More Questions About the FBI's Hanssen Homework

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FBI spy Robert Hanssen

Just as FBI spy Robert Hanssen prepares to be sentenced to life in prison, Hanssen's best friend Jack Hoschouer has come forward with a shocking new charge: Hanssen, he says, suggested that he drug and have sex with Hanssen's wife Bonnie.

The anecdote, recently published in a mostly fictional "novelization" of the Hanssen story by Lawrence Schiller, a specialist in lurid crime stories, has been confirmed to TIME by Hoschouer, a retired Army lieutenant colonel now living in Germany. "Bob fantasized about me making love to Bonnie and knew that she wouldn't go for it," Hoschouer says. "He got fascinated with Rohypnol [an illegal "date rape" drug] and suggested I might be able to come up with some here. I told him that I had looked for some but without success." Hoschouer says he put Hanssen off until he gave up on the idea. "I have my faults, but I'm not a rapist," he says.

If true, the episode, which Hoschouer says took place sometime in the '90s, not only sheds new light on Hanssen's twisted psyche but also underscores the weakness in the FBI's system for vetting security clearances. Prior to Hanssen's arrest for espionage in February, 2001, Hoschouer, the renegade agent's childhood friend and closest confidante, was never interviewed during the bureau's periodic reviews of Hanssen's suitability for access to highly classified material.

Hoschouer admits that even if approached by the FBI prior to Hanssen's arrest, he probably would not have volunteered information about their talks about sex and crime because "I was also doing something that I knew was morally wrong and I might well have omitted mentioning what would embarrass me." That embarrassing part, according to Hoschouer, was that Hanssen had set up a video surveillance system in his bedroom and invited his friend to watch the Hanssens having sex. Hanssen's X-rated descriptions of these trysts can be found on an adult Internet site.

Still, something might have turned up if the feds had at least talked to Hoschouer. "What they called a background check was laughable," says one Justice Department official. "The closer the person gets to the crown jewels, the deeper we need to get into that person's head." If Hoschouer had divulged that he and Hanssen had had even casual conversations about setting up the rape of Hanssen's wife, says the official, "it would strike me as weird on two or three different levels. Is he seriously proposing a criminal act? Was he drunk, or was this the raving of a lunatic? Or did he appear balanced?" If the latter, says the official, "What did it say about his ability to be duplicitous?" An inquiry into Hanssen's sexually deviant appetites would surely have caused the suspension of his clearance and might have led to the discovery of his past treacheries, which a blue ribbon commission headed by former FBI and CIA director William Webster calls "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history."

"People are still going to lie," acknowledges Assistant FBI director Ken Senser, who has been brought in from the CIA to re-invent the bureau's security system. "But background investigations should be robust enough to get a hint that there are issues that require deeper examination." Senser says he intends to deploy more aggressive background investigators, with experience in conducting probing interviews that elicit indications of psychological and integrity problems. In the past, background investigators, generally retired FBI agents working on contract, rarely went beyond the subject's hand-picked character references. This practice was sharply criticized by the Webster commission, which also faulted the background unit's checklist mentality and failure to analyze contradictory answers. Senser says the revamped security teams will develop their own sources and "look at the whole person — to try to get at what makes this person tick."

Which, in the case of Robert Hanssen, a proselytizing arch-conservative Catholic who claimed to be devoted to his wife and six children, is still, as one investigator puts it, "an enigma."