Ex-US Army pleads guilty of spying for Russian Federation

Elias Hubbard
November 21, 2020

Federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Virginia, said that former Green Beret captain Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, 45, a Minnesota native whose mother was born in Russia, conspired over 14 years to provide agents of an unspecified Russian spy service with US defense information.

Court records do not spell out the specific charge to which he is expected to plead; when he was arrested in August, he was charged under the federal Espionage Act with divulging USA military secrets about his unit's activities in former Soviet republics to Russian intelligence agents.

Debbins told Russian intelligence he considered himself a "son of Russia", and "thought that the United States was too dominant in the world and needed to be cut down to size", according to the indictment.

According to court documents, Debbins' mother was born in the former Soviet Union and he had visited Russian Federation before going on active duty with the Army. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. Shortly thereafter, Russian agents assigned him a code name, "Ikar Lesnikov". He even offered to take a polygraph test to prove his Russian loyalty when one handler accused him of being a double agent for the U.S.

'Debbins today acknowledged that he violated this country's highest trust by passing sensitive national security information to the Russians, ' assistant attorney general John Demers said in a statement.

David Barry Benowitz, one of Debbins' attorneys, did not respond to a request for comment.

In 2008, after leaving active duty service, Debbins disclosed to the Russian intelligence agents classified information about his previous activities while deployed with the Special Forces.

He also disclosed to them the names of a number of his former Special Forces team members, information that the Russians sought "for the objective of evaluating whether to approach the team members to see if they would cooperate with the Russian intelligence service", according to a court filing made in connection with his guilty plea.

According to the indictment, Debbins was based in Germany and later Azerbaijan with a high-level security clearance.

As a civilian, he later worked for military contractors in counterintelligence roles, including work as a Russian linguist.

Debbins also provided the names of, and information about, a number of his former Special Forces team members so that the (Russian) agents could evaluate whether to approach the team members to see if they would cooperate with the Russian intelligence service, federal prosecutors alleged.

In a handwritten confession filed in court, Debbins wrote that in 1997, he gave Russian intelligence a signed statement saying that "I want to serve Russia".

In the statement of facts issued made public Wednesday, though, Debbins admitted that he held pro-Russian and anti-American political views.

Debbins provided this information to Russian Federation "at least in part because he was angry and bitter about his time in the U.S. Army", the filing says.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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