Hanssen's First Day in Court

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A tunnel betrayed? The Russian Embassy in Washington D.C.

Accused spy and former FBI insider Robert Hanssen appeared briefly in federal court Monday, clad in prison-issue clothing and sitting quietly between his two lawyers. U.S. District Judge Theresa Buchanan, saying Hanssen posed a "severe risk of flight," ordered the 58-year-old to remain in prison while awaiting trial. Hanssen's lawyer Plato Cacheris said he disagreed with that characterization of his client, but added that Hanssen would not contest the judge's ruling. Hanssen will appear in court again on May 21, when he is likely to be indicted.

TIME Washington correspondent Elaine Shannon attended the hearing, and here she weighs in on the developing Hanssen case.

TIME.com: What was the purpose of this hearing?

Shannon: This was a pretrial hearing to decide whether or not Hanssen should be granted bail.

The judge obviously felt it was important that Hanssen remain in custody without bail. Why?

Shannon: She decided Hanssen poses an extreme risk of flight — when they picked him up, he had his passport with him, and statements pertaining to a Swiss bank account. She also said the evidence against him was "extraordinarily strong."

But Hanssen hasn't actually been indicted yet?

Shannon: Not yet. And Cacheris says he will plead not guilty. The government decided to hold off on calling witnesses before a grand jury until they had Hanssen in custody — they worried that word might leak out that they were building a case against him. But now Hanssen's defense team agreed to waive the customary preliminary hearing, which means they'll get to see a lot more of the government's case against Hanssen and prepare using that information. And the government gets to skip the first hearing and work on gathering information against Hanssen.

What about the New York Times report that Hanssen may have told the then-Soviets about a secret tunnel the U.S. built under the Soviet embassy?

Shannon: It really isn't surprising that these tunnels were dug — I'm told by someone familiar with the project that although this tunnel was a very expensive endeavor, it was not successful. The surveillance efforts apparently failed.

So the Russians' claims of shock and amazement at this announcement are actually disingenuous?

Shannon: Of course they are. The Russians have certainly been accused of trying to damage the U.S. embassy in Moscow as well. Look, both sides have participated in all sorts of eavesdropping and wiretapping activities. The only reason more hasn't been done is that budget constraints cut into the programs.

Will the charges that he exposed the embassy tunnel project add weight to the government's case against Hanssen?

Shannon: One of the issues you need to understand when you look at this case is that in the U.S. espionage does not mean just giving classified documents to foreign powers. It means giving documents relating to the national defense to foreign powers with the express intent of helping foreign powers or injuring the United States. So if you're caught getting into a cab with a briefcase full of classified documents, you won't be charged with espionage. And in this case, the tunnel charge could fall under that category — it's embarrassing because it failed, but because it failed it didn't produce much, so the government may decide there's not much point in pressing the issue.