A former U.S. Army Green Beret captain has pleaded guilty to passing sensitive security information to Russian intelligence operatives in a 15-year long spying conspiracy.
According to court filings, Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins admitted that from 1996 to 2011 he handed over to Russian espionage agents classified information he obtained as a member of the Army, including confidential materials about his chemical and Special Forces units. Debbins also provided his Russian handlers with the names and personal information of a number of his former Special Forces team members so that the agents could determine whether to recruit other team members as spies.
“Debbins betrayed his oath, his country, and his Special Forces team members with the intent to harm the United States and help Russia,” said John Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. “Debbins’s 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.”
In 1996, Debbins was granted a secret security clearance and in 2004, upon completing his Special Forces training, received a top secret security clearance with access to Sensitive Compartmented Information. In 1997, he was assigned a code name by Russian intelligence agents and signed a statement attesting that he wanted to serve Russia.
Debbins was indicted by a grand jury in U.S. District Court last August. According to the indictment, his interest in the Russian Federation was due in part to his heritage; his mother's birthplace was in the former Soviet Union. He first visited Russia in 1994, when he was 19 years old, followed by a series of trips from 1995 to 2010, the indictment said. On one of his visits he met his wife, who was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 2010, in Chelyabinsk, a city near a Russian air force base. Debbins’s father-in-law was an officer in the Russian military.
Debbins apparently gave information to the Russian spies in 2008 because he was angry about his time in the Army and to further his business interests there, the indictment said. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 26, 2021 and could receive the maximum penalty of life in prison.