A Gainesville resident and former Army Green Beret pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiring with Russian intelligence operatives over 14 years to provide them with national defense information, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, 45, of Gainesville, a former member of the U.S. Army, conspired with agents of a Russian intelligence service from December 1996 to January 2011, according to a news release issued by U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger’s office Wednesday.
During that 14-year period, Debbins visited Russia periodically to meet with Russian intelligence agents, was assigned a Russian code name and shared information about fellow members of his Special Forces team, the release said.
“Our country entrusted Debbins with the responsibility and training to protect it from its adversaries,” Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement.
“Debbins betrayed that trust and betrayed his fellow service members by conspiring to provide national defense information to Russian intelligence operatives.”
Debbins is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 26, 2021, and faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors, the release said.
Debbins served on active duty as an officer in the U.S. Army from 1998 to 2005, serving in chemical units before being selected for the U.S. Army Special Forces.
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,” the release said.
In 1997, Debbins was assigned a code name by Russian intelligence agents and signed a statement attesting that he wanted to serve Russia, the release said.
Over the course of the conspiracy, Debbins provided the Russian intelligence agents with information about his chemical and Special Forces units, the release said.
In 2008, after leaving active duty service, Debbins “disclosed classified information about his activities while deployed with the Special Forces, including the names of a number of his former Special Forces team members so … the agents could evaluate whether to approach the team members to see if they would cooperate with the Russian intelligence service,” the release said.
“Debbins today acknowledged that he violated this country’s highest trust by passing sensitive national security information to the Russians,” John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement.
“Debbins betrayed his oath, his country, and his Special Forces team members with the intent to harm the United States and help Russia. Debbins’ guilty plea represents another success in the department’s continuing effort to counter the national security threat posed by our nation’s adversaries, including Russia.”
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, the release said.