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U.S. Seeks 17-Year Sentence For Former Green Beret Who Pleaded Guilty To Spying For Russia

May 10, 2021

U.S. prosecutors said they were seeking a 17-year prison sentence for a former U.S. Army Green Beret who pleaded guilty last year to years of providing classified information to a Russian military intelligence agent.

The filing on May 7 in U.S. federal court in Virginia follows Peter Debbins’s guilty plea last November to a federal Espionage Act charge.

According to the court filing, Debbins, 46, had a 15-year relationship with Russian intelligence dating back to 1996 when he was an exchange student from the University of Minnesota and on a visit to Russia for an independent study program gave an alleged Russian handler the names of four Roman Catholic nuns he had visited in Russia.

Two years prior, according to U.S. prosecutors, Debbins, whose mother was born in the Soviet Union, traveled to Russia for the first time and met his current wife in the central city of Chelyabinsk. Debbins’s father-in-law was a colonel in the Russian air force.

Debbins told Russian intelligence he considered himself a “son of Russia,” and “thought that the United States was too dominant in the world and needed to be cut down to size,” according to the indictment filed last year.

Court filings show that Debbins joined the U.S. Army as an active duty officer in 1998 and served through 2005, the last two years as a Special Forces officer.

While on assignment in Azerbaijan, he was discharged and lost his security clearance after violating protocols. That included bringing his wife with him to Azerbaijan and allowing her to use a government-issued cell phone, according to the court filing.

After being discharged from the military, he worked as a civilian for U.S. military contractors, in some cases in counterintelligence, including work as a Russian linguist.

The original charging indictment alleged that he provided information and names of his fellow Special Forces members while he was on assignment in Azerbaijan and Georgia.

According to his guilty plea, Debbins admitted that the Russian agents used the information he provided to evaluate whether other Special Forces officers could be persuaded to cooperate with Russia.

It wasn’t immediately clear when Debbins will be sentenced.

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