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Ex-Green Beret Accused Of Spying For Russia Maintained Access To US Secrets For Years

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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  • Peter Debbins, a former Army Green Beret, was arrested on Friday and charged with spying for Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU. 
  • The indictment only details Debbins’s activities through January 2011, though he worked for several defense contractors, the U.S. government and NATO. 
  • A former CIA station chief says that Debbins’ top secret security clearance likely meant he was of continued interest for the GRU. 
  • The indictment alleges that GRU agents encouraged Debbins to obtain jobs in the U.S. government after leaving the military. 

After a 15-year career in the military, Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins began working as a consultant for several defense contractors, the U.S. government and NATO, positions that would have been prime avenues for the former Green Beret to continue the espionage activity he is accused of doing in a federal indictment released Friday.

Debbins, 45, allegedly provided officers with Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, with classified and sensitive information from 1997 to 2011, when he served in Army Special Forces and on inactive duty with the U.S. Army Reserves.

Federal prosecutors allege that Debbins operated under the cover name Ikar Lesnikov, providing his Russian handlers information about members of his Special Forces units, as well as details of troop movements in Azerbaijan and Georgia.

The indictment does not address any of Debbins’ activities after January 2011, shortly after he left inactive duty with the Army Reserves. Since then, Debbins has worked as a consultant for defense contractors CACI and Booz Allen Hamilton.

His biography also lists work as a Russian analyst for NATO and U.S. European Command (EUCOM). As of earlier this year, he was a lecturer for the Institute of World Politics, a national security and intelligence graduate program.

Daniel Hoffman, a former CIA station chief in Moscow, says Debbins would have continued to be a source of interest for GRU even after he left the military.

Russian spies have wanted access to any classified information Debbins might have, as well as information that could identify potential intelligence targets he crossed paths with in his consulting and academic jobs.

“The Russians would have been interested in his network” after Debbins left the Army, Hoffman told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The indictment alleges that Debbins gave his GRU handlers names of fellow soldiers he believed might be vulnerable to recruitment as Russian spies.

Hoffman said that FBI investigators are likely contacting Debbins’ associates to see if he tried to elicit information from them over the years, including details as innocuous as personal issues and overseas travel plans.

There are indications in the indictment that Debbins’ Russian handlers had long-term plans for him.

The filing says that during a meeting in Russia in September 2010, a GRU officer “encouraged DEBBINS to seek employment with the U.S. Government.”

WATCH:

The Army had months earlier granted Debbins a Top Secret/Secret Compartmented Information clearance, the highest level security clearance.

According to the indictment, the Army letter notifying Debbins of his clearance review pointed to concerns about his business connections and his father-in-law, who was an officer in the Russian military. The letter noted that “situations such as those…have been exploited in the past by the intelligence services of foreign countries.”

The letter said that Debbins’s “extensive association” with foreign nationals made him a prime target for foreign intelligence services.

Debbins has seemingly used the security clearance in the consulting jobs and government contractor positions he has held over the past decade.

Debbins’ biography at the Institute of World Politics says he has 20 years of experience in the fields of intelligence, national security, cyber space, hybrid warfare and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, enhanced Explosives (CBRNE). Debbins is also listed a Russian cyber analyst for the U.S. government, and is a hybrid warfare instructor for U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and NATO.

In an interview in February 2018 with IWP, where Debbins is an instructor for a program called the Cyber Intelligence Initiative, Debbins said he worked as a cyber instructor for three years at CACI, a defense contractor. Prior to that gig, Debbins said he worked as a Russian analyst for three years at Fort Meade, where the National Security Agency is also located.

In 2014, Debbins told IWP that he was a commercial analyst at Booz Allen Hamilton, the defense contractor that employed Edward Snowden when he stole classified documents from the National Security Agency. Booz Allen Hamilton also has an installation at Fort Meade, though it is unclear if Debbins worked for the firm while at the military base.

Booz Allen Hamilton did not respond to a request for comment. IWP also did not respond to requests seeking comment.

Debbins also presented his Russia analysis in public venues, including in academic journals and forum presentations.

He was on the editorial board for The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security, a journal formed by University of Cambridge professor Neil Kent.

The journal described him as the head Russia analyst for the Royal Air Force at Molesworth, a British air base.

Kent told the DCNF that he was “profoundly shocked and deeply disturbed” by the allegations against Debbins.

“His role in the journal’s operations was minimal and all of his alleged criminal activity allegedly occurred before 2011, many years before the journal was founded,” Kent said.

“We had no indication that he had engaged in any criminal activity, nor did he or anyone else associated with the journal at any time advocate any pro-Russian position or editorial policy.”

Kent said that Debbins was invited to join the editorial board “due to his high-profile U.S. military and intelligence industry expertise, which included a top-secret security clearance.” (RELATED: Ex-Green Beret Arrested On Russia Spy Charges)

Debbins also presented his research on Russia and Vladimir Putin in January 2019 at the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar, a consortium of current and former intelligence professionals held quarterly at the historic British university. (RELATED: ‘Spygate’ Professor Pulls Out Of Cambridge Intelligence Event)

Kent has been a co-convener of the forum, alongside Stefan Halper, a former Cambridge professor who served as an FBI source for the Trump investigation. Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, and Christopher Andrew, the official historian for MI5, were also organizers for the seminar.

The seminar has hosted numerous high-profile intelligence figures over the years, including Michael Flynn, Vyacheslav Trubnikov, the former head of Russia’s SVR, and Steven Somma, the FBI handler for Stefan Halper.

Halper and Dearlove resigned from the seminar in December 2016 over what they claimed were concerns that Russian intelligence was using a digital publishing company called Veruscript to infiltrate the seminar. The pair rejoined the seminar weeks later.

Kent, who was editor-in-chief of the journal backed by Veruscript, told the DCNF that an investigation in the U.K. cleared the the seminar of “any Russian influence.”

He said that he has no concerns that the The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security, which is not published by Veruscript, is not compromised by Russian intelligence because of Debbins’ role there.

“We are confident that our journal is fully independent,” he said.

It is unclear how the U.S. government obtained such granular detail about Debbins’ interactions with GRU officers. The indictment reveals information from one-on-one meetings that Debbins allegedly had with his spy handlers in Russia. It also refers to emails that would have been easier for investigators to obtain through search warrants.

One possibility is that a Russian defector revealed to U.S. authorities that Debbins was a spy, though Debbins himself may have provided some details to investigators.

The Washington Post reported that one of Debbins’ relatives said that he had been cooperative with federal investigators since last year, and met with agents on Friday.

“We thought it was over,” the relative told The Post of the scrutiny of Debbins.

The relative denied that Debbins was spying for Russia, and said that investigators had misinterpreted conversations he had with family members in Russia. The story does not say how Debbins’ family members would have factored into the investigation.

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