Arrested on espionage charges for selling national defense secrets to Russian intelligence officers, a former captain in the U.S. Army Special Forces recently pleaded guilty to conspiring with Russian military officials.
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.
Recruited by an agent of the Russian intelligence service in 1996, Debbins 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 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 continuing to provide sensitive material to the Russian government.
In August, Debbins was arrested and charged with conspiracy to gather or deliver defense information to aid a foreign government. On Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to conspiring with Russian intelligence operatives to provide them with U.S. national defense information.
“Our country entrusted Debbins with the responsibility and training to protect it from its adversaries,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, in a press release. “Debbins betrayed that trust and betrayed his fellow service members by conspiring to provide national defense information to Russian intelligence operatives. I would like to commend our investigative partners for their steadfast and dogged dedication to bringing Debbins to justice and holding him accountable for his crimes.”
“Debbins today acknowledged that he violated this country’s highest trust by passing sensitive national security information to the Russians,” said John Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, on Wednesday. “Debbins betrayed his oath, his country, and his Special Forces team members with the intent to harm the United States and help Russia. Debbins’ guilty plea represents another success in the Department’s continuing effort to counter the national security threat posed by our nation’s adversaries, including Russia.”
“Debbins betrayed this nation and his fellow serviceman, putting Americans and our national security at risk by providing national defense information to Russia’s Intelligence Service,” stated Steven D’Antuono, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office. “Despite being entrusted to protect his colleagues and U.S. national security, he chose to abuse this trust by knowingly providing classified information to one of our most aggressive adversaries.”
“President Kennedy called the Green Berets ‘a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction.’ Mr. Debbins’ actions were a symbol of betrayal, a badge of cowardice, and a mark of treachery,” noted Alan Kohler Jr., Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “He pledged his allegiance to Russia, and in doing so, sold-out his country and fellow Green Berets.”
Debbins is currently scheduled to be sentenced in February 2021. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.