Former US Army Green Beret Charged Over Alleged Russian Espionage Conspiracy
19:59 GMT 21.08.2020(updated 21:04 GMT 21.08.2020)
A former member of the US Army Special Forces has been arrested by federal agents and now faces life imprisonment after he allegedly conspired with "Russian intelligence operatives to provide them with United States national defense information."
Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, a 45-year-old resident of Gainesville, Virginia, and former US Army Green Beret, has been charged with conspiring to provide US national defense information to agents of a foreign government, according to a Friday Department of Justice (DoJ) release from the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Citing court documents attached to the release, federal prosecutors claim Debbins met with "Russian intelligence agents" while making several visits to the country. It's alleged the agents assigned a "code name" to Debbins, who also signed a statement pledging his service to Russia.
The record noted that Debbins first visited Russia in 1994 and met his now-wife in Chelyabinsk during his series of trips to the country in the '90s. He also visited Russia in 2000, 2003, 2008 and 2010, according to the documents.
Debbins served as an active-duty officer in the US Army from 1998 to 2005. While he was first assigned to the service's chemical units, he was eventually selected to become a member of the US 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," the DoJ release claimed.
Federal prosecutors claim that over the course of his service, Debbins divulged "information" that he had obtained, as well as details on his own chemical and Special Forces units.
After leaving the service in 2008, he allegedly proceeded to provide the so-called Russian intelligence agents with "classified information about his previous activities while deployed with the Special Forces." Names and information on Debbins' fellow Green Berets were also given to the agents, according to the release.
"According to the allegations, Mr. Debbins knowingly provided information to self-proclaimed members of Russia's Intelligence Service, the GRU," James A. Dawson, acting assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington Field Office, expressed in a written statement.
If convicted, Debbins will face a maximum penalty of life behind bars.
This federal arrest comes just days after the DoJ's announcement of the August 14 arrest of ex-US Central Intelligence Agency Officer Alexander Yuk Ching Ma on a charge of "conspiracy to communicate national defense information to aid a foreign government."
Ma, a 67-year-old resident of Hawaii, was allegedly given $50,000 by Chinese officials in exchange for information on the CIA's "personnel, operations, and methods of concealing communication." He later provided Beijing representatives with various classified documents while serving as a linguist on contract for the FBI's Honolulu Field Office, according to the DoJ.
"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," Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers asserted in the Friday release.
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