Sunday, April 01, 2007

Book Review: Spy

SPY: The Inside Story of How the FBI's
Robert Hanssen Betrayed America

by David Wise

This is the biography of Robert Hanssen, a senior-level FBI agent who sold top secret information to the Soviets over a period of two decades. He was appointed head of the committee designated to search out the "mole" (himself) in the FBI. And according to all of his closest friends, was a devout Catholic.
As a result of the information Hanssen leaked to the KGB, several of their double agents (secretly informing the FBI and CIA of Soviet intelligence activities) were executed as traitors.
The issue that concerns us in my class on Religion and Society in the 20th Century is, of course, how Hanssen reconciled the two seemingly contradictory aspects of his life--the religious and the treasonous (and murderous)--not to mention other moral breaches, such as his affair with a stripper, or the sex videos he made of his wife without her knowledge, which he shared with his friends. Did Hanssen believe that regular confession could absolve one of such repeated offenses against family and country? Was his devotion merely a cover-up for his conspiracy to assist the "Godless" Soviets?
I'm only half finished with the book, but I have three thoughts. First of all, the nature of intelligence, counter-intelligence, double agent work, and fake double agent work etc. is so confusing, I can hardly keep it all straight. I can't imagine how a person--anyone--working in this type of environment would ultimately keep their loyalties straight. The very nature of the work requires a confusing duplicity which I, for one, would never be able to manage. I'm not excusing Robert Hanssen's behavior, but I am suggesting that it seems as though to be involved at all in this type of work is to be playing both sides and to perhaps lose a grip on any authentic ability to maintain
true loyalty that a person might have had.
Another thought is that Hanssen's complicated relationship with a father who always insisted his son would never add up to anything might have fueled Hanssen's need to both achieve and deceive Authority. Perhaps he was attempting both simultaneously.
I am also eager to learn more about the exclusive Catholic organization
Opus Dei that both Hanssen and his wife belonged to. It seems to have very close ties to the powerful elite within the Catholic church and I'm wondering to what extent Hanssen's devoutness was motivated by membership and status within this exclusive and secretive organization.

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