On Feb. 18, 2001, an FBI agent named Robert Hanssen dropped a friend off at the airport and then drove his gray Ford Taurus to a place called Foxstone Park in Vienna, Virginia.
After pausing to place a piece of tape on a pole as some sort of signal, he walked through the cold and wind until he reached a footbridge. He crossed the bridge, and once he found the "drop spot" he was looking for, he set down a plastic bag full of classified documents for the Russians to retrieve.
There was no adrenaline, and certainly no need to look over his shoulder. It was routine. He had been doing this for 15 years, after all, and no one had ever caught him. Until the day someone did.
Just before he reached his car, 10 FBI agents swarmed him.
"Freeze," one of them said.
"What took you so long?" Hanssen replied.
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Hanssen, who had spent 25 years in the FBI as a counterintelligence agent, was taken into custody, found guilty of 15 counts of espionage and sentenced to life in prison.
All told, Hanssen gave over 6,000 classified documents to the Russians, including where the United States would strike Russia in the event of a nuclear war. He also compromised the names of nine double agents, which led to two of them being executed in Moscow.
The FBI called Hanssen's actions "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in United States history."
For his actions, Hanssen was paid a total of $1.4 million in cash and diamonds.
Meanwhile, as the news of his arrest spread around the world, an 88-year-old widow in South Venice named Vivian Hanssen was as shocked as anyone. The traitor was her son.
Robert Hanssen would visit his mother in Venice each summer with his wife and six children, neighbors remembered.
After Robert's arrest, Venice had a brief moment in the spotlight as the national media descended on Vivian's home in hopes of securing an interview.
Vivian even granted a few, including one to the Herald-Tribune, as she wanted to paint a picture of her son as a good kid who read MAD magazine growing up, attended Northwestern University, and at one point, wanted to become a dentist. She didn't want to believe her son was perhaps the most devious traitor in United States history – a person Robert Mueller, soon to be director of the FBI, said should be executed for his crimes – but the facts were too overwhelming.
Incredibly, Hanssen isn't even the only famous spy connected to the Venice area.
A man named Sergei Tretyakov, from 1995-2000, was one of Russia's top spies. He allegedly helped steal $500 million from the United Nations and was a master at going into New York libraries and spreading misinformation about the United States on computers. He was the originator of "fake news."
He was also a double agent, and it was believed he passed 5,000 Russian top-secret files to the United States.
Tretyakov was sort of like Hanssen’s evil twin, or maybe Hanssen was Tretyakov's evil twin. At any rate, the FBI reportedly paid him $2 million to defect from Russia, and after he accepted the offer guess where he moved? That's right. To Osprey, with love.
Tretyakov died in Sarasota County in 2010, and many speculated Vladimir Putin poisoned him as revenge. Turned out he died at 53 after having a heart attack while eating a piece of chicken pot pie. So much for romantic spy novels.
As for Hanssen?
He died in prison on Monday at 79, leaving some Americans to wonder:
What took you so long?
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Robert Hanssen is not the only spy connected to Sarasota area