In February, 2001, Robert Hanssen, a senior agent with 25 years in the FBI, is arrested for spying. Jump back two months: Eric O'Neill, a computer specialist who wants to be made an agent is assigned to clerk for Hanssen and to write down everything Hanssen does. O'Neill's told it's an investigation of Hanssen's sexual habits. Within weeks, the crusty Hanssen, a devout Catholic, has warmed to O'Neill, who grows to respect Hanssen. O'Neill's wife resents Hanssen's intrusiveness; the personal and professional stakes get higher. How they catch Hanssen and why he spies become the film's story. Can O'Neill help catch red-handed "the worst spy in history" and hold onto his personal life?
In 2001, the FBI clerk Eric O'Neill, who is a specialist in computers but wants to be an agent, is invited by agent Kate Burroughs to work with the senior agent Robert Hanssen, who had worked for many years in the Soviet Union and now is assigned to protect the agency against electronic infiltration. Kate tells to Eric to write down the behavior of Hanssen in notes and send them to her since Hanssen would be a pervert under investigation for his sexual behavior. Eric works with the bitter and rough Hanssen and he finds a family man and devout Catholic who earns his respect instead of a deviant. Further, his investigation and his relationship with Hanssen and his wife Bonnie affects Eric's wife Juliana. Eric tells his opinion to Kate and she decides to tell the truth about Hanssen to him: he is a mole that sold many secrets to the Soviet Union and has compromised the identity of dozens of agents. Eric decides to go on in his assignment despite his friendship with Hanssen and the problems in his marriage.
The true story of the sequence of events that lead to the arrest of Robert Hanssen for espionage in 2001. Hanssen (played by Chris Cooper) was a senior agent at the FBI. An agent-in-training, Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe), is hired as Hanssen's assistant, in order to keep tabs on him. O'Neil is initially not told of the true nature of the investigation. Once he finds out, however, the layers of deception increase and he soon finds himself in danger.
FBI trainee Eric M. O'Neill arguably works harder than most of his colleagues to make agent. In February 2001, agent Kate Burroughs recruits O'Neill for a special mission to work as the assistant to twenty-five year veteran agent Robert Hanssen in the newly formed Division of Information Assurance, Hanssen both a Russian and information systems specialist. The true mission is on Hanssen, with O'Neill to report directly to Burroughs on Hanssen's day-to-day activities. Burroughs tells O'Neill nothing more than that Hanssen is a sexual deviant. O'Neill, in accepting the job on the inference that it will help in making agent, is to tell no one, not even his wife, student Juliana O'Neill, formerly of East Germany, of the true nature of his new work. O'Neill finds the work difficult, not only because of Hanssen's gruff and uncompromising nature, which includes railing against FBI bureaucracy, but because O'Neill is uncertain what is looking for in observing Hanssen. Things becomes more complicated when he begins to admire Hanssen and dislike Burroughs the more he is kept in the dark, then learns directly from Burroughs the allegations against Hanssen. Having this knowledge makes O'Neill's life more difficult in needing to balance his on-the-surface work to Hanssen and reporting to Burroughs, whose demands on him are greater and greater as he is in the know about the allegations. Things get even more complicated as Hanssen inserts himself and his devoutly Catholic wife Bonnie Hanssen into the O'Neills' private life, Juliana who knows nothing and who intensely dislikes her husband's boss. O'Neill's work ends up being a game of cat and mouse, it never too clear if Hanssen or he having the upper hand. If Hanssen does, it could place both of the O'Neills' lives in danger.
FBI upstart Eric O'Neill enters into a power game with his boss, Robert Hanssen, an agent who was put on trial for selling secrets to the Soviet Union.
- Eric O'Neill is a young FBI employee assigned to work undercover as a clerk to Robert Hanssen, a senior agent he is told is suspected of being a sexual deviant. Hanssen has been recalled to FBI headquarters ostensibly to head up a new division specializing in Information Assurance.
Initially, Hanssen insists on a strict formality between the two men. He frequently rails against the bureaucracy of the FBI and complains that only those who regularly "shoot guns" are considered for senior positions instead of those, like himself, who are involved in vital national security matters. He calls the bureau's information technology systems antiquated and laments the lack of coordination and information exchange with other intelligence agencies.
Eventually, Hanssen becomes a friend and mentor to O'Neill and takes a personal interest in him and his wife Juliana, who is suspicious of Hanssen and resents his intrusions. A devout Catholic who is also a member of Opus Dei, Hanssen urges O'Neill, a lapsed Catholic, and his secular East German-born wife to become active churchgoers.
O'Neill finds no evidence of Hanssen leading a secret double life and develops a growing respect for his boss, so he confronts his handler in the undercover assignment, Kate Burroughs, and she admits that the sexual deviance allegations are only a secondary consideration. Hanssen is suspected of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia for years and being responsible for the deaths of agents working for the United States. He learns that FBI Director Louis Freeh is personally leading the investigation.
While the FBI could arrest Hanssen under lesser charges, they want to catch him in an act of espionage, so they can threaten him with the death penalty for treason and possibly induce him to divulge the information he has compromised. O'Neill is ordered to obtain data from Hanssen's Palm Pilot and keep him occupied while FBI agents search his car and plant covert listening devices in it.
The tracking devices in Hanssen's car cause interference with the radio, which makes Hanssen suspicious. He also wonders why he was placed in an isolated position in the FBI only a few months before he's scheduled to retire. He tells O'Neill he believes he is being surveilled by Russian agents. The FBI intercepts a message he sends to his Russian handlers saying he will not provide any more information. O'Neill persuades Hanssen that he is not being trailed by the Russians or by him on behalf of the FBI. With his confidence restored, Hanssen makes one last dead drop of stolen information, and the FBI catches him in the act.
Although he is assured promotion, O'Neill is discouraged with the toll the case has taken on his marriage and opts to leave the agency to work in the private sector. After he tells Burroughs of his intentions, she wishes him well, then O'Neill leaves his office with his belongings. He manages to catch an elevator before it descends, but is taken aback to see Hanssen inside, in handcuffs flanked by Plesac and an officer. Their eyes meet, and Hanssen tells O'Neill "Pray for me." The doors close and the scene fades to black.