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Ex-Green Beret Who Spied For Russia Sentenced To More Than 15 Years

Peter Debbins joined the U.S. Army as an active duty officer and served from 1998 to 2005. (file photo)

A former U.S. Army Green Beret who pleaded guilty last year to providing classified information to Russian military intelligence agents over a long period of time has been sentenced to more than 15 years in prison.

A Virginia judge handed down the sentence on May 14. Prosecutors had asked for a 17-year prison term.

Peter Debbins, 46, periodically met with Russian agents from 1996 to 2011 during trips to Russia, providing them with information about his chemical and former special units teams, prosecutors said.

"His conduct is a personal betrayal of colleagues and country, and it reflects the threat of Russian intelligence operations targeting our military," Assistant Attorney General John Demers for the Justice Department's National Security Division said in a statement.

Demers said the long sentence reflects "the seriousness of his conduct" and serves as a "warning to those who would be tempted to do the same."

According to U.S. prosecutors, Debbins, whose mother was born in the Soviet Union, traveled to Russia for the first time in 1994 and met his current wife in the central city of Chelyabinsk. Debbins' father-in-law was a colonel in the Russian air force.

He returned in 1996 as an exchange student from the University of Minnesota and met with his Russian handler.

The U.S.-born 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 the names of 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.

U.S. prosecutors were assisted by Army Counterintelligence, the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office, the United Kingdom’s Metropolitan Police Service and MI5.

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