Monday, March 19, 2007


Rob and I saw Breach this weekend. It was a bit of a surreal experience because I kind of knew the Hanssens in a third party kind of way. You see, when this spy scandel broke out I was in a small women's Bible study and the leader of our group was very close to the Hanssens. They were in the DC Opus Dei together and their kids went to college together. In fact, the older children were pretty tight friends.

I watched firsthand how this man's evil transgressions tore apart those close to him. I heard how his children were devasted and the toll it took on his precious wife.

Yes, I know Hanssen's betrayal put our country and her cititzens at great risk. People were murdered because of his activities. But, somehow, that is news. It's not really real, is it? When you read it in the paper, but don't know the participants, it's almost like it takes place in another world. It's too easy to forget about such things - most Americans don't want to be bothered by bad news.

When Rob and I left that movie theater, we were numb. The evil that man did, for perhaps no other reason than a thrill, is beyond words. And it was ever more real because we saw how it affected people who loved him in real life.

I'm not sure how much longer Breach will be in theaters. I assume not much longer as the cinema was pretty empty when we went Saturday. But, if it's still showing in your town, I recommend seeing it. It's been the hot topic all over the blogosphere if you want to read more: here, and here, and here.

UPDATE: I sent this website to Rob this morning which tells what parts of the movie were made up. I found Rob's comments interesting and would like to share them with you here (as you can see, he is far superior to me in intellect):

As I have slept on the movie, and read this website, I am starting to believe that Billy Ray intended, albeit pretty subtly, to lead viewers to link Hanssen's orthodox Catholicism at least to his mental instability, which from this you can either infer or not was part and parcel of his treason. I believe he intended to link it to his treason, again very subtly. Granted, much of the portrayal is true and it was only a snapshot of his life pretty much at that exact time, but that might be part of his strategy, i.e., to not allow other potential "influences" to get much play. I think the insertion of the fictional homophobic piece tips you off to Ray's real views of orthodox Catholicism, though perhaps in his study of Hanssen he found some specific evidence to conclude that he was personally "homophobic." I am intrigued to read and/or watch more of O'Neill's perspective, particularly to find out if Hanssen was as uptight, cynical, and condescending (particularly to non-Catholics) as the movie portrays.

My read on his "reason" for the treason remains that he became bitterly anti-government from a lifetime of bureaucratic mistreatment, which caused him to act out because he didn't separate himself from it before the treason began. This bitterness over-rode his ideological disapproval of the Soviets ("lost the Cold War because of their atheism") though he may have had some bizarre attraction to Russian society, particularly their anti-libertinism (such as banning pornography). It is quite intriguing (and very much not out of the realm of possibility) that he could have been blackmailed by Soviet agents as his wife believes, perhaps for some sexual impropriety. Given his study of Russian language/culture and his extensive work in Russian counterintelligence for the bureau, it's very possible he could have come into contact with Russian spies pretty early on in his tenure. This theory (blackmail, possibly sexual in nature) would tie well to his background, that he would need to cover it up so he was an easy target. It might explain why he never left the FBI despite becoming so cynical about bureaucracy. It might also explain why he didn't get that much money for the secrets. I don't believe O'Neill's opinion that he did it for the money.

Two things to keep in mind. Russia is a very depressing country and culture, as their social statistics attest to and as a Russian history prof at UMSL used to teach (according to a friend, who said he committed suicide some years ago). If Hanssen did have some psychological issues (perhaps depression) feeding into his anti-government views, it might explain some attraction for an intellectual to Russian society, which means he could have done it without blackmail. Secondly, Hanssen is in his mid-60s, so he grew up almost completely in the pre-Vatican II church. It is entirely possible that, as a strict orthodox Catholic adult from youth, he was embittered by the whole Vatican II experience, which I think was probably hardest on people exactly his age, who were fully adults when it hit but still quite young and not as inculturated by age to adapt easily. It would be interesting to know more about his college experience, probably very conservative, ending just before the radical 60s started happening around 1966-67. If I had the time, it would be worth reading some of the biographies that have been done on him since the arrest.


Jenn Miller said...

Thanks for the review, Maureen. We were another affected 3rd party, as we are Cooperators near DC and all our circles have someone who knows the Hansens well.

It's all just too sad...but I have to think that he never truly grasped what his Faith was meant to be.

Margaret Mary Myers said...

I suppose I shouldn't publicly admit my ignorance but I knew nothing about any of this before today. This evening I've read all the links you gave us, and even all the comments at Amy Wellborn's blog. I see now how very, very tragic this is, but it is also so very sad. I think we need to pray not only for the family, but for Mr. Hanssen himself as well. Jesus "desires not the death of a sinner but that he be converted and saved." May He have mercy on him and bring him to His own Heart.

Pauli said...

"....I am starting to believe that Billy Ray intended, albeit pretty subtly, to lead viewers to link Hanssen's orthodox Catholicism at least to his mental instability...."

Yeah, why not? Many pieces on the abuse scandal try to blame the practice of priestly celibacy for the pedophilia problem of a small number of priests. Makes as much sense as saying marital fidelity leads to adultery, but seems to be something that certain human subpopulations accept uncritically.