SpyCast 5.10.22
Ep 538 | 5.10.22

“America's Most Damaging Russian Spy, FBI Agent Robert Hanssen" – with Lis Wiehl

Show Notes


Lis Wiehl (Twitter, Website) joins Andrew (Twitter; LinkedIn) to discuss the FBI Agent Robert Hanssen. His espionage for the Russians was described as the “worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history.” 

What You’ll Learn


  • The many contradictions of this fragmented personality
  • The criminal sworn FBI Agent
  • The sexual fetishist in Opus Dei
  • The anti-communist Soviet spy
  • Hanssen’s impact on the FBI and American Intelligence
  • How the Hanssen case effected the FBI-CIA relationship 


  • Technology’s impact on the espionage/counterespionage cat-and-mouse game
  • Cultural and institutional blind spots

And much, much more…

Episode Notes

The International Spy Museum has the handcuffs that were put on one of the most notorious spies in American history, former FBI Agent Robert Hanssen. But what was the backstory of the moment those metal restraints closed around his wrists in Foxstone Park, Virginia? What did he do? Why did he do it? Who was this man? What damage did he do?

To discuss these questions, Andrew sat down with the author of A Spy in Plain Sight, Lis Wiehl. Lis is a former Federal Prosecutor and a legal analyst and reporter on major news networks, including a 15-year stint at Fox News. She is the best-selling author of 20 fiction and non-fiction books and last but not least she is the daughter of an FBI Agent who heard stories of Hanssen’s betrayal from her father.

Hanssen betrayed the "jewel in the crown of American intelligence, Dimitri Polyakov, and other U.S. assets, as well as handing over thousands of pages of highly classified information to the Soviet Union and later Russia.


In the intelligence community compartmentalization is a way to try to protect sensitive information, caveats, codewords, clearances, read ins, need to know, etc., but in the personal context it refers to being capable of being a “different person in terms of outlook, values and behavior at different times and circumstances.” David Charney met with Hanssen for an entire year after his arrest and described him as “the most compartmentalized person I have ever met.” He also mentions that he is a very experienced psychiatrist. Charney says in terms of compartmentalization most of us are a 1-2 on a scale of 10. Guess where Hanssen was?

Quote of the Week

"At one point hacked into one of his colleagues’ computers to get more information, he was found out and his excuse was, I was just trying to show you how easily we're hacked into so that we can make sure that we don’t, and they believed him because he was a computer guy…they just believed him when he hacked in this other person's computer. Crazy." – Lis Wiehl


Headline Resource

  • A Spy in Plain Sight, L. Wiehl (S&S, 2022)



  • New History of Soviet Intelligence, J. Haslam (FS&J, 2015)
  • Spy Handler, V. Cherkashin, (Basic, 2008)



Primary Sources

Wildcard Resource

  • Inside the Supermax Prison (Florence, Colorado) 
  • Hanssen is here alongside Harold James Nicholson, El Chapo, Ramzi Yousef and Terry Nichols