Feds Charge Former Green Beret with Espionage with Russia
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A former Army Green Beret living in northern Virginia divulged military secrets about his unit’s activities in former Soviet republics over more than a decade of contacts with Russian intelligence, prosecutors charged Friday.
Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, 45, told Russian intelligence he considered himself a “son of Russia,” according to an indictment made public after his arrest on Friday.
“Debbins thought that the United States was too dominant in the world and needed to be cut down to size,” prosecutors alleged.
Debbins, of Gainesville, periodically met Russian intelligence beginning in 1996, when he was an ROTC student at the University of Minnesota, through 2011. As far back as 1997, he was even assigned a code name by Russian intelligence agents — Ikar Lesnikov — after signing a statement saying that he wanted to serve Russia, according to prosecutors.
Debbins received nominal payments for his information, even though he initially refused the money.
Debbins’ mother was born in the Soviet Union, and Debbins met his wife in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, where they were married in 1997, according to the indictment.
“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,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, whose office is prosecuting the case. “As this indictment reflects, we will be steadfast and dogged in holding such individuals accountable.”
Prosecutors said Debbins will have an initial court appearance on Monday. Online court records remained sealed, so it was unclear whether Debbins has an attorney.
The espionage took place from 1996 to 2011, prosecutors say. During some of that time, Debbins served in Army Special Forces.
Debbins held Secret and later Top Secret security clearances during the time of his criminal conduct, according to the indictment.
The indictment alleges Debbins’ espionage began in late 1996 when he gave one of his Russian handlers the names of four Catholic nuns he had visited while in Russia.
He was assigned to a chemical unit in South Korea in 1998 and 1999, and the indictment says he provided his Russian handlers information about that deployment. He later deployed with his Special Forces unit to Azerbaijan and Georgia, He also allegedly provided information and names of his fellow Special Forces members.
The case against Debbins is the second Justice Department prosecution announced this week accusing a government or military official of transmitting U.S. secrets to a foreign country. The other case, in Hawaii, charged a former CIA officer with spying for China.
The two prosecutions “demonstrate that we must remain vigilant against espionage from our two most malicious adversaries — Russia and China,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official, said in a statement.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report
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