Agent Hanssen: The orthodox spy

Baumann, Paul

OF SEVERAL MINOS PAUL BAUNANN AGENT HANSSEH The spy who came in from the fold Sim Philby's My Silent War disclosed how he rose to head the British Secret Service's counterespionage...

...In explaining his motives to the Russians, Hanssen is reported to have mentioned Philby's book...
...If he fit into the organization with an ulterior motive, it looks like the fit was not a difficult or uncomfortable one...
...In 1992, Pope John Paul II beatified Opus Dei's charismatic founder, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer (1902-75...
...To Catholics like myself, however, Opus Dei is hardly coterminous with Catholicism...
...Members of Opus Dei and similar groups are becoming more visible as the so-called "countercultural" agenda of Catholic conservatives becomes more influential in the church...
...Moreover, there is good reason to distrust any faith, whether secular or religious, that is held as single-mindedly and uncritically as some self-proclaimed "orthodox" Catholics now hold theirs...
...Long associated with Franco's government and with right-wing movements throughout Latin America, Opus Dei, its critics argue, is little more than the latest wrinkle in the old integrist dream of establishing an "organic" and wholly Catholic social and political order...
...Hanssen is reported to have preferred the Latin Mass and to have kept to Opus Dei's ascetical routines...
...Still, just as certain forms of liberalism may have provided fertile soil for Communist sympathies, something in the Manichaean worldview and hothouse atmosphere of groups like Opus Dei seems mirrored in Hanssen's alleged acts...
...At the same time, worldly success is encouraged (if s called the sanctification of work), and Opus Dei is known for its recruitment of intellectual and social elites...
...What we do know is that Opus Dei is one of the more baroque alternatives embraced by those outraged by the loss of moral and spiritual discipline in both the church and society...
...Hanssen's contempt for the bungling of his fellow FBI and CIA agents seems to have been linked to his disdain for the godlessness, materialism, and sexual license of American society...
...To many non-Catholics, especially religiously skeptical ones, belonging to Opus Dei means nothing more than being a high-octane Catholic of a certifiably orthodox sort...
...OF SEVERAL MINOS PAUL BAUNANN AGENT HANSSEH The spy who came in from the fold Sim Philby's My Silent War disclosed how he rose to head the British Secret Service's counterespionage operation while working as a Soviet spy...
...One wonders if he read Greene's introduction...
...In Rome, devotional zeal and organizational success seem to override concerns about authoritarian structures and cult-like attitudes...
...Hanssen's rigid piety and reactionary views remind us that the rejection of American democracy is as likely to come from the right as from the left these days...
...Whatever oddity they find in such membership being conjoined with treason is ultimately only a variation of the strangeness of Catholicism itself, or possibly of any religious belief at all...
...Yes, something surely has been lost...
...to the world, they are successful doctors or lawyers, distinguished only by their professional skills and autonomy...
...Indeed, Opus Dei and similar groups often give the impression that liberal Catholicism barely qualifies as genuine Catholicism...
...Escriva founded the organization, called "the Work of God," in the 1930s in response to the disestablishment of the church in Spain...
...Members lead a kind of double life...
...So I must confess to some unchristian feelings of schadenfreude over Opus Dei's current public-relations nightmare...
...There is no going back to a time when moral and religious beliefs were free from all ambiguity...
...Whatever the courts decide about Hanssen, enough has surfaced to remind us that religion is no guarantee of morality...
...off the job they must not only engage in an intense life of prayer (all to the good) but be strictly accountable to those above them in "the work" (more problematic...
...Commonweal 8 March 23,2001...
...Perhaps it was this double-agent aura that appealed to Hanssen, whose career in law enforcement has been devoted to counterespionage of one sort or other...
...Hanssen was not only apparently a serious convert to Catholicism, he is a member of Opus Dei, the secretive Catholic organization much praised by Catholic conservatives and favored by the current papacy...
...In the introduction to that book, Graham Greene compared Philby to "Catholics, who, in the reign of Elizabeth, worked for the victory of Spain...
...in too many cases, if s not even a good predictor...
...The work," as the group's adherents call it, has taken the traditional pre-Vatican II devotional practices of a religious order like the Jesuits or Franciscans and adapted them for lay Catholics, including married couplesóminus, of course, the public acCommonweal 7 March 23,2001 knowledgment of living in a separate community and by a disciplinary rule...
...Of course, Hanssen's motives are likely to have been greed, wounded professional pride, or the result of some darker psychological malady...
...Greene, Philby, and the ambiguities of religious belief come to mind in trying to make sense of the life of Robert Philip Hanssen, the FBI counterintelligence expert now accused of spying for the Soviets and Russia...
...Professionally, he seems to have put great stock in his intellectual and moral superiority over those around him...
...But that's all speculationówe will probably never know the whole truth about Hanssen...
...Both societies, Hanssen may have reasoned, are hopelessly corrupt...
...But too much easy talk is now heard about the necessary connection between religious belief and moral virtue...
...Perhaps betraying what some insist is a "culture of death" to its atheistic enemy may not have caused as great a crisis of conscience as first appears...
...Greene, of course, had a soft spot for those committed to duplicity or betrayal, especially if belief or passion rather than ego or greed motivated their crimes...
...His ultimate allegiance was to a grander, purer truth far above the disorder of democratic politics...

Vol. 128 • March 2001 • No. 6


 
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