With friends like these

Posted: Feb 22, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Official Washington is patting itself on the back for arresting the latest Russian spy, Robert Philip Hanssen, a 27-year veteran special agent of the FBI. Hanssen, according to court documents, spent more than half of his career as an FBI counter-intelligence officer working as a double agent for the Soviet KGB and its successor, the Russian SVR. In a dramatic press conference, FBI Director Louis Freeh described the damage done by Hanssen as "exceptionally grave," and "the most traitorous actions imaginable." The potentates of the press and the blow-dried airheads of broadcast "journalism" summoned to the Department of Justice on Tuesday morning were ecstatic. Here was "real news," full of titillating cloak and dagger details of how to detect and arrest a spy. There were photos of the "dead drops," code names, covert surveillance, the text of encrypted letters exchanged between Moscow's spy masters and their traitor, and of course, the clandestine nature of Hanssen's treachery and apprehension. Reporters asked questions about all these things, including the usual query from a sensitivity conscious press corps about how Hanssen "felt" when he was caught red handed -- no pun intended -- betraying his country. Interestingly, there were more interrogatories about the $1.4 million in cash and diamonds that Hanssen had allegedly taken from his Soviet and Russian handlers than there were about the people who paid him for his treason. There is much more to this story than the duplicity of a turncoat. At the press conference, Attorney General Ashcroft pointed out that "espionage operations designed to steal vital secrets of the United States are as intense today as they ever have been." The press hardly noticed. President Bush, asked aboard Air Force One, to comment on the arrest responded, "These allegations of espionage are a reminder that we live in a dangerous world, a world that sometimes does not share American values." His comment was widely ignored by the so-called mainstream media. Apparently, the members of our Fourth Estate assume there is nothing unusual in a Russian diplomat leaving $50,000 to pay off one of their American spies at a "dead drop," code named "Lewis," in Arlington, Virginia. If the allegations against Hanssen are correct, he is a heinous traitor. But what about the Russians who directed and funded this operation with an extraordinary sum even for the Soviet era and more recent Russian espionage? Are they, as Bill Clinton and Al Gore described them, "our Partners in Peace?" Robert Philip Hanssen is the fourth Russian spy caught in the last 15 months. Are the nice folks in Moscow really our "friends?" The final exchange in Tuesday's press conference is telling: QUESTION: "What does a case like this do to your cooperation with the Russians?" FREEH: "I don't think it impacts on it at all. ... We work very closely with the Ministry of Interior on criminal matters ... with their internal security agency on counter-terrorism matters. Those relationships are extremely important to both countries, and I think they will continue and not be affected by this case." What? Can anyone in a position of responsibility in our nation's capital really believe that this spy operated without the approval of Vladimir Putin, the former KGB officer who now runs Russia? If so, they ought to read a neat little tome entitled "The Foreign Policy Concepts of The Russian Federation," the latest edition of which Putin "approved" on June 28th, 2000. Section V of this exposition makes it clear that Putin is very much in charge of the security apparatus in Moscow. Putin also calls the shots on Russian weapons and technology sales internationally. Last week, when U.S. and British aircraft bombed Iraqi command and control sites, the Russians blistered the United States, condemned us for a "provocative policy" and called for lifting all sanctions against Iraq. A day after the strike, Saddam Hussein unleashed more missiles at U.S. aircraft patrolling the "no-fly" zone south of Baghdad. The missiles were Russian made. Intelligence reports indicate that Russia is currently selling thousands of advanced, SA-18, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles to North Korea. And the nice folks at the Russian Ministry of Defense have been reticent about just how many super-quiet Kilo Class submarines and long-range, wake following torpedoes Russia transferred to Iran as part of the secret deal Al Gore cooked up with his buddy, former Russian Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin. Meanwhile, 30 Russian military officers are ensconced at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado on a "joint missile defense exercise." Hopefully, the Bush administration will use the sad case of Robert Philip Hanssen as a catalyst to shake official Washington out of its "see no evil, hear no evil" lethargy when it comes to handling Russia. Vladimir Putin is doing his level best to return the second-place finisher in the Cold War to its hard-line glory days. The Hanssen case proves that leopards don't change their spots. If Vladimir Putin is a friend, we don't need any enemies.