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US Spy Robert Hanssen Spared Death Sentence - 2002-05-10

Former FBI agent turned spy Robert Hanssen was sentenced to life in prison Friday, closing one of the most damaging espionage cases in U.S. history.

Robert Hanssen will spend the rest of his life behind bars, serving a sentence of life without the chance of parole.

During a brief appearance at a federal court in Northern Virginia outside Washington, Hanssen apologized for his actions and said he was ashamed.

Addressing the federal judge who sentenced him, Hanssen said, "I am humbled by your generosity, your goodness and your charity."

Hanssen avoided the death penalty by agreeing to cooperate with U.S. intelligence officials to provide details about his 20-years of spying for the former Soviet Union and Russia in exchange for more than a million dollars in cash and diamonds.

Although some intelligence agencies were said to be less than satisfied with Hanssen's cooperation, in the end they recommended that he be spared a death sentence.

"For those who are tempted to betray their country, to give away its secrets, hear this. Robert Hanssen was trained to catch spies. He was an expert at what it took to avoid being caught and he was caught and he was punished and that is what will happen to anyone who betrays this country," federal prosecutor Paul McNulty said.

Hanssen's lawyer, Plato Cacheris, has said the life sentence is appropriate because his client has cooperated with investigators ever since his arrest in February of last year.

"Obviously, this is a serious case. Otherwise the punishment would not 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," Mr. Cacheris said.

Hanssen's sentencing brings to a close one of the most damaging spy cases in American history. U.S. intelligence officials said Hanssen passed along information to Moscow that led to the execution of at least two U.S. double agents. In addition, he provided technical information that revealed how the United States was intercepting Soviet satellite transmissions.

In the wake of the spy case, the FBI has begun implementing more stringent security measures aimed at preventing other federal agents from following in Robert Hanssen's footsteps.