Returning to Venue in the Peter Debbins Case

In my post on the Peter Debbins indictment, I noted with curiosity the EDVA venue for the former Special Forces guy charged with sharing information with GRU. Just one of the alleged acts, a January 3, 2011 email, took place in EDVA. I suggested that might mean Debbins would eventually be prosecuted for later acts, acts which took place in Virginia.

Several filings and the WaPo account of his detention hearing (not to mention the involvement of prosecutor David Aaron, one of the people who prosecuted Hal Martin, the guy originally accused of being the Shadow Brokers source) raise further questions whether that’s true.

According to the current story, DOJ discovered that Debbins had been recruited by Russia when he self-reported that recruitment in a SF-86 in July 2019. After that, FBI interviewed him 8 times; on July 11, 2019, they got him to describe that recruitment in a voluntary statement (PDF 5ff). As demonstrated below, the interactions with GRU officers map onto the indictment very closely (which is to say, in indicting Debbins, the government only told Debbins and his Russian handlers what he already told them).

That said, Debbins’ statement includes two later details: further emails with a guy named Nikolai, lasting until May 2011 (and therefore presumably extending venue in EDVA), and a description of GRU officers going to his Russian military officer father-in-law’s office in 2012, inquiring what Debbins was doing in DC, in response to which his wife’s father provided outdated information.

In December 2019, Debbins asked his Senator, Mike Rounds, to intercede in the investigation (PDF 10ff.), claiming that he couldn’t even get unclassified employment while the FBI was investigating. He also claimed that the FBI had told him “they [were] pretty well done with [his] case.” Debbins’ claim to Rounds had to have been false. His resume (PDF 16) shows he was continually employed in this period, working as an intelligence trainer for Cosolutions until January 2020 and then working as a Cyber Financial Crimes Project Manager for a Ukrainian American university after that. Which suggests he was trying to get his Senator to intervene based on a false representation, perhaps as a way to figure out what was really happening in the investigation.

The FBI also searched Debbins’ home in the UK and executed search warrants sometime after March 8, 2020 (to shift from a counterintelligence investigation to a criminal one, the FBI would want to parallel construct what they already knew with such searches).

To explain why they needed to detain Debbins now after letting him wander around freely for over a year after disclosing these decade old contacts, AUSA Thomas Traxler (who is also prosecuting Julian Assange) explained that they needed to corroborate his statement before arresting him.

Traxler said the government was “concerned” Debbins would flee over the past year but had to corroborate the statement. It would have been “premature” to arrest him any earlier, Traxler said.

The real thing that got Magistrate Judge John Anderson to deny Debbins bail was the list of things Debbins has done since the last act in his statement. Senior DIA CI Expert David Tomlinson described how, when Debbins worked at Booz Allen Hamilton from 2014 to 2016, he was read into one Special Access Program and six Alternative or Compensatory Control Measures (which are less classified but nevertheless restricted on a need-to-know basis). Defense Intelligence Senior Leader Joseph Simon described how Debbins’ training, both while in Special Forces and in his cybersecurity jobs since, would make it easy for him to flee if he were not detained. Both declarations make it clear that Debbins has been working on Russian language counterintelligence for almost a decade, precisely the kind of positions that would be most valuable to Russia. His resume further makes it clear he spent three years at Fort Meade and 20 months working for Booz at Quantico, VA.

It would be fairly remarkable if GRU were willing to let a former recruit work in such positions, with a signed admission of his involvement with them from years earlier, without asking for further cooperation.

All the declarations submitted for his detention hearing make clear the affiant is not revealing all he knows about this case.

Finally, as WaPo noted, in addition to having organizational ties that overlap with Mike Flynn and Erik Prince, Debbins told a friend he’d get a job in Donald Trump’s NSC.

In early 2017, Debbins told a friend via email that he was a candidate for a position on the National Security Council, “specifically Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russia and Central Asia.”

It is not clear how serious his candidacy was; he never served in the Trump administration.

DOJ is not saying — and they might never say anything publicly if they wanted to obscure what damage Debbins has done and what they know or don’t know. DOJ could get Debbins to plead to facts he has already admitted to in his statement, and push for a stiff sentence based off classified declarations laying out related conduct.

But it sure seems likely his related conduct in EDVA extends beyond that one January 2011 email.

21 replies
  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The potential crossover with people in Trump’s orbit is the sort of thing that would keep even Bill Barr awake at night.

    You mentioned that the prosecution’s filings largely contain information Debbins admitted to the FBI. It seems possible that the reverse is true: his admissions were similarly constrained by what he thought the FBI already had on him. When you’re in too deep to get out, go further in.

