A former Army special forces soldier pleaded guilty in federal court on Wednesday to conspiring with Russian spies to disclose information about U.S. military movements overseas.
Peter Debbins, 45, pleaded guilty to transmitting national defense information to a foreign power, a felony charge that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Debbins, who was arrested on Aug. 21, admitted that he provided sensitive information to Russian intelligence officers during his military career, from 1996 to 2011.
He was charged more than a year after he first told FBI agents about his interactions with Russian spies. The Minnesota native confessed to the encounters while being interviewed as part of a review for his security clearance, according to an FBI affidavit filed in his case. (RELATED: Ex-Green Beret Accused Of Spying For Russia Maintained Access To US Secrets For Years)
The former Green Beret told investigators that he used the code name “Ikar Lesnikov” when communicating with his Russian handlers. He said that he provided his Russian counterparts with the names of his fellow Green Berets while stationed overseas.
Debbins told FBI agents during an interview on July 11, 2019, that he was recruited while visiting family in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in 1996. He also said that he was “flattered” by the recruitment effort, and that he hoped to eventually help Russia overthrow its “oppressive government.”
He said in the interview that the first task he received from his spy handlers was to collect the names of four American nuns living in Chelyabinsk.
Debbins will be sentenced on Feb. 26, 2021.
“Debbins today acknowledged that he violated this country’s highest trust by passing sensitive national security information to the Russians,” John C. Demers, the Assistant Attorney General for National Security, said in a statement announcing Debbins’ guilty plea.
“Debbins betrayed his oath, his country, and his Special Forces team members with the intent to harm the United States and help Russia.”
The charges against Debbins do not address any of his activities after leaving the military in 2011, though government filings say that one of Debbins’ Russian contacts “encouraged” him in September 2010 “to seek employment with the U.S. Government.”
Debbins has worked for several cyber and intelligence contractors since leaving the military.
A biography of Debbins published online says he worked as a Russian analyst for NATO and U.S. European Command (EUCOM).
His biography at the Institute of World Politics, a think tank where Debbins served as a lecturer, says he has 20 years of experience in the fields of intelligence, national security, cyberspace, hybrid warfare and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, enhanced Explosives (CBRNE).”
In an interview in February 2018, Debbins said he worked as a cyber instructor for three years at CACI, a defense contractor. He said he worked before that as a Russia analyst at Fort Meade, where the National Security Agency is located.
In 2014, Debbins said that he was a commercial analyst at Booz Allen Hamilton, a major defense contractor.
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