A legal analyst for NPR, NBC, and CNN, delves into the facts surrounding what has been called the “worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history”: the case of Robert Hanssen—a Russian spy who was embedded in the FBI for two decades.
As a federal prosecutor and the daughter of an FBI agent, Wiehl has an inside perspective. She brings her experience and the ingrained lessons of her upraising to bear on her remarkable exploration of the case, interviewing numerous FBI and CIA agents both past and present as well as the individuals closest to Hanssen. She speaks with his brother-in-law, his oldest and best friend, and even his psychiatrist.
In all her conversations, Wiehl is trying to figure out how he did it—and at what cost. But she also pursues questions urgently relevant to our national security today. Could there be another spy in the system? Could the presence of a spy be an even greater threat now than ever before, with the greater prominence cyber security has taken in recent years? Wiehl explores the mechanisms and politics of our national security apparatus and how they make us vulnerable to precisely this kind of threat.
Wiehl grew up among the same people with whom Hanssen ingratiated himself, and she has spent her career trying to find the truth within fractious legal and political conflicts. A Spy in Plain Sight reflects on the deeply sown divisions and paranoias of our present day and provides an unparalleled view into the functioning of the FBI, and will stand alongside pillars of the genre like Killers of the Flower Moon, The Spy and the Traitor, and No Place to Hide.
Bestseller Wiehl (Hunting the Unabomber: The FBI, Ted Kaczynski, and the Capture of America's Most Notorious Domestic Terrorist) more than justifies another book about Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent who had been a spy for the former Soviet Union for decades until his arrest in 2001. She uses new interviews, including with Hanssen's brother-in-law, and extensive research to flesh out the story of Hanssen's consequential betrayals. Those included high-level asset Dmitri Polyakov, a Soviet general who had provided the U.S. with essential intel since the 1960s and who was tortured and executed after Hanssen informed the Soviets of his activities. The collateral consequences of Hanssen's treachery make this anything but a cold-blooded account. Among his unintended victims was CIA officer Brian Kelley, who was falsely suspected of being the Russian mole and who suffered psychological brutalization by his employers, who subjected him to harsh interrogations, and whose family members also were suspected of complicity and stigmatized while the criminal case against Kelley was still pending; the case was ultimately dismissed; the author's access to Kelley's emails makes that experience vivid. Wiehl closes with a valuable section exploring whether America's national security apparatus is better prepared today to prevent such an event from happening again, concluding, disturbingly, that another Hanssen is possible. This is likely the definitive look at a spy case that continues to shock years later.