Rumors of secret tunnels inside and around the Washington DC have fascinated individuals ever since the city became the nation’s capital. During the Cold War especially, underground passage ways, hidden staircases and secret tunnels running into and around the White House sparked interest as tensions heightened between the U.S. and Soviet Union. Although many of these passageways are still rumors fueled by conspiracy theorists and history buffs, the location of one classified tunnel is suspected to have been disclosed to the Soviet Union (and later Russia) by one of our own FBI agents.
Robert Hanssen, an FBI officer and counter intelligence expert, is believed to have leaked information to the Soviets about the existence of a tunnel that ran underneath the Soviet Embassy building in DC. In addition to announcing its existence and location, Hanssen also allegedly provided information on the surveillance operations taking place underneath it. Although this was just one piece of intelligence that Hanssen leaked over decades of his time with the FBI, it was one of the key clues that led to his arrest.
The construction of the tunnel allegedly begain in the 1970s and was in full-swing by the late 1980s. Even though the U.S. government is still unclear of the exact time when Hanssen began leaking news of the tunnel, the timing of when the Soviet Union (later Russia) received the intelligence is what caused U.S. officials to launch an investigation. Initially intelligence experts believed the source of the leak was from Aldrich Ames (another mole in the FBI who had already been arrested and incarcerated for espionage) but the continuing breaches of intelligence during Ames’ incarcaration led to an investigation to find the other Russian informant.
It was not until 2001, that Hanssen was arrested for his crimes against the U.S. after he was caught dropping off a packet of intelligence that was intended for one of his Russian contacts in a Virginia park. Hanssen later pled guilty to all 21 counts of espionage and is currently serving out a life sentence in prison.
The construction of the tunnel was later accused by the Russians of being a, “violation” of international law. Although White House officials will neither confirm nor deny the tunnel, intelligence sources have confirmed its existence even though it is still unclear how much valuable information was collected from its construction. One counterintelligence agent Maynard Anderson stated that the tunnel operation was, “innovative..” and that, “ I’m sorry we got caught.”
The tunnel allegedly ran underneath Wisconsin Ave under the hilltop location known as Mount Alto.