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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Virginia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, August 21, 2020

Former Army Green Beret Charged in Russian Espionage Conspiracy

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A former Army Green Beret was arrested today for allegedly conspiring with Russian intelligence operatives to provide them with United States national defense information.

According to court documents, from December 1996 to January 2011, Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, 45, of Gainesville, a former member of the U.S. Army, allegedly conspired with agents of a Russian intelligence service. During that time, 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.

“Our military is tasked with the awesome responsibility of protecting our nation from its adversaries, and its service members make incredible sacrifices in service of that duty,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “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. As this indictment reflects, we will be steadfast and dogged in holding such individuals accountable.”

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 allegedly encouraged him to join and pursue a career in the Special Forces, which he did, where he served at the rank of Captain.

“Two espionage arrests in the past week – Ma in Hawaii and now Debbins in Virginia – demonstrate that we must remain vigilant against espionage from our two most malicious adversaries – Russia and China,” said John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. “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 as a spy. Our country put its highest trust in this defendant, and he took that trust and weaponized it against the United States.”

Over the course of the conspiracy, Debbins allegedly 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.

“According to the allegations, Mr. Debbins knowingly provided information to self-proclaimed members of Russia's Intelligence Service, the GRU,” said James A. Dawson, Acting Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office. “As a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, the American people and his fellow service men and women should have been able to trust Debbins with secrets and information. Debbins allegedly fell very short of that and exploited his role in the military and his fellow service members to benefit one of our top adversaries for years. Today’s charges are another example of the dedicated and unrelenting efforts of the FBI and our partners, domestic and international, to aggressively pursue and bring to justice those who violate this sacred trust and place our national security at risk.”

 “The facts alleged in this case are a shocking betrayal by a former Army officer of his fellow soldiers and his country,” said Alan E. Kohler, Jr., FBI Assistant Director of the Counterintelligence Division. “Debbins is accused of giving Russian intelligence officers sensitive information about the units in which he once served and also providing the names of other service members so Russia could try to recruit them. These actions cannot stand and the FBI will aggressively pursue such cases.”

Debbins is charged with conspiring to provide United States national defense information to agents of a foreign government. If convicted, Debbins faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas W. Traxler and James L. Trump, and Trial Attorney David Aaron of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.

U.S. Attorney Terwilliger and Assistant Attorney General Demers greatly appreciate the assistance of Army Counterintelligence, the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office, the United Kingdom’s Metropolitan Police Service, and MI5.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:20-cr-193.

Topic(s): 
National Security
Contact: 
Joshua Stueve Director of Public Affairs joshua.stueve@usdoj.gov
Updated August 24, 2020