Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of WRAL Tech Wire and business editor of

RALEIGH, N.C. – Can life be worse than death? Read on and you will find out.

Anyone every considering spying for a foreign country should consider the fate of Robert Hanssen, one of the most infamous spies in U.S. history.

Brian Kelley, the former CIA operative who was falsely accused of being a spy, as the Hanssen investigation unfolded and is now known as the “wrong man” in the case, told a spellbound audience at the Raleigh Spy Conference what life is like now for Hanssen. He had just spoken at length about “Spies Among Us” – a band of so-called illegals from Russia arrested last year. But Kelley didn’t hesitate to go off subject when asked by an attendee about Hanssen, the hunt for whom nearly wrecked Kelley’s own life.

“He’s not a happy camper,” Kelley told the crowd of some 300 people at the event put on by Raleigh Metro Magazine Editor and Publisher Bernie Reeves. Kelley then spelled out in a firm voice that lacked rancor or emotion just what the traitor endures each and every day.

Hanssen has spent the last nine years in the Federal so-called “SuperMax” prison in Colorado under his life sentence without possibility of parole.

He’s in solitary confinement in a small cell. Yet he can hear others even if he can’t see him.

Also jailed there are Islamic terrorists.

“They cry, scream and pray all day,” Kelley said.

The more he told the crowd, the more spellbound and quiet they became.

“He probably hasn’t seen the outside in nine years,” Kelley said.

Daily exercise is limited to a small walkway.

He has a shower – which can be used 2 minutes per day.

Hanssen’s cell includes a combination sink and commode.

He sleeps on a cement bed covered with a thin mattress.

The cell includes a cement chair and a cement desk.

Luxuries include a window that faces out to another wall, limited reading materials and a once-a-quarter phone call.

He can watch some television.

He can turn off a light.

Over a 22-year period, Hanssen betrayed his country to the Soviet Union. Some of his information led to the execution of at least one U.S. mole operating within the Soviet military.

For his betrayal, Hanssen received over a million dollars in cash and diamonds.

And for the rest of his earthly life he stares most of the day at concrete, sleeps on concrete, and listens to screams of his fellow prisoners.

Can life be worse than death? Kelley’s riveting recounting made the answer to that question a resounding yes.

What does Hanssen say or scream that others can hear?

The bin Laden hunt

The seventh Spy conference, which Kelley helps Reeves put on, concludes today with the in-depth retelling of the hunt for Osama bin laden from former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden.

Would Hanssen tell bin Laden that the Al Qaeda terrorist who ordered the 9-11-01 massacre that he got off easy when Navy SEALS shot him dead?

Read more about the Hanssen saga here.

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(Note: Rick Smith is also a senior writer for Metro Magazine.)