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A Spy in Plain Sight: The Inside Story of America's Most Damaging Russian Spy and the Implications for National Security Today

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New York Times bestselling author and former federal prosecutor Lis Wiehl delivers a behind-the-scenes account of how FBI agent Robert Hanssen, a church-going father of five, sold national security secrets to Russia for more than two decades--and how America's current political climate makes it still possible today.  Three years into his career as an FBI agent, Robert Hanss New York Times bestselling author and former federal prosecutor Lis Wiehl delivers a behind-the-scenes account of how FBI agent Robert Hanssen, a church-going father of five, sold national security secrets to Russia for more than two decades--and how America's current political climate makes it still possible today.  Three years into his career as an FBI agent, Robert Hanssen made the shocking decision to volunteer as a spy for the Soviet Union, beginning two decades of espionage that the Department of Justice considers "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in US history." Drawing upon deep archival research and exclusive personal interviews--including unique access to FBI and CIA agents and Hanssen's friends and family--former federal prosecutor and Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl has written a propulsive, page-turning thriller detailing how this unassuming father of five, a devout Catholic and member of Opus Dei, got away with sharing highly classified information with Russia, including the names of FBI operatives within the KGB and details about America's military weapons operations.  When FBI agents--with help from an ex-KGB officer--arrested Hanssen in 2001, the resulting investigations laid bare the weaknesses in the FBI's internal security. In her careful analysis, Wiehl uncovers surprising reasons behind Hanssen's devastating acts of betrayal and sheds light on the very real possibility of another mole in operation today, particularly given our current social and political climate.


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New York Times bestselling author and former federal prosecutor Lis Wiehl delivers a behind-the-scenes account of how FBI agent Robert Hanssen, a church-going father of five, sold national security secrets to Russia for more than two decades--and how America's current political climate makes it still possible today.  Three years into his career as an FBI agent, Robert Hanss New York Times bestselling author and former federal prosecutor Lis Wiehl delivers a behind-the-scenes account of how FBI agent Robert Hanssen, a church-going father of five, sold national security secrets to Russia for more than two decades--and how America's current political climate makes it still possible today.  Three years into his career as an FBI agent, Robert Hanssen made the shocking decision to volunteer as a spy for the Soviet Union, beginning two decades of espionage that the Department of Justice considers "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in US history." Drawing upon deep archival research and exclusive personal interviews--including unique access to FBI and CIA agents and Hanssen's friends and family--former federal prosecutor and Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl has written a propulsive, page-turning thriller detailing how this unassuming father of five, a devout Catholic and member of Opus Dei, got away with sharing highly classified information with Russia, including the names of FBI operatives within the KGB and details about America's military weapons operations.  When FBI agents--with help from an ex-KGB officer--arrested Hanssen in 2001, the resulting investigations laid bare the weaknesses in the FBI's internal security. In her careful analysis, Wiehl uncovers surprising reasons behind Hanssen's devastating acts of betrayal and sheds light on the very real possibility of another mole in operation today, particularly given our current social and political climate.

30 review for A Spy in Plain Sight: The Inside Story of America's Most Damaging Russian Spy and the Implications for National Security Today

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rowan

    How well do you know your neighbour or colleague? Imagine if someone you saw each day, someone you worked with, turned out to be someone entirely different. Imagine if they were dangerous, responsible for the deaths of others, and regarded as the most damaging spy in history. The story of Robert Hanssen reads like an intricate Bond film, or Le Carré novel - only it’s real life. “He’s the Man Behind the Curtain, the one you never see but who is watching you all the time.” Lis Wiehl is the daughter How well do you know your neighbour or colleague? Imagine if someone you saw each day, someone you worked with, turned out to be someone entirely different. Imagine if they were dangerous, responsible for the deaths of others, and regarded as the most damaging spy in history. The story of Robert Hanssen reads like an intricate Bond film, or Le Carré novel - only it’s real life. “He’s the Man Behind the Curtain, the one you never see but who is watching you all the time.” Lis Wiehl is the daughter of a former FBI agent, but still managed an unbiased approach to the story. She certainly had no problem highlighting the FBI incompetence which led to Hanssen being able to operate undetected as a spy for twenty years. His KGB handler estimated the total value of his espionage to have been $10 billion! An exhaustive amount of research has been poured into this book, with an impressive array of people and sources listed in the back. Wiehl had access to a range of CIA and FBI personnel, Hanssen’s best friend, brother-in-law, psychiatrist and others. It all helped build an intimate picture of the infamous spy. Turns out, he was quite the monster. It’s so heavy on detail that it can be confusing – even for someone, like myself, who reads a lot of non-fiction. Changing time-frames were jarring too, but I found myself hooked once I settled in. There were so many mentions of dead-drops, packages, classified documents, codes and fake names. It was entertaining chaos and exciting to read, even when knowing the outcome. I'll never look at a footbridge the same again! “Studying the ever-growing dead-drop sites, one begins to wonder if espionage could exist at all without sylvan parks and footbridges to hide packages and payments under.” I enjoyed the inclusion of letters between Hanssen and handlers - they brought the story to life. Lis Wiehl made me feel like I was suddenly privy to secret information! The comparison to other well-known spies was interesting - in particular to Rick Ames, who was operating (unknowingly) at the same time and reporting to the same handler. The treatment of Brian Kelley (wrongfully suspected by authorities of being the mole) was heartbreaking. I felt quite sorry for his widow. The many red flags against Hanssen, as highlighted extensively by Wiehl, made me wonder how they ever thought it was anyone but Hanssen. It was intriguing to read how they spied on Hanssen once they knew it was him. Wiehl was able to build tension with the resultant capture too. His words to arresting officers sounded like something out of a film. “What took you so long?” Wiehl concluded with psychiatric perspectives on Hanssen; his motives and the traits that allowed him to operate for so long (extreme compartmentalisation) - I could read a whole book on the psychology of such people. The final chapter on the state of democracy and security risks wasn’t as strong. Somewhat paranoia-inducing, it seems clear there will be more cases like this in the years to come. If you like James Bond, Le Carré , The Americans, or simply enjoy an espionage film once in a while, then this is compulsory reading. “Please, at least say goodbye. It’s been a long time my dear friends, a long and lonely time.”

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    A Spy in Plain Sight is the fourth book I've read about FBI double agent Robert Hanssen, and it's probably the weakest. As a telling of the Hanssen story, it is somewhat non-linear, often lurching forward or doubling back on the timeline of Hanssen's decades-long espionage career, and detailing the stories of Hanssen's personal weirdness out of sequence and, at times, without adequate context. There's a glibness about Wiehl's writing style, too, that seems more suited to the blurb on the back of A Spy in Plain Sight is the fourth book I've read about FBI double agent Robert Hanssen, and it's probably the weakest. As a telling of the Hanssen story, it is somewhat non-linear, often lurching forward or doubling back on the timeline of Hanssen's decades-long espionage career, and detailing the stories of Hanssen's personal weirdness out of sequence and, at times, without adequate context. There's a glibness about Wiehl's writing style, too, that seems more suited to the blurb on the back of the book than the story being told within. If you're going into this book without much background knowledge of the Hanssen case, hoping to have a grasp on the whole saga by the time you reach its conclusion, you might just find yourself frustrated. David A. Vise's The Bureau and the Mole: The Unmasking of Robert Philip Hanssen, the Most Dangerous Double Agent in FBI History may be two decades old, but it remains superior to Wiehl's 2022 offering. Yet A Spy in Plain Sight is not without merit, particularly when it comes to relaying the perspectives of various people involved in the investigation that belatedly nailed Hanssen. It also documents some of the changes within the U.S. intelligence community in the 20 years since Hanssen's incomparably damaging mole work. Thus, despite being inferior to its predecessors, A Spy in Plain Sight is able to offer something they could not. Whether that's enough to make it worth reading probably depends on just how interested you are in real-life spy stories.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Meg Aliffi

