Robert P. Hanssen, the Russian mole in
FBI counterintelligence, reportedly told an Opus Dei
priest in 1980 that he had begun his paid work for the
KGB in Washington DC in 1979-1980. The KGB officer at
the Soviet Embassy in Washington then in charge of vetting
Americans who offered their services was Vitaly Yurchenko.
As such, Yurchenko would have had to sign off on the
cash payments to Hanssen (payments which the Opus Dei
priest suggested should be donated to charity.)
Yurchenko also had two later liaisons with the Hanssen
case. After Yurchenko returned to Moscow in 1981, he became
deputy chief of the KGB department that had the responsibility
for coordinating all KGB moles in the FBI, CIA, NSA and
other United States intelligence services. He thus would
be continually monitoring Hanssen's paid contributions
to the work of the KGB. Then, on August 1, 1985, Yurchenko
defected to the United States and offered to expose a
high-level KGB mole called "Robert" in a US intelligence
service. Robert Hanssen was part of the FBI counterintelligence
team that was then guided by Yurchenko in its search for
the elusive mole codenamed "Robert."
Did Yurchenko lead the FBI and CIA investigators towards
or away from active KGB moles in place, including Robert
The temporary defection of Yurchenko from the KGB to the
CIA on August 1, 1985 coincided with a US intelligence
investigation into the trapping of a prize CIA mole in
Moscow~ A.G. Tolkachev.
Tolkachev was an electronics experts employed by an elite
Soviet think tank that researched problems of military
aviation and space detection systems, putting him in a
position to pass on to the CIA technical data on the state
of the art of Soviet radar. American mole-hunters were
searching for the source of that betrayal when Yurchenko
arrived in Rome to meet with the CIA.
Yurchenko offered an answer: a KGB agent code-named "Robert."
Yurchenko's "Robert" turned out to be Edward Lee Howard,
an ex-CIA employee who had fired by the CIA in 1983 after,
during a polygraph exam, he had admitted he had used illicit
drugs. Howard, who had hardly been more than a trainee
at the CIA, then called the Soviet Embassy and met with
a KGB officer in Austria. (After Yurchenko's tip, Howard
eluded FBI surveillance on his house and defected to Moscow).
The problem was that although Howard had been a Soviet
source on other matterss, he had not been privy to information
that would have identified Tolkachev in 1985.
. Howard was a red herring. So what Yurchenko accomplished
by furnishing this information about "Robert" was to steer
the CIA-FBI investigation away from the actual KGB moles
in the counterintelligence units of both the CIA and FBI.
By doing so, he helped divert attention away from Robert
(Yurchenko then re-defected to Moscow in November 1985.)