The EDVA Venue and the Peter Debbins Indictment

DOJ just rolled out the indictment of a former Special Forces officer for spying for Russia.

The general story is that GRU started recruiting Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins when he traveled to Russia via family ties when he was young. He went on to join the Army and then the Special Forces. Along the way, he told GRU about who was in his units and what their mission was. The timeline in the indictment starts in 1996, when Debbins traveled to Chelyabinsk as a student. Debbins met with GRU officers in Russia repeatedly; after he joined the Army he provided details of what his units did, including when he was stationed in Azerbijan in 2004, where his clearance was suspended and he was discharged from the Army.

After he was discharged, on his trips to Russia in 2008 and 2010, Debbins tried to drum up Russian business. The indictment seems to suggest he started to get cold feet in 2009, resisting the recruitment.

Beginning in April 2009, DEBBINS and [Russian Intelligence Officer] 7 began exchanging a series of emails that, on their face, referenced potential business opportunities. In an April 2009 email, RIS 7 encouraged DEBBINS to travel to Russia for a visit, but DEBBINS did not commit to the trip. Later, in August 2009, RIS sent an email to DEBBINS inviting DEBBINS to travel to Russia and offering to pay his expenses. DEBBINS, however, did not travel at that time.

Subsequent to that seeming moment of resistance, however, Debbins got a new TS/SCI security clearance and traveled to Russia to discuss business with someone linked to the GRU. He did not, as most recently instructed, bring a Field Manual, because (he said) he feared he’d be caught by DHS.

Nevertheless, his GRU handlers still pitched him on a business deal. On January 3, 2011, after being reminded of his ties to GRU, Debbins moved to DC and started working on the business deal with the Russian.

A January 3 email from Debbins to the business partner is the single thing that (presumably) happened in EDVA, and the single thing that happened in 2011, the last year of the scope of this indictment.

On January 3, 2011, DEBBINS sent the RUSSIAN NATIONAL an email stating that he had moved to “the capital,” meaning Washington, D.C., and that he was working on their business matter.

And yet, even though Debbins had closest ties to Minnesota for the span of this indictment (and could have gotten venue in North Carolina through Special Forces for some of the overseas stuff), the venue is EDVA.

That may be because that’s the easiest place to win a national security case.

Or it may be because what has happened since 2011, when Debbins has been traveling elite circles and working on cybersecurity, is of more interest to the government. [h/t Laura Rozen for both links] According to one online biography, Debbins was at Fort Meade from around 2012 to 2015 and then worked as a contractor since.

Later, I got a job working at Fort Meade as a Russian analyst and did that for three years. I then transitioned to working as a cyber instructor for CACI for another three years.

Which is to say it’s unclear whether this indictment is about what happened between 1996 and 2011 — the span covered by the indictment — or about what has happened since.

18 replies
  1. graham firchlis says:

    Fascinating. So much detail in the indictment, conversational specifics going back to 1996.

    Email says he’s going to continue working on his Russia-connected business after moving, no reason to suppose he stopped. Your suspicion that there’s more to follow from after he moved to EDVA makes sense, 9 year void of deafening silence.

    All that detail he’s spilled his guts, working on a deal. Wonder how he was caught.

  2. Molly Pitcher says:

    Let me be stupid here for a minute. If they could find this out about him now, why not when he was going for his security clearance AFTER he was kicked out of the military for sketchy behavior while “… he was stationed in Azerbijan in 2004, where his clearance was suspended and he was discharged from the Army.”

    WHY are we giving clearance and allowing him to work as a contractor when he was booted from the service for dicey behavior ???

      • chetnolian says:

        Looking at the indictment surely the question is why he got clearance in the first place given his earlier visit to Chelyabinsk. I know he covered up his contacts but was he not vetted? I doubt the then UK system would have let him be cleared, but our securocrats still remembered Burgess, McLean, Philby and Blunt back then.

  3. John Paul Jones says:

    A question for the lawyers: is the Forfeiture section just boilerplate, or is it added to indictments where the person being charged is suspected to have made significant money out of the crimes charged?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      The government wants to recover the funds, proceeds of the crimes. It might also make perps feel more vulnerable, which might make them willing to talk or implicate their fellow conspirators.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        The proceeds of Debbins’s crimes seem to be a bottle of cognac and a thousand dollars. I just read all I could find, and the story seems to boil down to poor surveillance on our part. How many times does this guy have to go to Russia? Surely there is more to this story than we’re being told. Like, for example, what happened after 2011.

