Robert Hanssen

Public Domain Photograph

What was the accusation?

Former FBI agent, Robert Hanssen, pled guilty to 15 counts of espionage after it was discovered that he was selling U.S. secrets to the Soviet Union for 22 years, beginning in 1979.  Hanssen was able to avert suspicion numerous times by offering simple explanations for his odd behavior, but was finally caught when the FBI offered a Russian businessman and former KGB agent $7 millions dollars for information about the mole.  The source provided the FBI ample evidence to make a compelling case against Hanssen, who is now serving fifteen consecutive life sentences at a maximum security prison in Colorado.

Key Apologia Strategies:

Mortification, Bolstering

Brief Statements by Hanssen During Sentencing (May 10, 2002)

“I apologize for my behavior. I am shamed by it. Beyond its illegality, I have torn the trust of so many. Worse, I have opened the door for calumny against my totally innocent wife and our children. I hurt them deeply. I have hurt so many deeply.”

“I am struck by the government’s generosity, by its goodness and by its charity.”

“I wish to thank family, friends and others, especially those who are helping to support my family in this difficult time. For all this, I stand ready to accept the judgment of the court.”

Transcript of Hanssen’s Attorney Press Conference (Partial)

PLATO CATCHERIS, ROBERT HANSSEN’S ATTORNEY: Not in my judgment. I wasn’t at all the sessions. In fact, we weren’t hardly at any of them. But you know the government filed a pleading in which they told the court they had no reason to abort the plea agreement. And that meant that he had cooperated as he was supposed to do under the terms of the plea agreement.

QUESTION: How have you seen him change throughout this process?


QUESTION: How have you seen him change?

CATCHERIS: He’s lost a lot of weight because the food in the jail is lousy.

QUESTION: Why did he do it? If you could address the cameras, why did he do it?

CATCHERIS: There are a lot of complex reasons as to why he did it. I don’t know that I want to get into them. What has been said is there were monetary reasons, there were ego reasons. There’s a whole panoply of reasons. None of them are valid, otherwise he wouldn’t be here today. QUESTION: The government didn’t mention making provisions for the pension to his wife. Is that something that has gone forward?

CATCHERIS: That has gone forward and has been approved.

QUESTION: Where was his family today, and who is supporting…

CATCHERIS: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Where was his family today, and who is supporting (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

CATCHERIS: There was no family member in court today.

QUESTION: Any friends?

CATCHERIS: Some friends, yes.

QUESTION: Why no comment about remorse regarding the FBI, specifically?

CATCHERIS: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Why did Robert Hanssen make no comment whatsoever about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) FBI (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

CATCHERIS: As I told you earlier, he wrote the statement himself. It was his statement, and why he said what he said is his business. I don’t know why he didn’t say any more.

QUESTION: Why was his family not here today?

CATCHERIS: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Why was his family not here?

CATCHERIS: Because they didn’t want to face this group.

QUESTION: How are they? How are the family?

CATCHERIS: They seem to be doing very well.

QUESTION: Mr. Catcheris, in his statement, Mr. Hanssen thanked his colleagues for their support. Are there some FBI agents who have come to his support?

CATCHERIS: I don’t know that.

QUESTION: What did you mean when the government (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? Were there…

CATCHERIS: I’m sorry?


CATCHERIS: Well, as you know, from the pleading that was filed by the prosecutors, they raised some concerns by the Hanssen damage assessment team and by the Department of Justice inspector general. They questioned the complete accuracy and cooperation of Mr. Hanssen. I don’t think that — but they concluded by saying the agreement should go forward. Therefore, I thought the comments that were made by those two were niggling.



QUESTION: Plato, you’ve obviously represented some high-profile espionage spies before this. Can you assess the damage that Hanssen has done compared to Ames and others? That’s obviously — the damage assessment is one of the only lingering questions still as to what…

CATCHERIS: I would leave that really for the intelligence community to assess. Obviously, this is a serious case, otherwise the punishment wouldn’t have been as extreme as it is. There would not have been threats of the death penalty, which there were. But I think it was serious, I’ll say that much.

QUESTION: Can you say what he said in the courtroom for the people who weren’t in there?

CATCHERIS: Can I say what he said? I can’t. He apologized to his family, basically, and to his colleagues for the shame he felt for the activities that he had undergone that brought him to court.

QUESTION: Plato, you made reference to the fact that there were niggling questions. Was there ever any doubt in your mind that the plea bargain was in jeopardy?

CATCHERIS: No. I felt that what…

(From CNN Transcripts)


Ex-FBI spy Hanssen sentenced to life, apologizes (2002, May 14). CNN. Retrieved from:

FBI spy Robert Hanssen gets life sentence (2002, May 10). Fox News. Retrieved from:

McGeary, J. (2001, March 5). The FBI spy it took 15 years to discover; One of the most damaging cases of espionage in U.S. history; An inside look at the secret life, and final capture, of Robert Hanssen. Time. Retrieved from:,8599,2047748,00.html

Nix, E. (2017, May 10). Robert Hanssen: American traitor. History Channel. Retrieved from: