I don't want to brag, but celebrity-spotting is a regular occurence in the DC area. Hilary rushing to a meeting. Condi leading a motorcade up the GW Parkway. Reese and Owen filming their latest romcom at Dupont Circle. The "Real World" kids pretending that life is real for them in an old Victorian house in the same neighborhood.
So, I have to admit that I barely flinched 10 years ago when I made the turn out of my neighborhood on my way to work and saw a gaggle of TV cable trucks clustered at one end of the local elementary school parking lot.
I didn't find out until later that day, but one of the most notorious Cold Warriors had been arrested in the 'hood the afternoon before. He'd been caught picking up some cold, hard cash that had been stashed under a bridge in the park near my house.
Former FBI agent Robert Hanssen is now serving a life term at a Supermax prison for selling US secrets to the Russians. This double agent would drop off important documents and pick up reciprocal loot under the bridge during afternoon walks ~ the same route I routinely take. His fellow Fibbies tackled him in the snow in February 2001 after he'd made one of these exchanges. He taped our secrets under the bridge and pocketed their money for 22 years before his past ~ and the law ~ caught up with him.
The reason those TV trucks were parked in my neighborhood that February morning 10 years ago is because Hanssen is ~ was ~ my neighbor. He went on trial, lost his appeal, and was sent away to prison. His family ~ a wife and six kids ~ stayed in the neighborhood.
For years, Hanssen ~ and I must reiterate, I never met the guy, unless I unknowingly passed him or his Russian handlers on the neighborhood walking path ~ and his foibles were fodder for the local gossip mill. Kids searched under the foot bridge in the woods for Russian loot that may have been left behind. My friends would see one of the Hanssen kids walking the family dog and refer sardonically to an encounter with "Spy Kid" and "Spy Dog."
Hollywood even came to the neighborhood five years ago and filmed "Breach," starring Ryan Phillipe (Reese's ex) and Laura Linney. To try to reflect the local ambiance, outside shots were done in the winter. Producers had to bring in snow-making machines to approximate the meteorological conditions from the time of the arrest.
Things, as they usually do, settled down after a while. The Hanssens' story became mere background, dredged up only when visitors inquired.
But now, after all this time, the Hanssens are back in the news. Spy House is on the market, for $500,000 more than the family purchased the modest three-bedroom home 24 years ago. Quite a markup, I'd say.
I'm not sure why Mrs. Hanssen stayed in the neighborhood after her husband had shamed her. I'm not sure why she's vacating the premises now. The press, of course, is having a happy old time of it. I guess the woman hasn't yet paid her dues in full.