Saturday, March 30, 2019

Book Review: Gray Day, by Eric O'Neill
Robert Hanssen was one of the most damaging spies in the history of the United States. Apparently, he had read Kim Philby’s autobiography at a young age and had been thinking of this “career path” for a long time.

Eventually he was hired by the FBI and was given access to all sorts of secrets Russia would just love to discover—such as the names of Russians who were secretly working for the CIA. Hanssen delivered—for a price. He gave them names and information in exchange for a total of about $1.5 million. Many of the secret spies he squealed on to Moscow were executed, making Hanssen in effect a mass murderer.

His secret activities went undiscovered for years and year, from the 1980s into the new century. What should make any reader angry are the lost opportunities to catch Hanssen. For example, suspicious behavior was passed on to the Chicago FBI office, only to be ignored—criminal dereliction of duty?

Eventually, information that pointed the finger of suspicion directly at Hanssen was bought for millions of dollars. Enter the author of this book, Eric O’Neill. He was placed inside Hanssen’s office to surreptitiously spy on him for the purpose of gathering information for an airtight case against the spy.

I had read about the Hanssen case before, but it was only with O’Neill’s book that I learned of the odious personality of Hanssen by someone who worked right next to him. Hanssen was a lit fuse, a human insult machine, in short, a walking, talking security risk that went unnoticed while he delivered secrets to the Russians in exchange for financial rewards. It is incredible that anyone who behaved like Hanssen could not have drawn intense scrutiny from day one.

Knowing that Hanssen sits in a prison cell while his victims are long dead, one has the sense that justice has not been served—meaning, the punishment isn’t commensurate with the crime.

Are things any better in the Intelligence Community these days? Have they learned their lessons from spies like Hanssen and Aldrich Ames? Seemingly not. We’re all heard the names of more recent spies who gathered secrets under the noses of their supervisors—Ed Snowden, and more recently, Harold Thomas Martin III, who apparently stole 300 times as much secret information as Snowden.

Recent history tells us our secrets are still not safe and that the Intelligence Community is still hiring the wrong people, giving them access to information they shouldn’t have, and blissfully unaware of the damage they wreak until it’s too late.

Perhaps a day in the future will arrive soon, when the evil “human element,” as evinced by Hanssen and others, is eliminated by technology, making it impossible for a human spy to steal our secrets. We aren’t there yet, as I have been reading in the news lately.

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