Accused of selling national defense secrets to Russian intelligence officers over several years, a former captain in the U.S. Army Special Forces was recently arrested and charged with conspiring for a foreign government.
According to the indictment, Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins is a U.S. citizen and was born in Minnesota. His mother was born in the former Soviet Union, and his wife was born in Russia with her father working as an officer in the Russian military.
In 1996, Debbins traveled to Russia and was recruited by an agent of the Russian intelligence service. After returning to the U.S. with his Russian wife, Debbins began active duty service in the U.S. Army in 1998.
Debbins was later selected for the U.S. Special Forces and assigned as a captain to the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group stationed in Germany. Between 1996 and 2010, he repeatedly traveled to Russia and secretly met with Russian intelligence officers who identified themselves as members of the GRU, Russia’s primary military intelligence agency.
In addition to providing the names and personal info of his former Special Forces team members, Debbins also allegedly sold other classified intel to the Russian government, including details of his military deployments, number of companies, missions, and technological capabilities. According to court documents, Debbins was bribed with payments of cash, a bottle of Cognac, and a Russian military uniform.
Debbins received an honorable discharge in November 2005 and served in the U.S. Army inactive reserve until 2010. During that time, he worked for a Ukranian steel manufacturer in Minnesota while allegedly continuing to provide sensitive material to the Russian government.
On Friday, Debbins was arrested and charged with conspiracy to gather or deliver defense information to aid a foreign government.
“Two espionage arrests in the past week — Ma in Hawaii and now Debbins in Virginia — demonstrate that we must remain vigilant against espionage from our two most malicious adversaries — Russia and China,” said John Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, referring to former CIA officer Alexander Yuk Ching Ma who was arrested this month and charged with spying for Chinese intelligence officials. “Debbins violated his oath as a U.S. Army officer, betrayed the Special Forces and endangered our country’s national security by revealing classified information to Russian intelligence officers, providing details of his unit, and identifying Special Forces team members for Russian intelligence to try to recruit as a spy.”
“Our military is tasked with the awesome responsibility of protecting our nation from its adversaries, and its service members make incredible sacrifices in service of that duty,” noted G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, in a recent press release. “When service members collude to provide classified information to our foreign adversaries, they betray the oaths they swore to their country and their fellow service members.”
“According to the allegations, Mr. Debbins knowingly provided information to self-proclaimed members of Russia’s Intelligence Service, the GRU,” stated James Dawson, Acting Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office. “As a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, the American people and his fellow service men and women should have been able to trust Debbins with secrets and information. Debbins allegedly fell very short of that and exploited his role in the military and his fellow service members to benefit one of our top adversaries for years.”
If convicted, Debbins faces a maximum sentence of life in federal prison.