Former Green Beret Gets 15 Years for Russian Espionage Conspiracy

May 17, 2021 by TWN Staff
Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, a former Army Green Beret, has pleaded guilty to passing secret information to Russian intelligence.

A former Army Green Beret was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison for conspiring with Russian intelligence operatives to provide them with U.S. national defense information.

Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, 46, of Gainesville, Va., admitted to conspiring with agents of a Russian intelligence service.

According to court documents, from December 1996 to January 2011, Debbins periodically visited Russia and met with Russian intelligence agents. In 1997, Debbins was assigned a code name by Russian intelligence agents and signed a statement attesting that he wanted to serve Russia.

“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 them as spies,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers for the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

“His conduct is a personal betrayal of colleagues and country, and it reflects the threat of Russian intelligence operations targeting our military. Today’s almost 16-year sentence reflects the seriousness of his conduct. It should also serve as a warning to those who would be tempted to do the same,” Demers added.

“Debbins flagrantly and repeatedly sold out his country, including while he served as a captain in the U.S. Army Special Forces,” said acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Raj Parekh. “The defendant’s brazen disclosures to Russian intelligence agents jeopardized U.S. national security and threatened the safety of his fellow servicemembers. This prosecution underscores our firm resolve to hold accountable those who betray their sworn oath and bring them to justice for their exceptionally serious crimes.” 

From 1998 to 2005, Debbins served on active duty as an officer in the U.S. Army, serving in chemical units before being selected for the U.S. Army Special Forces. The Russian intelligence agents encouraged him to join and pursue a career in the Special Forces, which he did, where he served at the rank of captain.

Over the course of the conspiracy, Debbins provided the Russian intelligence agents with information that he obtained as a member of the U.S. Army, including information about his chemical and Special Forces units. 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.

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

“The Green Berets epitomize heroics, leadership, and bravery, but Debbins was just the opposite,” said Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. for the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “Debbins’ actions in this case show a complete disregard for his fellow soldiers and for his country. The FBI will do everything in its power to identify those who choose to betray our country and bring them to justice.

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