The arrest of a former Army Special Forces (SF) ‘Green Beret’ officer living in Northern Virginia, charged with spying for his Russian ‘motherland’ highlights the danger of “ethnic” spies in the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) and even American special forces. Recently, a Chinese-American serving with both the CIA and FBI was arrested for spying for China (RELATED: The Threat of Chinese American Spies at CIA).
It also appears to show weakness in U.S. counterintelligence capabilities to identify these obvious threats.
According to the LA Times, Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, 45, was “charged with divulging military secrets about his unit’s activities in former Soviet republics during more than a decade of contacts with Russian intelligence.”
The indictment notes he told Russian intelligence he considered himself a “son of Russia,” and “Debbins thought that the United States was too dominant in the world and needed to be cut down to size.” The LA Times adds that” the indictment also states that Debbins was motivated in part because of bitterness over his Army career and a desire to establish business contacts in Russia.”
Debbins’ mother was reportedly born in the old Soviet Union, and Debbins met his wife in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, where they were married in 1997.
Debbins appears to have volunteered to serve ‘Mother Russia’ early on, meeting with Russian intelligence in 1996 as an Army ROTC cadet at the University of Minnesota. His espionage continued through 2011, according to the indictment as reported by the LA Times. He was given a code name by Russian intelligence agents — Ikar Lesnikov — after pledging loyalty to Russia in 1997.
In one meeting with Russian intelligence, the indictment states, according to the LA Times, Debbins accepted a bottle of Cognac and a Russian military uniform as payment for his services to Russia.
As an SF officer, Debbins held Secret and Top Secret clearances. He lost his security clearance and command of his SF unit for an unspecified security violation in 2004 or 2005, and then was honorably discharged in 2005, reported the LA Times.
Oddly, Debbins’ security clearance was restored in 2010 by an Army adjudicator with the obvious warning that his family and business connections to Russia might make him “the target of a foreign intelligence service.”
Apparently, initially an infantry officer, his Russian handlers reportedly urged him to join Special Forces to be of real value to Moscow. Debbins provided his Russian handlers information about his deployment to South Korea with a chemical warfare unit, and later about deployments with his Special Forces unit to former Soviet Russian colonies, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
Debbins also allegedly provided Russian intelligence personal and other information on his fellow Special Forces members. He faces life in prison for “providing national defense information to those not entitled to receive it” under the Espionage Act.
The LA Times quotes a statement from Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official, as saying the two recent prosecutions of both a Russian and Chinese spy, “demonstrate that we must remain vigilant against espionage from our two most malicious adversaries — Russia and China.”