A former U.S. Army Special Forces officer was charged in an alleged espionage plot said to involve the Russian Federation on Friday.
According to the 17-page indictment filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, onetime Green Beret Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins conspired to provide national defense information to members of Russian intelligence on several occasions.
His first meeting with Russian intelligence occurred in 1996, however, and he also allegedly began working with them at that time–apparently proving his mettle by providing his first handler with the names of four nuns “at a Catholic church that [he] visited.”
Prosecutors cast the defendant as a true-believer replete with feelings of ethno-national pride due to his family’s Russian heritage. They claim he was also given the code name of “Ikar Lesnikov.”
A few years later, Debbins’ work allegedly began in earnest.
“Debbins provided information to [Russian intelligence] about, among other things, the number of men in his platoon, the unit’s assigned equipment, and the unit’s mission,” the indictment alleges–during a trip the defendant made to Russia in 1999.
During that same meeting, Debbins allegedly told his second handler “that he wanted to leave the U.S. Army” but was “encouraged” by the Russian intelligence agent “to remain in the military.”
The indictment adds additional details about that meeting:
At one point during the meeting, [Russian intelligence] questioned whether Debbins was actually a spy for a U.S. intelligence agency. Debbins denied the accusation, insisting that he loved and was committed to Russia. [Russian intelligence] asked Debbins whether he would be willing to submit to a polygraph and Debbins agreed. [Russian intelligence] did not ultimately give him a polygraph. [Russian intelligence] also asked whether Debbins would agree to employ electronic equipment for the Russian intelligence service, and Debbins agreed, Again, [Russian intelligence] did not follow up on the request.
“During this time, Debbins sought to help Russia, as he considered himself pro-Russian and a loyal son of Russia,” the indictment continues. “Debbins thought that the United States was too dominant in the world and needed to be cut down to size.”
Prosecutors say that Debbins was also encouraged to join the U.S. Army Special Forces by Russian intelligence sometime in 2000–during another trip to Russian–because “he was of no use to the Russian intelligence service as an infantry commander.”
During this meeting, Debbins allegedly provided additional informaiton about his unit at Fort Polk regarding their assigned equipment and mission–and was allegedly paid $1,000 “for his assistance to the Russian intelligence service.”
“Initially, Debbins declined the payment, stating that he had true love for Russia,” the indictment claims. “However, Debbins ultimately accepted the money and signed for it using his code name.”
Prosecutors say that Debbins met with two additional members of Russian intelligence in 2003 and subsequently provided them with “information about the number companies and men” in the 1st Battalian, 10th Special Forces Group as well as their “location and role.”
This meeting was also apparently quite eventful for Debbins himself.
“During the meeting, [the agents] gave Debbins a bottle of Cognac and a Russian military uniform as a gift,” the indictment alleges. “At some point [one of the agents] informed Debbins that he was associated with the GRU.”
Over the course of his career, Debbins received “secret” and “top secret” security clearances.
Later, in 2008, when he was no longer an active duty member of the U.S. military, Debbins allegedly attempted to parlay his prior relationship with Russian intelligence into business success in Russia itself. Another meeting with handlers allegedly occurred during which he shared “classified SECRET/NOFORN” information which prosecutors claim “was prohibited and reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to U.S. national security.”
During that meeting, Debbins also allegedly provided the names and information of of his former Special Forces team members and understood that this information would be used to evaluate “whether to approach the team members to see if they would cooperate with the Russian intelligence service.”
Debbins is being prosecuted on one count of conspiracy to gather or deliver defense information to aid a foreign government in violation of 18 U.S.C. §794.
The maximum penalty for the charges is death.
Read the full indictment below:
[image via Alexandria Sheriff’s Office]
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