  4. Savage Librarian says:

    Venue is EDVA, Erik Prince is in his circle of acquaintances or colleagues. So, I wonder if Assange factors in somehow or somewhere…

  5. Greg Hunter says:

    Are they prosecuting him on these crimes because they do not want to reveal the other ones that have occurred since that time? Are they using this to lever him against someone else?

    Ha CACI again, the torture contractor in Iraq and the absorber of my former beltway bandit employer JAYCOR…fun times as we were working on terrorism, nuclear EMP, black box programs and monoclonal antibodies long before it became a thing…..

  6. Raven Eye says:

    “..he was stationed in Azerbaijan in 2004, where his clearance was suspended and he was discharged from the Army.” Not sure if this was any thing other than a discharge that occurred OCONUS.

    Interesting, though as soon as he was discharged, his clearance shuld be pulled (no “need to know” and no sponsor (government agency or contractor employer).

    But it is hard to tell from that entry. On the other hand, the fact that he was later able to TS/SCI meant that he was working for an organization that required that level of clearance. Unless you’re the President’s son-in-law, it’s not unusual for someone to not make it through the adjudication process.

  7. Laura Staten says:

    Knew him from those times periods…he is very much a family man and only traveled to Russia with his children. Made up motive to destroy someone proud of their heritage.

  8. Joseph Cannon says:

    The great mystery of the indictment is how so much can be known concerning Debbins’ interactions with his Russian handlers in the late 1990s.

    And why didn’t our government presume that he had been approached during his student days in Russia? Wouldn’t it be standard operating procedure for the Russians to try to recruit him and to encourage him to pursue a career in government?

    I’ve been toying with the idea that Drebbins is the original Q. When that thought first popped into my head, I didn’t take it seriously; I wrote about it because I considered the notion amusing. But believe it or not, the more you look into the theory, the more evidence you’ll find.

    YouTube carries a lecture Debbins gave to the Institute of World Politics called “Influencing a Wired World with Cyber Intelligence.” It’s absolutely remarkable. If you watch that presentation with the “Debbins as Q” theory in mind, it is downright uncanny. At times, he almost sounds like a Bond villain who can’t help bragging about his scheme. He talks about manipulating an army of incels. He talks about engineering a breakdown of society until the populace turns to a “messiah” figure — and his smug smile suggests that the “messiah” could be HIM.

    Q is often thought (even by those opposed to the QAnon cult) to have a genuine connection to military intelligence, as Debbins did. Q now operates on 8Kun, which is basically a Russian site; Debbins was a Russian spy. Both Michael Flynn and Erik Prince are linked to the Institute of World Politics; Flynn has embraced QAnon. Debbins has the necessary expertise to post Q drops regularly without being tracked by any of the world’s intelligence services.

    As a CBRNE expert, Debbins may actually possess Q clearance. If not, he surely coveted it.

    Another point: Debbins worked for a while in for a Ukrainian steel company in Minnesota. This, almost certainly, refers to Viktor Pinchuk’s company Interpipe. Pinchuk made minor donations to Trump but apparently has a fairly close relationship to Bill Clinton; he has also donated millions to the Clinton Foundation. Pinchuk was also partners with Kolomoisky at a time when Kolomoisky was deeply opposed to Putin. It makes sense that Putin would want an agent to infiltrate Pinchuk’s organization.

    • P J Evans says:

      I doubt he could get a Q clearance – they do a fairly thorough background check for those, including family and friends.

    • Nord Dakota says:

      Is there any source for the name of the steel company? I grew up on Minnesota’s Iron Range. Haven’t lived there since 1976, it was after that that the taconite (iron ore which requires concentration to be used in steelmaking) industry shriveled up, I know there was a plant that opened that made steel pellets out of recycled metal in that area, but I had never heard of a steel plant in the state.

      FWIW northeastern Minnesota has a large number of eastern Europeans, Greeks, Finnish people from historical immigration patterns, although there weren’t any people I knew growing up who claimed Russian ancestry.

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