    Thank you Edelweiss for the arc! Super interesting story, it was a little tough to read but I'm not much of a nonfiction reader. I do love how thorough the author was in the details and timeline of this story. She really built the full picture of Hanssen's betrayal. I had never learned about this case and I was really excited to read more into it. All in all, I would recommend especially to habitual non-fiction readers. Thank you Edelweiss for the arc! Super interesting story, it was a little tough to read but I'm not much of a nonfiction reader. I do love how thorough the author was in the details and timeline of this story. She really built the full picture of Hanssen's betrayal. I had never learned about this case and I was really excited to read more into it. All in all, I would recommend especially to habitual non-fiction readers.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Melynda

    It was fantastic right up until the end chapter when the author went off about the now disproven Russia collusion conspiracy theory during the 2016 elections. I would have given it five stars if she had stopped just prior to her ideological filled rant. Knowing what I know about how dark Russia has been in terms of intelligence penetration over the past 25+ years, I can see how some might have conjectured Russian interference, but now that the facts have been laid bare by Mueller’s investigation It was fantastic right up until the end chapter when the author went off about the now disproven Russia collusion conspiracy theory during the 2016 elections. I would have given it five stars if she had stopped just prior to her ideological filled rant. Knowing what I know about how dark Russia has been in terms of intelligence penetration over the past 25+ years, I can see how some might have conjectured Russian interference, but now that the facts have been laid bare by Mueller’s investigation & current court cases, it’s time to set that conspiracy theory aside.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jlauren

    An interesting/educational read about an FBI agent who passed secrets to the Russians and avoided detection for decades. He was arrested in 2001. I don’t remember ever hearing about this guy, Robert Hanssen. Can’t really recommend this book because it turns out Hanssen was a real scumbag and the book goes into some details about his depravity. Also a handful of swear words. Two things I took from this book: the FBI and CIA clearly are not as impressive as they seem upon first glance, and OH MY GO An interesting/educational read about an FBI agent who passed secrets to the Russians and avoided detection for decades. He was arrested in 2001. I don’t remember ever hearing about this guy, Robert Hanssen. Can’t really recommend this book because it turns out Hanssen was a real scumbag and the book goes into some details about his depravity. Also a handful of swear words. Two things I took from this book: the FBI and CIA clearly are not as impressive as they seem upon first glance, and OH MY GOODNESS the number of agencies, divisions, commissions, inspections, etc etc that have to be created or have to funnel information through to even begin to track down the spy in their midst, is quite frankly horrifying.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    3.5 stars. This was a good read with interesting inside information. I was hoping for more details on how Hanssen operated, how he kept it secret, and how he was caught and monitored - especially the time between when the FBI knew how he was and eventually arrested him. These things were covered, but I was looking for a deeper dive. I’d recommend it for anyone interested in learning more about this case.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    I enjoyed this non fiction and hadn’t heard of the story before. They actually made a movie about it as well so after I finished the book I watched the movie called the breach, and the book was way better then the movie but the movie was entertaining.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Scott

    A pain to read—it’s like a half-finished rough draft. Clearly well researched but the material isn’t brought together logically at all.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jeff J.

    A detailed account of the espionage investigation of FBI agent Robert Hanssen. The real tragedy is how CIA officer Brian Kelley was treated when he was suspected of being the spy.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gina Long

    Lots of information. So much, in fact, that it is repetitive

  11. 4 out of 5

    Garrett Mccarthy

    Great book- provides new insights that are absent from previous books on the topic.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rens Khadiele

  13. 4 out of 5

    Zach

  14. 4 out of 5

    Erica

  15. 5 out of 5

    J Crist

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tom Shafer

  17. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Testani

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lois

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gabriel Vogt

  20. 5 out of 5

    Carl

  21. 5 out of 5

    Avery Sullivan

  22. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  23. 5 out of 5

    Megan

  24. 4 out of 5

    Gabriella Spallone

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra Solomon

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anne

  27. 5 out of 5

    Pace

  28. 5 out of 5

    Liz

  29. 5 out of 5

    Janet

  30. 4 out of 5

    CFodor

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