Ex-Green Beret Admits To Handing Over American Secrets to Russian Spies

A former Army Green Beret 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 from 1996 to 2011.

The Minnesota native was charged more than a year after he first told FBI agents about his interactions with Russian spies.

The former Green Beret told investigators that he used the code name “Ikar Lesnikov” when communicating with his Russian handlers.

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He said that he provided his Russian counterparts with the names of fellow Green Berets while stationed overseas.

Debbins told FBI agents during a July 2019 interview 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.

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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,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers 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.

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A biography of Debbins published online says he worked as a Russian analyst for NATO and U.S. European Command.

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