By the time fellow FBI agents arrested Robert Hanssen in February 2001, he’d been spying for the Russians off and on for two decades. Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post scribe Vise attempts to explain why Hanssen did it and how he got away with it in this comprehensive account. Hanssen, says Vise, was a highly intelligent but socially inept loner who felt “overlooked and underappreciated” by his colleagues at the Bureau. Determined to prove he was better than them and eager to profit from his superiority Hanssen decided to begin passing classified documents to his KGB counterparts in exchange for diamonds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. He also revealed the names of at least nine U.S. spies working in the KGB, several of whom were subsequently executed. But the FBI, Vise writes, was so blind to its own vulnerabilities that it ignored the warning signs even when Hanssen’s brother-in-law (also an FBI agent) reported that Hanssen was hiding huge sums of cash at home. Vise adheres to a plain newspaper style in his account, which steals some of the excitement from Hanssen’s dramatic spy craft; he also includes long, needless digressions on the career of FBI Director Louis Freeh. But Vise’s research and reporting are first-rate and his sources (Hanssen’s wife, mother and best friend, as well as other FBI agents and ex-KGB operatives) are excellent. This is a chilling portrait of a man who betrayed his country simply to see if he could. (Jan.) Forecast: This is one of a trio of books on Hanssen, including The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold (Forecasts, Oct. 1), one of which came in too late for review (see note, The Spy Next Door, page 59). The market may be too crowded for Atlantic’s optimistic 50,000-copy first printing.
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