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INTERVIEW

Elaine Shannon and Ann Blackman reply to questions they often hear about The Spy Next Door:

Q. What makes Robert Hanssen interesting?

A. Hanssen was a 25-year veteran of the FBI whose job was to help track enemy agents and make sure that American security was maintained. He appeared to be a devoted father of six and devout Catholic, who attended daily mass and weekly confession. But he turned out to be the most complex, damaging spy in U.S. history. And he got away with it for more than 20 years.

Q. Why did Hanssen become a spy?

A. Not very deep down, Hanssen was an angry guy. Always socially awkward, he was abused by his father as a child, disliked and made fun of by his colleagues as an adult. At the FBI, he was never considered "one of the guys." Fellow agents called him names behind his back. Hanssen never hid the fact that he thought he was smarter than his bureau colleagues. Then he decided to prove it. One day, not long after he moved to the FBI's New York office, Hanssen walked into the offices of the Soviet government's official trading company, Amtorg, in Manhattan and, leaving a phony name, offered to sell Moscow classified information. Hanssen knew that the FBI kept a close eye on Amtorg, which was actually a Soviet front for collecting scientific and technological information for the Soviet military. He was skating on the edge, almost daring the FBI to catch him from the start. But it took two decades.

Q. OK, so they missed him the first time. But how did Hanssen get away with spying for so long?

A. Hanssen didn't fit the profile of other spies, who liked booze and broads and the kind of good life that money could buy. Nor did he appear to care much about money. The extra cash probably helped make ends meet, but he drove old cars and lived very modestly. Perhaps more important, Hanssen appeared to be deeply conservative and holier-than-thou. He belonged to a small, strict Catholic society called Opus Dei, sent his kids to Catholic schools and kept a cross over his desk at work. He took leave from the bureau to attend anti-abortion rallies and wrote government papers on the dangers of communism. He put himself above suspicion--and fooled them all.

Q. Did his wife know anything?

A. Bonnie Hanssen caught her husband spying in 1979, shortly after he began his double life, and she hauled him off to a priest to confess. He promised never to do it again--and she believed him. But did she ever wonder where the extra money came from? Did she ever suspect that he had started spying again? After his arrest, the government found Mrs. Hanssen and the couple's six children victims of the crime, which, of course, they were. But read the book and decide whether Bonnie Hanssen was wearing blinders.

Q. What did Hanssen actually give away?

A. The crown jewels. He named key US agents who were executed when Moscow uncovered them. He turned over critical information about the U.S. intelligence apparatus, and he let his spymasters know what the United States knew about them. That's why he has been called perhaps the most dangerous spy in the country's history.

Q. How did two writers actually put this book together?

A. The general division was that Elaine concentrated on the spycraft and the history of the US counterintelligence program. She has covered the FBI, Justice Department and CIA for years and knew the cases, as well many of the players. Ann, who specializes in personality profiles and biography, concentrated on Hanssen's background, his family, religion and neighborhoods. We also had a superb editor in Little Brown's Geoff Shandler. He is a very hands-on editor--and it shows.

Q. Why should I buy this book?

A. The Spy Next Door is a window on how U.S. intelligence missed the September 11 terrorist attacks. It shows the gaping holes in U.S. defenses that enabled Robert Hanssen to be promoted from one counterintelligence job to another, getting higher and higher security clearances, all while he was spying for the Russians.

Q. How does this book differ from others about Hanssen?

A. It's written like the mystery it unravels, leading the reader on a fascinating journey through the murky world of spycraft, while exploring the character of a man who betrayed everything he believed in. Washington superlawyer Plato Cacheris, who as Hanssen's defense attorney knows perhaps as much as anyone about what really happened, praised our book as "a class act," well researched and well written. From someone who had reason to quibble with any comma out of place, that's high praise

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