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Green Beret who spied for Russia and gave up special ops names gets 16 years in prison

Green Berets assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) conduct urban movement training on July 18, 2019, at Fort Bragg N.C. This training allowed the Green Berets to remain proficient in various technical and tactical aspects of their job. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Peter Seidler)
May 14, 2021

A U.S. Army Special Forces Green Beret was sentenced on Friday to nearly 16 years in prison for giving U.S. national defense secrets to Russia and attempting to recruit other Green Berets for Russia.

Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, 46, of Gainesville, Va., who admitted to divulging military secrets to Russia over a 14-year period will now spend nearly the same span of time, 188 months, in prison.

According to a Department of Justice statement, Debbins admitted to conspiring with agents of a Russian intelligence service in a period from around December 1996 to January 2011. The DOJ stated Debbins periodically visited Russia and met with Russian intelligence agents during this time period and in 1997 was assigned a code name by Russian intelligence agents and signed a statement attesting to his desire to serve Russia.

“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 them as spies,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers for the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “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.” 

Charges filed last year noted Debbins’ unit deployed in 2004 to the Republic of Azerbaijan, which borders Russia. During this deployment, Debbins was in charge of operations in both Azerbaijan and the neighboring Republic of Georgia. He was investigated for a security violation during this deployment and subsequently lost both his security clearance and was removed from his command. Debbins was honorably discharged from the military in 2005.

The charges further stated that in 2008, Debbins described the activities of his unit and even provided the Russian intelligence agents with the names of, and information about, a number of his former Special Forces team members. The information allegedly was used to help his Russian contacts evaluate whether to try and recruit those team members as well.

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