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FBI says tighter rules helped snatch agent

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI says tighter controls over top-secret documents and other improvements recommended after the Aldrich Ames spy case helped catch Robert Philip Hanssen.

Bureau management had been cautioned four years ago by the Justice Department inspector general to beef up training and communications. The FBI was criticized at that time for not doing enough to find out how Ames leaked sensitive information to the Soviet Union.

FBI spokesman John Collingwood said Thursday that recommendations made in the inspector general's 1997 report were implemented and had a direct bearing on the arrest of Hanssen this week. Hanssen, a veteran FBI agent, is accused of spying for Russia for 15 years.

"The IG's recommendations were constructive and incorporated into the FBI's counterespionage program," Collingwood said.

Hanssen's arrest has left members of Congress with questions about what happened and how to stop it from recurring. So the Senate Intelligence Committee scheduled a closed hearing for Wednesday to press FBI Director Louis Freeh and CIA Director George Tenet for some specifics.

"Some of the questions that will be asked are looking through the rearview mirror, trying to find out what happened, and some will be looking through the front window pane into how we can prevent a repetition," Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., the panel's vice chairman, said Wednesday.

A 100-page affidavit released by the FBI on Tuesday, when Hanssen, 56, was arraigned on espionage charges, alleges that Hanssen in 1985 sent a letter to a Soviet agent volunteering to provide classified intelligence information in exchange for $100,000.

For the next 15 years, the affidavit says, Hanssen passed along to Soviet and later Russian agents 6,000 pages of documents on secret programs that described how the U.S. gathers intelligence, technologies used for listening, people who work as double agents and other highly sensitive matters.

Other details of Hanssen's career with the FBI appeared in published reports Thursday:

—Former FBI officials quoted by USA Today said Hanssen once openly hacked into the office computer of the FBI's top Russian counterintelligence official in the early 1990s. After infiltrating the computer, he told FBI officials that he was demonstrating the vulnerability of system. He was not reprimanded, according to the officials.

—David Major, who was Hanssen's boss at the FBI, told The Washington Post that the agent had access to "Everything — all sources, all methods, all techniques, all targets. There's only a few people in counterintelligence that have to know everything. And he was one of them."

The FBI scoured Hanssen's suburban Virginia home Wednesday, emptied the family shed and even raked through leaves and debris in the yard.

At the same time, Attorney General John Ashcroft promised to search for answers to one of the most troubling questions in the case: Why Hanssen's alleged 15 years of spying for Moscow was never detected at the FBI.

Former CIA and FBI Director William Webster, at Ashcroft's request, will convene a panel to review FBI security procedures and recommend changes that could prevent future incidents.

Hanssen's knowledge of how things worked made it much tougher to uncover him, officials said.

He didn't suddenly start flashing cash around; his outward behavior didn't change; he exhibited none of the signs — financial troubles, marital problems, drug or alcohol problems — that would attract attention.

"He knew the system, he knew how to protect himself or he wouldn't have lasted for 15 years," Graham said.

FBI agents as a rule are given polygraph — or lie-detector — tests only when they join the bureau and when they need a higher level of clearance for a particular assignment.

CBS News, citing FBI sources, said Hanssen never received a polygraph test. Tracy Silberling, an FBI spokeswoman, said Hanssen was hired before 1994, when the agency began testing new agents, but would not comment on whether he would have been tested anyway because of his assignment. Counterintelligence and national security assignments could, but may not always, require a polygraph, said Silberling.

On the Net: The FBI: www.fbi.gov