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Former US Army Green Beret pleads guilty to spying for Russia

Department of Justice. (Scott "Skippy"/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A former officer in the U.S. Army’s elite Green Berets has pleaded guilty to spying for Russia, the Justice Department says.

Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, 45, pleaded guilty to a charge under the federal Espionage Act and faces a maximum penalty of life in prison when he is sentenced in February.

Debbins had a nearly 15-year relationship with Russian intelligence beginning in 1996 while he was a college student and on a visit to Russia as part of an independent study program.

Debbins’s mother was born in the Soviet Union, and he met his wife in Chelyabinsk, where they were married in 1997, according to news reports citing the indictment.

“In 1997, Debbins was assigned a code name by Russian intelligence agents and signed a statement attesting that he wanted to serve Russia,” the Justice Department said on November 18.

Debbins told Russian intelligence he considered himself a “son of Russia,” and “thought that the United States was too dominant in the world and needed to be cut down to size,” according to the indictment.

In a handwritten confession filed in court, Debbins wrote that in 1997, he gave Russian intelligence a signed statement saying, “I want to serve Russia.”

He wrote that he had “a messianic vision for myself in Russia, that I was going to free them from their oppressive government, so I was flattered when they reached out to me.”

Debbins initially refused an offer of a $1,000 cash payment for the information he provided, but later accepted nominal payments. In one meeting he accepted a bottle of Cognac and a Russian military uniform as payment, according to the indictment.

He served as an officer in U.S. Army chemical units before joining the Green Berets.

Debbins provided the Russian intelligence agents with information about his chemical and Special Forces units. This included classified information about his activities while deployed with the Special Forces, the department said.

Debbins also provided Russian intelligence with the names of a number of his former Special Forces team members, so that agents could evaluate whether to approach them about cooperating.

Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in a statement that Debbins acknowledged that he violated this country’s highest trust by passing sensitive national security information to the Russians.

“Debbins betrayed his oath, his country, and his Special Forces team members with the intent to harm the United States and help Russia,” Demers said.