Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Philip Hanssen: The Spy who Stayed out in the Cold

Classmates Reminisce

After getting his B.S. degree from Knox, Bob applied unsuccessfully for a position as a cryptographer at the National Security Agency just north of Washington, D.C. An NSA official explained to him that the rejection was due to budget cutbacks. It was the middle of the Vietnam War, and Hanssen wasn't anxious to be drafted. He again turned to higher education, enrolling in Northwestern University's Dental School. At Northwestern, just north of Chicago, Hanssen shared a dormitory room with a Hawaiian classmate, Jerry Takesono, who remembers a quirky, introverted youth who sometimes behaved a bit strangely, always wearing a black suit, white shirt and tie to class when everyone else wore sweaters and jeans. Hanssen also wore the black suit to his cadaver class, carving up the dead bodies without even taking off the jacket. He continued to wear the same black suit after the dissections, something Takesono hasn't forgotten.

"The suit smelled of formaldehyde and he was hanging it up each night in our room. Our place reeked of the cadaver. I finally had to ask him to get it drycleaned." Takesono recalled.

Another classmate, Marty Zeigner, said it was impossible to miss Hanssen's brilliant mind, however disturbed. He recalled an episode that demonstrated his ability to retain information.

"I sat across from Bob in a lecture on tooth structure. The professor was someone called Dr. Chasen, who liked to hear himself talk. He was a bit long-winded. Everyone but Bob was fervently taking notes. Instead, he had a single sheet of paper and had used it to doodle a bird and had also drawn a sketch of an anatomically correct nude woman. He had written just one word on the page: bicuspid.

"The professor walked around the room as he talked. It was hard for him to miss Bob's naked lady. He came over to his desk and just lost it. He began reaming Bob outsomething about how Northwestern was a professional school and how he was lucky to get in. Bob sat there, but you could see he was pissed off. Finally, he couldn't take it anymore and interrupted him.

"He told the professor he had accused him of not listening and didn't appreciate it. Bob said, 'Why don't you go back in front of the class and start over and I'll pick it up from there.' When the professor began, he interrupted and began repeating the lecture word-for-word. It was like he had a tape recorder inside his brain. Afterwards he told me, 'I can remember every conversation I have ever had.'"

Despite good grades, Hanssen tired of dental school, saying, "I don't think I want to spend my life picking pieces off of someone's teeth." Instead he began telling his classmates that he had decided to be a psychiatrist.

Howard Hanssen helped his son test the waters by getting him a weekend job as an orderly at a city-run mental hospital. There Bob delighted in pretending he was a doctor, calling mental patients into an office and interviewing them. A Northwestern classmate, John Sullivan, often sketched the inmates as Bob talked to them.

"He loved showing people the control he had over them," Sullivan said. "They were mostly bonkers, but he would perform for his friends, putting the patients through their paces. He wasn't mean; he just quietly interrogated them."

Another college friend, Robert Lauren, tells an anecdote indicating Hanssen had traitorous leanings long before he joined the FBI. Though the episode occurred three decades ago it now must be considered remarkable.

Kim Philby, British spy
Kim Philby, British spy

"I was leaving his houseI think it was 1968 or 1969and Bob handed me the memoirs of a British traitor who had spied for Moscow over a 20-year period," Lauren said. "The book was My Silent War by Kim Philby. He thought the book was terrific. After a few weeks I returned the book and he asked me if I liked it and I said it was very interesting. Bob then saidand I've never forgotten it, particularly nowhe said, 'You know, someday I'd like to pull off a caper like that.'"

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