Was Hanssen a Spy for the Right Wing, Too?
          by Joe Conason

          Should the national media ever manage to transcend the current
          preoccupation with the personal affairs of a certain Congressman,
          perhaps the time will come when attention turns again to an equally
          intriguing topic: the twisted politics of confessed F.B.I. traitor Robert P.Hanssen.

          Emerging almost unnoticed in recent weeks were three strange but significant
          stories about the Hanssen case. What they suggest—along with other information
          unearthed previously about the longtime Soviet spy—is that he may have simultaneously
          functioned as a right-wing operative at the highest level of American law enforcement.
          If that sounds outlandish, consider the evidence.

          The question of Mr. Hanssen’s political affiliations first arose
          following his arrest, when it became clear that his treason had been motivated by
          money rather than ideology. He was no leftist but instead, as Newsweek reported in
          early March, a devout member of the secret, controversial and ultraconservative
          Catholic lay order known as Opus Dei. Liberal Catholics have frequently accused
          Opus Dei, which answers directly to the Vatican, of pursuing secular political
          influence and quashing modern reforms in the Church.

          Now it appears that Mr. Hanssen once held a key bureaucratic position from which
          he may have promoted these objectives. On July 29, the Los Angeles Times
          published a lengthy investigation of his role as a top F.B.I. overseer of domestic
          counterintelligence operations. From documents obtained through the Freedom of
          Information Act, many of which bear his handwritten initials, the Times discovered
          that Mr. Hanssen spent several years directing the bureau’s notorious Reagan-era
          probes of American liberal and peace organizations. Such groups were deemed
          inimical to the objectives of the conservatives then in power, who tended to regard
          dissent over the nuclear-arms race and war in Central America as Soviet-influenced
          and subversive.

          According to the paper, those redacted files refer repeatedly to the bureau’s Soviet
          Analytical Unit, where Mr. Hanssen served as deputy chief. Among the unit’s responsibilities
          was “to digest raw intelligence reports regarding alleged subversion.” Its analysis would then
          be provided to “the White House, Congress, and occasionally, the public.”

          As later Congressional investigations would show, what this often meant in practice
          was the harassment and sometimes the smearing of Americans engaged in lawful
          political activity. Among the many groups under surveillance by the F.B.I. in those
          days were the Gray Panthers, nuclear-freeze advocates associated with SANE—and
          the left-leaning Catholic adversaries of Opus Dei who opposed the American-backed
          repression in Central America.

          What the L.A. Times story doesn’t explore is how the raw intelligence data reviewed
          by Mr. Hanssen may have been misused—and whether he was ever in direct
          contact with anyone at the White House, in Congress or in the news media
          regarding alleged liberal subversion.

          That certainly seems possible in light of another revelation, under the venerable
          byline of Robert Novak. The conservative columnist admitted on July 12 that Mr.
          Hanssen had served as his main source for a 1997 column attacking Janet Reno,
          then the U.S. Attorney General, for supposedly covering up 1996 campaign-finance
          scandals. Although Mr. Novak still believes that the information offered by Mr.
          Hanssen was valid, even he cannot help wondering whether Mr. Hanssen was
          “merely using me to undermine Reno.” (Adding another dimension to this curious
          confession is Mr. Novak’s reportedly close relationship with a prominent
          Washington cleric who works in Opus Dei’s offices near the White House.)

          Apparently Mr. Hanssen would have been eager to use Mr. Novak against the
          Clinton administration, if a June 16 cover story published by Insight magazine is to
          be believed. The author, Paul Rodriguez, obtained numerous e-mails allegedly
          written by the spy in recent years, some of which include venomous invective
          against President Clinton and his appointees. The messages are full of speculation
          about subjects ranging from Mr. Clinton’s personal behavior to the Elián González
          and China fund-raising affairs. One of the Hanssen e-mails concludes sardonically,
          “I guess from this you can determine that I am not a big fan of Clinton.” The article
          omits the names of the recipients of those messages. Perhaps the magazine was
          protecting the privacy of innocent persons—or its own sources. It ought to be
          noted, however, that Insight is a conservative publication, put out by the same
          outfit that publishes the Washington Times.

          All these stories, taken together, are merely pieces of a much larger jigsaw puzzle
          that may or may not ever be completed in public view. There is considerable irony,
          of course, in the news that a confessed Soviet agent was responsible for spying on
          innocent American citizens in the name of patriotic vigilance. But Mr. Hanssen, who
          avoided the death penalty by agreeing to reveal everything he knows and did, may
          have some truly troubling stories to tell about the American side of his double life.
 

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