Robert Hanssen Gets Ready for His Closeup

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FBI agents investigate spy Robert Hanssen's home after his arrest last year

The networks are already lining up commentators and staking out camera positions for the sentencing of renegade FBI agent Robert Hanssen, scheduled for next Friday, fifteen months after his arrest for espionage. But the confessed spy's long-anticipated day in court, originally slated for January, could be delayed a second time, according to government sources. The hitch: after debriefing Hanssen for months, FBI agents still aren't convinced he has told the whole truth about his role in what a blue ribbon commission recently called "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history." Hanssen's lawyer, Plato Cacheris, insists his client has done his best to cooperate fully, as he pledged when he struck a plea bargain last July to avoid the death penalty. Still, some FBI officials think serious inconsistencies remain in his account of 21 years as a double agent for Soviet intelligence, during which he is estimated to have betrayed 50 U.S. spies and potential recruits. (It didn't help that Hanssen lost his temper with a skeptical bureau polygrapher.)

FBI director Robert Mueller and top Justice officials have spent days debating whether to move for another postponement. Meanwhile, Hanssen is undergoing his most intensive probing yet, at the hands of a CIA damage assessment team that includes psychiatrists and interrogation specialists practiced at dealing with traitors' complex psychological subterfuges. Hanssen is said to have lost weight and appears more stooped than ever, but sources say flashes of the old arrogance show: he has complained recently that the press is overplaying his sexual obsessions — by reporting on his pornographic writings, which he posted on the web.