WASHINGTON – A former Green Beret officer pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in northern Virginia to conspiring with Russian intelligence agents and providing them with classified information as part of a sophisticated spy operation dating back to more than two decades.
Prosecutors said the man, Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, 45, of Gainesville, Va., Had worked secretly for the Russians for more than a decade and even joined US Army special forces at their request. . As part of his deal with the Russians, he was given a code name and signed a declaration agreeing to help that country.
Mr. Debbins “violated the highest confidence of this country by transmitting sensitive information on national security to the Russians,” said John C. Demers, head of the National Security Division of the Department of Justice. He said Mr. Debbins “betrayed his oath, his country and members of his special forces team with the intention of harming the United States and helping Russia.”
Mr Debbins, who held the highest security clearances, failed a polygraph, people familiar with the case said. This sparked a delicate investigation and ultimately a criminal charge accusing him of violating espionage law. He was arrested in August.
Prosecutors said Debbins “sees himself as pro-Russian and a staunch son of Russia” and believes the United States is “too dominant in the world and needs to be downsized.” At one point, Mr Debbins said he provided information to the Russians because he was “angry” and “bitter” about his military service.
Mr Debbins is expected to be sentenced on February 26 and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
It can take years, even decades, to detect spies. In Mr Debbins’ case, he appears to have been first recruited when he traveled to Russia in 1996 as part of an independent study program and lived in Chelyabinsk, near a base of the Russian Air Force.
During this time, prosecutors said, Mr Debbins met with a Russian intelligence officer and the two discussed his plans for military service.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Mr. Debbins traveled to Russia the following year and eventually made a commitment to work for the country, signing a statement that he wanted to help Russia.
According to the extraordinarily detailed indictment, Mr. Debbins met his wife, whose father was a Russian military officer, in Chelyabinsk. The couple married that year and she was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 2010.
Mr. Debbins was on active duty in the United States Army from 1998 to 2005. In June 2003, he was posted as Special Forces Captain stationed in Germany. Prosecutors said Mr. Debbins was deployed in 2004 to Azerbaijan, where he was investigated for an undisclosed security breach and dismissed from his post.
Mr. Debbins’ security clearance was suspended and he was honorably released in 2005. He served in the Army’s Inactive Reserve from December 2005 to 2010. Transport company.
Prosecutors said Mr Debbins gave Russian intelligence officers information about chemical special forces units and the names of former special forces members. The Russians used the names to try to assess whether any of them would also cooperate with their intelligence services. Mr. Debbins thought there was at least one person they could talk to.
During his time in the army, he frequently encountered his Russian masters. In July 2000, Mr. Debbins traveled to Russia, where an intelligence officer offered him $ 1,000. Mr Debbins initially rejected the payment, saying he had “a real love for Russia”. But he changed his mind and later took the money, signing it using his code name.