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Ex-Green Beret from Gainesville sentenced in Russian espionage conspiracy

  • May 17, 2021

“Debbins flagrantly and repeatedly sold out his country, including while he served as a Captain in the U.S. Army Special Forces,” Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement. “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.”

According to court documents, from December 1996 to January 2011, Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, 46, of Gainesville, a former member of the U.S. Army, 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, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.

“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,” said John C Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. “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.”

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, where he attained the rank of Captain.

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

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 names of and information about several his former Special Forces team members for the purpose of allowing the agents to recruit them to conspire with the Russian intelligence service.

 

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