to Hanssen, Moscow deposited $800,000 for him in foreign bank accounts. Prosecutors have also said in court filings that Hanssen was carrying a Swiss bank account statement in his briefcase when he was arrested in February after dropping off a trash bag containing classified documents for his Russian handlers.
Hanssen, 56, lived quietly with his wife and six children in a Vienna home appraised at $290,000. The couple took out several mortgages and lines of credit on their house since purchasing it in 1987, property records show. They also paid cash for a $100,000 addition and were putting their children through private schools and college. Neighbors and friends have said they saw no evidence of extravagant living by the family.
Federal investigators say they have evidence that Hanssen befriended a dancer he met at a strip club in the District in the early 1990s, accompanying her to services more than once at St. Catherine of Siena in Great Falls. Sources declined to name the woman or identify the nightclub where she worked at the time.
Hanssen purchased a car for the woman, several sources said. One government intelligence expert said the vehicle cost $10,000, although two other sources said the price may have been higher.
Prosecutors and FBI agents are also investigating a report that Hanssen may have paid for an airline ticket to Tokyo for the dancer. They are continuing to question witnesses and comb through financial records to determine whether Hanssen bought other gifts for her.
Hanssen's alleged connection with an exotic dancer may help investigators track the cash he allegedly received, officials said. In addition, several experts said, it raises more questions about whether FBI officials should have considered Hanssen a security risk earlier.
"What's missing here is, where's the money," said Paul D. Moore, a former FBI counterintelligence agent who knew Hanssen for 20 years and frequently carpooled with him. "If they can start to account for that, that will help their case immensely."
Moore recalls a conversation in about 1990 during which Hanssen condemned some fellow FBI agents for attending retirement parties at District strip clubs.
"He was very critical of those who did that, and he called them havens of sin," Moore said. "He was very definite: You're committing sin, and you're paying [dancers] to sin."
Moore also said he would not be surprised at the idea that Hanssen might proselytize an exotic dancer.
James Bamford, who has written about intelligence matters and was friendly with Hanssen, said Hanssen urged him to return to the Catholic Church.
"Even now, I don't detect any lack of sincerity," Bamford said. "What other benefit would there be to get me to go back to church, unless it was something internal in him. He wouldn't get any credit from the FBI or the KGB or anybody else.
"It seems like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hanssen," he said. "You have these two bifurcated sections of his personality — the sincerely religious man, and the equally devout spy."
Staff writers Brooke A. Masters and Josh White contributed to this report.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company