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ROLE IN CAPTURING SPY INSPIRES MOTION PICTURE BREACH
- An Auburn University graduates role in helping capture Russian spy Robert
Hanssen had led to production of the motion picture Breach, set to
open nationwide Friday.
Eric ONeill, a 1995 political science and
psychology graduate, joined the FBIs special surveillance group at age 22
and was a key player in the 2001 capture of bureau mole Hanssen, who sold U.S.
secrets to Soviet and Russian intelligence organizations for more than two decades.
felt more satisfaction from the Russians than from the FBI, ONeill
said after an advance screening in Auburn last Friday. Spying made him feel
sexy and cool, and he did it without any care for anyone else.
July 2001, Hanssen pleaded guilty to 15 counts of espionage and conspiracy charges.
Much of the evidence had been gathered by the then-26-year-old ONeill, who
had been assigned as an assistant to Hanssen for three months. Most notably, he
secretly took Hanssens handheld organizer, had it copied and returned it.
To catch the betrayer, I had to betray him, ONeill said.
I had to be someone I wasnt, because I could never show him the fear
and tension that I felt outside the office.
The movie stars Ryan
Phillippe as ONeill and Academy Award winner Chris Cooper as Hanssen. ONeill,
a resident and native of suburban Washington, D.C., visited Auburn last Friday
to attend the advance screening for members of the student alumni association.
We arranged for Eric to appear as part of a membership drive for the
student alumni association, said Betsy Robertson, editor of Auburn Magazine,
a publication of the AU Office of Alumni Affairs. The red carpet was literally
rolled out, and we had a drawing in which the winner rode to the screening in
a limousine with Eric.
ONeill graduated from Auburn with a
near-perfect grade-point average in three and a half years. Soon after the arrest
of Hanssen, he left the FBI to attend George Washington University law school,
earning his degree in 2003. He now practices with the international firm of DLA
(Contributed by Charles Martin.)
University is a comprehensive land-grant and research institution with more than
23,500 students and 6,500 faculty and staff. Ranked among the top 50 public universities
nationally, Auburn offers more than 230 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree
Note: More information and media resources, including downloadable, high resolution
images, are available at http://www.ocm.auburn.edu/newsmakers/breach