The Banality of Espionage

I went to see Breach last night, about the Robert Hanssen case and had a thought that will disqualify me from ever working on a presidential campaign. Namely, the terrible, terrible thing about Hanssen is supposed to be that his treason got people killed. This is emphasized several times in the film. The two people named in the film, however, were . . . Soviet traitors. From a categorical imperative point of view, it’s hard to see how it can simultaneously be the case that getting traitors arrested and innocent is a terrible thing to do while identifying traitors and bringing capital charges against them is praiseworthy. This, of course, is why Alasdair MacIntyre thinks liberals can’t be patriots.

At any rate, I got to wondering who the third guy Hanssen got killed was, since the movie doesn’t mention him. Interestingly, the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s report doesn’t say either, which gives me the impression that the third man’s identity must be some kind of classified secret. The IG’s report also makes it clear that Hanssen wasn’t really all that; he went undetected for decades because the FBI didn’t make any real effort to identify moles inside the FBI. As the report concludes “the FBI trusted that its employees would remain loyal throughout their careers. The Hanssen case shows the danger of that approach.”

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