[ISN] FBI Says Jailed Turncoat Warned of Spy Suspect

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Tue May 29 2001 - 00:29:55 PDT

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    Monday, May 28, 2001 
    WASHINGTON--An FBI agent who pleaded guilty to spying for Moscow
    linked a fellow alleged turncoat, Robert Hanssen, to suspicious
    computer activity during interrogations in 1997, three years before
    Hanssen came under investigation for spying, the FBI acknowledged on
    The former agent, Earl Pitts, described as "unusual" a computer
    hacking incident involving Hanssen, a 25-year FBI veteran arrested on
    Feb. 18 on charges of spying for Moscow for more than 15 years, FBI
    spokesman John Collingwood said.
    But Collingwood said the FBI's National Security Division had
    thoroughly investigated a 1992 incident of unauthorized computer
    access to which they believed Pitts had referred in the interrogation
    after his guilty plea.
    The FBI investigators "were completely satisfied that Pitts had not
    raised any issues beyond what was already known" about Hanssen's
    alleged 1992 break-in to the computer of a senior FBI
    counterintelligence official, he said.
    The disclosure that Pitts had raised suspicions about Hanssen was the
    first evidence that the bureau had received a warning raising
    Hanssen's name years before he fell under suspicion in the spying case
    last year.
    The FBI has been on the defensive in recent months for a string of
    high-profile blunders, including a misstep in the Oklahoma City
    bombing case that has delayed convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh's
    execution for a month and the belated discovery of the alleged spy
    Hanssen in its midst.
    In a prison interview with The New York Times published on Monday,
    Pitts was cited as saying he had told the FBI in June 1997 that he
    suspected Hanssen of spying, although he acknowledged that had not
    known for sure.
    Pitts was quoted as saying that the computer incident he had learned
    of suggested to him that Hanssen -- who is to be arraigned in federal
    court in Alexandria, Virginia, on Friday -- was "trying to collect
    information covertly."
    So he mentioned it when an FBI interrogator asked him whether he
    thought anyone else in the bureau was working for Moscow, the Times
    reported. It quoted Pitts as saying he had named no other suspects.
    Pitts was arrested on Dec. 18, 1996, on charges of selling secrets to
    Moscow for at least $224,000. He is serving a 27-year sentence at a
    federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky, where the Times interview took
    Lawyers for Pitts and Hanssen did not return phone calls seeking
    Collingwood said the bureau had concluded that Pitts had been
    referring to the penetration of a computer used by Ray Mislock, a top
    FBI counterspy.
    "During his post-guilty-pleas debriefing, Pitts did not identify
    anyone, either by name or position, as a spy," the FBI spokesman said.
    "Pitts said his Soviet handlers had not identified anyone to him as a
    spy. Pitts did describe as 'unusual' a computer hacking incident
    involving Hanssen. Pitts did not identify Hanssen as a spy. When asked
    if he was aware of anything beyond this hacking incident already known
    to the FBI, Pitts said 'no."'
    Collingwood added that after Pitts referred to Hanssen in his
    debriefing, "the matter was immediately referred to FBI headquarters
    for appropriate handling."
    "There's nothing that surfaced in the initial investigation of the '92
    incident then, and there's nothing that surfaced since then in regard
    to the '92 incident that points to espionage," he said.
    At the time of the unauthorized entrance into the FBI computer,
    Hanssen had told Mislock he had broken in to drive home his supposed
    concerns about lax computer security, The New York Times reported.
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