Ex-Green Beret’s first act of collusion with Russian spies involved American nuns
Chuck Ross on August 28, 2020
- A former Army Green Beret told the FBI last year of repeated contacts he had with Russian intelligence officers from 1996 to 2011, according to court documents released Thursday.
- Peter Debbins, who went by the code name Ikar Lesnikov, disclosed his Russian spy links in a statement to the FBI on July 11, 2019.
- Debbins said that a Russian intelligence officer tasked him with collecting the names of four American nuns in Russia.
- Debbins was arrested last week and charged with conspiring with the Russian spies.
Former Army Green Beret Peter Debbins’ first act of collusion with Russian intelligence officers occurred in 1996 as a college student, when he provided a Russian spy with the names of four American nuns from a church in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk.
Debbins, 45, revealed his secret work for the GRU in a statement to the FBI on July 11, 2019.
Debbins volunteered the information to the FBI in hopes of resolving a review to renew his top secret security clearance. The plan may have backfired as Debbins was arrested last week on charges that he conspired to spy for Russia through 2011.
Federal prosecutors revealed Debbins’ written statement and his resume in a court filing this week.
According to ABC News, Debbins’ attorney argued for his release on bail at a hearing on Thursday, saying that Debbins had voluntarily provided information to investigators in eight interviews over the past 13 months.
Thomas Traxler, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, said during Thursday’s hearing that charges were delayed in Debbins’ case because investigators had to corroborate the information in the statements he gave the FBI last year. A federal magistrate judge handling the case denied Debbins bail, ABC reported.
Debbins was a student and ROTF officer at the University of Minnesota when he made his first contact with a GRU officer in Chelyabinsk.
Debbins’ mother was born in the Soviet Union, and his wife is from Chelyabinsk, according to the indictment against him.
According to Debbins’ written statement, at a meeting at a Russian military hotel in December 1996, a GRU officer named Vitaliy tasked him with collecting the names of four nuns at a local Catholic church that Debbins attended.
Debbins also told the FBI he signed a statement “that I want to serve Russia,” and was given the code name Ikar Lesnikov.
Debbins, who lives in Gainesville, Va., served in the U.S. Army from 1998 through 2005. He was in the U.S. Army Reserves through 2010.
Debbins told the FBI that in August 2008, he provided his GRU contacts with the names of fellow special forces officers. He also said he gave his GRU handlers the first name of a station chief at a U.S intelligence outpost in central Asia.
The indictment against Debbins said that he considered himself a “son of Russia,” and that he provided the GRU with information because he believed the U.S. was too dominant on the world stage.
Debbins offered a somewhat more self-serving rationale in his statement to the FBI.
“I had a messianic vision for myself in Russia, that I was going [to] free them from their oppressive government, so I was flattered when they reached out to me,” Debbins wrote. “I thought they would be my allies in overthrowing their government.”
Since leaving the military, Debbins has held a series of consulting jobs for U.S. government agencies and defense contractors.
He was a Russian cyber analyst from April 2014 to December 2015 for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) through Booz Allen Hamilton, a major defense contractor. The position required a TS/SCI security clearance, the highest level clearance in government.
“Mr. Debbins was the lead collector responsible for the production of all-source national intelligence community products pertaining to computer network operations activities,” reads Debbins’ resume entry for the DIA position.
Debbins was also a senior Russian cyber analyst at the 902nd Military Intelligence Group stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland from January 2011 through March 2014, according to his resume.
The government’s indictment does not accuse Debbins of continuing to provide the GRU with information after he left the military. But Daniel Hoffman, a former CIA station chief for Moscow, told The Daily Caller News Foundation last week that the GRU likely would have maintained an interest in Debbins.
Debbins’ statement to the FBI says GRU officers contacted Debbins’ his father-in-law in Russia in May 2012 inquiring about his work in Washington, D.C.
Debbins more recently held positions with defense contractors CACI International and Cosolutions. He began working in February of this year as a cyber crimes project manager for the Ukrainian American Concordia University in Washington, D.C.
Debbins is listed as an instructor for the Institute of World Politics and was on the editorial board for The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security, an academic journal that covers national security and intelligence issues.
Neil Kent, a University of Cambridge professor who is editor-in-chief of the journal, told the DCNF last week that he was “profoundly shocked” by the charges against Debbins. He 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.”
Debbins faces life in prison if convicted of the conspiracy charges.
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