A former U.S. Army Green Beret allegedly conspired to provide national defense information to Russian intelligence. The former Special Forces officer has been charged in a Russian espionage conspiracy.
According to a U.S. indictment, Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, a former member of the 10th Special Forces Group, conspired with agents of a Russian intelligence service from 1996 to 2011. During that time he periodically visited Russia and met with Russian intelligence agents. In 1997 he was assigned a code name – Ikar Lesnikov – and he signed a statement attesting that he wanted to serve Russia.
He is charged with revealing classified information, providing details of his Special Forces unit, and identifying Special Forces team members for Russian intelligence to try to recruit as a spy.
Prosecutors alleged that the former Special Forces officer thought that the United States was too dominant in the world and needed to be cut down to size. He was motivated in part because of his experience with the U.S. Army and a wish to develop business interests in Russia.
Family Life. Debbin’s mother was born in the Soviet Union. He has 17 siblings, including 10 who were adopted. He met his wife in Chelyabinsk, Russia – where they were married in 1997. She was the daughter of a Russian military officer.
Recruitment. Debbins first contact with Russian agents appears to be in 1996 when he was a ROTC student at the University of Minnesota. He attended college from 1994 to 1997. He visited Russia every summer while in college. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in International Relations and Affairs. After graduation he entered the U.S. Army.
He was rewarded for his information with money and gifts. The gifts included a Russian military uniform and a bottle of Cognac. His primary motivation to spy for Russia appears to be his pro-Russia ideology.
Military Career. His first assignment was with an Army chemical unit in South Korea during 1998 and 1999. He served in the unit as a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) officer (74A) with the rank of Lieutenant. He then served with a chemical company at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
Once stateside he volunteered for U.S. Army Special Forces training. Upon completion of the SF training program he was assigned to Special Forces with the rank of Captain. He served with the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group based in Stuttgart, Germany. His deployments included trips to Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Balkans, and other locations in Europe. He never served in Iraq or Afghanistan. While serving in the Army he held a U.S. government SECRET clearance and later, a TOP SECRET clearance with Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) access.
While with the 10th Special Forces Group he lost his security clearance and was removed from command for an unspecified security violation while deployed to Azerbaijan. He left the Army in 2005 with an honorable discharge.
After his active duty service Debbins would continue to serve for another five years as an officer in the U.S. Army inactive reserves. During this time he continued to meet with Russian agents – providing them with classified information about the U.S. military.
Post-Military Employment. After leaving the active Army in 2005 he lived in Minnesota. He first worked for a Ukrainian steel manufacturer from late 2005 to 2006. He later worked as a Transportation Coordinator for Trademark Transportation, Inc from 2006 to 2010.
In 2010 his security clearance was restored by an Army adjudicator – which opened the door for future employment with firms conducting defense related business. He worked in the defense industry in the following capacities:
- 2011 – 2014. Mission Essential Personnel, LLC, employed as a Senior Research Analyst.
- 2014 – 2015. Booz Allen Hamilton.
- 2016 – 2017. CACI International, Inc. as a contract instructor.
- 2017 – 2020. CoSolutions -as a contractor working at U.S. European Command while based in the United Kingdom. CoSolutions is a technology company that provides services in IT, cyber security, and software systems engineering. He worked as an Area Studies and Hybrid Warfare instructor for EUCOM and NATO. He worked at a NATO regional joint intelligence facility in the United Kingdom.
- 2013 – Present. Principal at Horizon Leadership Group (HLG). According to its LinkedIn page the firm is a provider in training for cyber security, intelligence and analysis tradecraft, and cyber financial crimes.
- 2020 – Present. A professor at the Wisconsin International University (USA) Ukraine in Washington, D.C. He was involved in a cyber security training program. The university is a liberal arts institute located in Kiev, Ukraine.
His LinkedIn page states that he is a “. . . Project Manager with 20 years of experience and knowledge in intelligence, national security, and strategic planning.” He cites a “. . . particular expertise in developing, implementing, and maintaining cyber security and Insider Threat programs . . .” In 2015 he graduated from the Institute of World Politics (IWP) located in Washington, D.C. with a Master of Arts in Strategic and International Studies.
Future Legal Status. If convicted, Debbins faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. The current indictment is an accusation – Debbins is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The news of his arrest was released by the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday, August 21, 2020.
Photo: Alexandria, Virginia Sheriff’s Office, booking photo on August 21, 2020.
Indictment, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, August 20, 2020, PDF, 17 pages.
Peter Debbins’ LinkedIn Page.
“Alumnus Spotlight: Peter Debbins, Army Special Forces, Russia analyst, and cyber instructor”, Students & Alumni, The Institute of World Politics, February 20, 2018.
The Institute of World Politics. Profile of Peter Debbins as an instructor with IWP’s Cyber Intelligence Initiative.