© 2023 Cincinnati Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Former Special Forces Captain Guilty Of Espionage

Former Army Green Beret Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins could spend the rest of his life in prison after pleading guilty to charges of espionage Wednesday.

Debbins, a 45-year-old Virginia man with Minnesota roots, had an illustrious military career. He spent seven years on active duty, three of them serving in special forces, spying for Russia during that time and after he left the Army.

"Debbins today acknowledged that he violated this country's highest trust by passing sensitive national security information to the Russians," said John Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. "Debbins betrayed his oath, his country, and his Special Forces team members with the intent to harm the United States and help Russia."

According to court documents, Debbins' mother was born in the former Soviet Union and he had visited Russia before going on active duty with the Army.

Prosecutors say Debbins was contacted by an agent of Russian intelligence services while studying in Russia in 1996 at age 19. This contact led to his 15-year run of conspiracy and espionage. His code name: Ikar Lesnikov. Debbins graduated from the University of Minnesota and received his commission from the Army one year later.

He was granted secret and top secret clearances over the course of his career. Debbins abused his access by sharing information about his chemical and special forces units with Russian intelligence agents. He provided the names of his colleagues, which were evaluated for intelligence uses.

Debbins is scheduled to be sentenced in Alexandria, Va., on Feb. 26 by a federal judge. Last November, former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing was sentenced to 19 years in prison on similar charges.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dustin Jones is a reporter for NPR's digital news desk. He mainly covers breaking news, but enjoys working on long-form narrative pieces.