Robert Hanssen may be the first spy suspect to use a Palm Pilot electronic organiser to betray secrets.
The FBI claimed that he used flash memory cards, computer diskettes, a Palm Pilot and computer encryption techniques to plan meetings and pass on 6,000 pages of classified documents. Hanssen, exhausted by demands to trek through muddy parks and forests to meeting places, even tried to persuade his Russian handlers that he should upgrade his Palm Pilot VII organiser to one with a wireless capability so that he could beam secret documents instead of depositing them in dead letter drops.
The FBI said he passed 26 diskettes to the Russians, hiding documents on parts of the diskette not normally seen by Windows computers. “It is a very clever trick,” said Dr Neil Barrett, technical director at Information Risk Management, a specialist security consultancy. Hanssen used a technique called 40-track mode, in which the disk is made to have slightly less capacity than usual and secret documents are hidden in 512-character chunks in the “lost area”.