Washington, May 15 – In the 15 months since her husband’s arrest as a Russian spy, Bonnie Hanssen has struggled to maintain her public silence in the face of a torrent of disclosures about her life with a man she thought she knew.
Now she says she has chosen to speak out at last because she wants to answer one question she has heard dozens of times: How could Robert Hanssen’s wife of 34 years not have known he was a spy?"
"I just wish somebody would say that my husband never told me he was spying," Mrs Hanssen said in frustration in a telephone interview this week.
…Mr Hanssen, the former F.B.I. agent (was) sentenced to life in prison on Friday after he pleaded guilty to spying for Moscow off and on for more than 20 years.
…Mrs Hanssen acknowledged in the interview that in about 1980, she discovered that her husband was having unauthorized dealings with the Russians, but said she never knew the extent of his actions.
One day, she said she found her husband scurrying to cover up some papers in the basement of their home in Scarsdale, N.Y. Pressed to explain what he was doing, she said he acknowledged that he was dealing with the Russians. At the time he was assigned to counterintelligence in the F.B.I.’s New York field office.
"But he told me he was just tricking the Russians and feeding them false information," she said. "He never said he was spying. I told him I thought it was insane."
But Mr Hanssen was not tricking the Russians; he was a Russian spy and had been working for the G.R.U. Soviet Military Intelligence, since 1979. In fact, he had already betrayed one of the United States’ most important agents: General Dmitri Polyakov, who had been spying for the US since the early 1960’s, but soon after Mr Hanssen told the Russians of this, General Polyakov was forced to retire and was later executed.
Mrs Hanssen said she demanded that her husband go with her to see their Roman Catholic priest to confess.
They drove to meet with the Rev Robert Bucciarelli, a priest affiliated with OPUS DEI, a conservative RC organization the Hanssens had joined several years earlier.
Father Bucciarelli came up with a plan to save Mr Hanssen from prison… if he gave the money from the Soviets to charity, and not promise to spy again; he would have the priest’s blessing not to report the matter to the F.B.I. Mr Hanssen agreed, and his wife, pregnant with their fourth child, was relieved. But she said she was determined to hold her husband to the deal.
She said her husband told her he had received about $30,000 from the Soviets…but he had spent much of it. Mrs Hanssen said she demanded that he repay the $30,000. He began to make small payments over several years to a charity affiliated with Mother Teresa’s Catholic organization, moving the family close to bankruptcy.
She said she repeatedly questioned her husband to ensure that he was making the payments, and each time he insisted that he was. Over the next few years she questioned him about whether he was working with the Russians once more…he would deny it and act as if he was hurt that she did not trust him.
In October 1985, he volunteered to spy for the K.G.B. the Soviet Intelligence agency, by sending an anonymous letter to a K.G.B. officer based in Washington. In it he betrayed three Soviet officers who were working for the C.I.A. and the bureau. All three were arrested; two were executed.
"I never knew about anything else after that first time," Mrs Hanssen said in an interview. She said she told the bureau the same thing immediately after her husband’s arrest last year.
Mrs Hanssen’s brother, Mark Wauck, an F.B.I. agent in Chicago, reportedly told his supervisors in 1990 that he suspected that Robert Hanssen was a spy after his own wife told him that, during a visit to the Hanssen home, Mrs Hanssen told her she had become alarmed after discovering $5,000.
Today, Mrs Hanssen is teaching at a Catholic school in suburban Virginia and is living in the house she shared with her husband and their six children. Under Mr Hanssen’s plea bargain, she will receive the survivor’s part of his bureau pension, as well as the right to keep the home.
She visits her husband in prison regularly. The family hopes Mr Hanssen will be sent to the federal prison in Allenwood, PA. Which would be close enough for Mrs Hanssen to continue to visit regularly.
She said her greatest ambition was to resume some form of normal life, adding, "I would just like to disappear."