Top critical review
A fascinating subject--a disappointing book
Reviewed in the United States on December 30, 2001
There are two mysteries described in this book. One begins on October 1, 1985, the other ends on February 18, 2001. The first date marks the beginning of Robert Hanssen's career as a mole in the FBI, the second marks the end of that career. The mysteries are why Hanssen-devout Catholic, flag waver, ardent denouncer of Communists-turned to spying for the Soviets and later the Russians, and why it took so long to unearth this mole.
David Vise faced a tough assignment when he attempted to resolve these mysteries, and his effort to do so is only partially successful. Ferreting out material from government sources is never an easy task. In such a sensitive matter as this one, the problems are bound to be much greater. Even so, the author should have done more with what he had. Despite interesting asides, as in the description of the Opus Dei cult, too much of the material is "on background," and too much of what is left is inept padding-unnecessary appendices, long descriptions of William Freeh's career-which has little bearing on the core issues.
For someone who knows little about the Hannsen debacle, these pages will be an eye-opener, even though the story should have been condensed into a brief New Yorker article. For those familiar with the broad outline of what happened, this will turn out to be a disappointing book about a fascinating and still unexplained subject-what made Robert Hanssen tick, and why it took the FBI fifteen years to discover the ticking.