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FCW movie review: Breach -- the Hanssen

I'm lucky enough to be out in Southern California this weekend -- Santa Barbara, specifically -- to be celebrating my one-year wedding anniversary. (Temp forecast: 77, thank you, as opposed to a balmy 37 at home in DC.) Unfortunately there doesn't ever seem to be a really good time to cut out. I missed Marty Wagner's retirement festivities on Thursday night, for example. (We created a cover of Federal Computer Week. I'll post it here next week.)

Anyway, yesterday we had the chance to see Breach, the new movie about the Robert Hanssen, the FBI super-agent turned Soviet spy.

I have been fascinated by Hanssen ever since his arrest, particularly because this was a high-tech guy. In fact, he was very high-tech.

I then read the book The Bureau and the Mole by David A. Vise, who used to work for the Washington Post and went on to write a wonderful book about Google.

Anyway, Hanssen is a horrible and yet fascinating person -- a total paradox. He was a career FBI counter-intelligence agent who everybody says is unbelievably smart, an ardent Catholic... yet he spent years betraying his country. At one point, the FBI had even putHanssen in charge of the investigation to fine the mole in the agency.

The movie is the story through the eyes of Eric O'Neill, who was tasked with watching Hanssen when the investigation was in its final months. (He is played by Ryan Phillippe.)

For our community, there are a funny moment in the movie like when Hanssen tells O'Neill to just go take a computer from the stacks of computers sitting in the halls of the FBI's headquarters.

But the FBI's computer problems also underlie the movie. Hanssen was tasked with a faux cyber-security post -- a job where he couldn't do any further damage.

Over all, the movie, like the story itself, is fascinating and Phillippe, Chris Cooper (Hanssen) and Laura Linney (the FBI agent in charge) all do stellar work. The movie, however, doesn't get to the whys -- why did Hanssen do this? That's no unusual because I'm not sure any of us really know other then some attempts to play arm chair shrink. But the story is amazing and the movie does a good job of capturing Hanssen.

So I recommend it... and it has been getting fairly good reviews.

In my searching around the Web, I did find some interesting stuff on Hanssen, if you want to read more.

The Washington Post had an interesting story Thursday about the case... and the movie... and O'Neill. (Tidbit: O'Neill wasn't able to talk about Hanssen until after the plea agreements were all complete. Hanssen's wife is not able to talk about it at all as a condition of getting her husband's pension.)

The FBI has files related to Hanssen.

Read the indictment of Hanssen here. The Smoking Gun has other Hanssen documents. As does this site.

Stories from the New York Times... and CNN.

And apparently they made a TV movie about the case in 2002 called Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story.

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Feb 17, 2007 at 12:16 PM


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