    • emptywheel says:

      They did not charge him for false statements on past SF-86es, which they easily could have done (they mention it in the indictment). But it would raise questions about why he disclosed in 2019 but not in 2011 or 2014.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Debbins – unlike Flynn, who was largely a staff intelligence officer – was a special operator. So, SERE plus. Under interrogation, you can’t say nothing for long. At some point, you give a little at the margins, things you think your interrogator knows or wants to know, but are not central to your mission. Hope confirmation bias kicks in, narrowing the range of questions. Wash, rinse, repeat. Lasts longer without torture, but then time is relative.

  2. klynn says:

    Re voluntary statement:

    I want to learn more about the request of info on four Catholic nuns and which church.

    • John Paul Jones says:

      It’s on p.5 of the indictment. Mostly it’s just a test of the recruit’s willingness to do as he’s told; he passed. It’s also junior-grade “spy stuff,” and for a teenager (I think he was like 18 or 19 at the time), it probably has a whiff of “now I’m playing in the big leagues.” So it’s somewhat seductive for the recruit.

      • klynn says:

        Page 5 does not name the specifics – names and the church.

        While I agree with your statement to a degree, that time historically was important in the development of church related intelligence outreach by Ru.

        So I remain interested in finding out who and what.

        • subtropolis says:

          If the GRU wanted to create a dossier about those nuns they could easily get much more than their names. The assignment was exactly as JPJ said: a simple tasking to see whether their young prospect had the wherewithal to elicit the information. This goes back to the sixties, or even earlier. In fact, I’ve seen this exact scenario described elsewhere — find out the names of those in this specific church. I wish that I could recall the source, but it was a KGB tasking for a recruit.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      It’s the sort of thing you might read from an operator who has spent time in Central America – in a debriefing, not in a statement to the FBI.

  3. BayStateLibrul says:

    I want to know how he got his job with Booz, Allen.
    I want to know more about his gig in Cyber Financial crimes.
    Maybe, he could hook up with Mick as a financial hedge manager.
    Fucking Mulvaney will now tell investors how to explain and interpret financial texts and loopholes written in by lobbyists.
    Exegesis is an apropos name of his fund.
    Fucking Republicans can sniff out the money.
    Like Paul Ryan, they cheer, they laugh, as they cash in their chips.

    • Rapier says:

      Booz is always looking for warm bodies because they employ a lot of them and always need more. How many thousands are needed to fulfill the billions in contracts they have with the government?

      Our model of privatized intelligence activities, with thousands involved in gathering analyzing and disseminating information is a counter espionage black hole. The scale alone guarantees that leaks and compromises will be rampant. Oh well. No matter, it’s profitable.

      Booz was majority owned by the Carlyle Group, the insiders insiders, which back in the day was the ultimate equity play in the spook game. When Showden, a Booz employee, went off the reservation nobody ever questioned Booz about it and their counter espionage failure. Nobody in their right mind in the Beltway would dare question Booz and that includes news orgs. In any case it looked bad and they wanted out. Before they sold they floated $1billion in bonds, paid all of it to themselves in a special dividend, then sold the company and it’s now a publicly traded corporation.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    If the House Oversight Committee is really “preparing” to subpoena Louis DeJoy, why hasn’t it done it already?

    Telegraphing and empty threats are poor strategy. Effective competition is often based on the Nike slogan, just do it, without warning. We’re long past the point where politeness – customary, but only where there is mutual respect and general compliance with the rules – is deserved, useful, or smart.

    • rosalind says:

      House Oversight: “We are at this very moment busy picking out the perfect Tee on top of which to position our quickly deflating football”

      go team!

    • P J Evans says:

      It’s hard to get the papers drawn up and everything scheduled in less than three days. They gave him to COB Wednesday the 26th, so the earliest they could vote would be today. (I’d have had the papers ready before the 26th, so they’d be on hand and all they’d need would be to set the vote. But I’m not in Congress, and maybe they did that.)

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        The chair of a committee and many of its members would know that. It doesn’t explain the delay. DeJoy has been at this for months.

    • Molly Pitcher says:

      “House Panel to Subpoena Postmaster General for Withholding Documents From Congress”
      “House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) wrote in a notice to DeJoy on Monday the committee plans to serve the subpoena on Wednesday, and it will demand him to hand over additional documents after a hearing last week on the Postal Service. During the hearing, the Committee on Oversight and Reform requested documents related to the delays at the Postal Service. But according to a statement from the committee, no documents were produced. Maloney also reportedly sent a document request on Monday to Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan.”

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Among the many threats posed by Donald Trump, is that if he bases his campaign on providing thrills to the armed far-right, and he cheats his way to a win, he has to keep giving it a fix. Otherwise, like any junky, it will turn on him.

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