National Security National Security

What’s Not In the Indictment

While many are focused on what is in the indictment of Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins for allegedly spying for the Russian G.R.U., the thing that stands out most to us at Strike Source is what isn’t there. We were dismayed by what the indictment alleges Debbins did and we noted the level of detail presented regarding his actions, meetings, and correspondence with Russian intelligence officers through 2011. But we were more surprised by what seemed to be an abrupt end to those meetings and communications and the lack of any details in the indictment about spying activities post-2011.

While providing information on one’s unit and equipment is deplorable and clearly espionage activity, in comparison to what others have done and overall damage to U.S. national security, it does not seem overly severe. More than that, we wondered, why does the story dry up just when the Russians have instructed Debbins to find a job working for the U.S. Government (USG), and just when his security clearance is reinstated at the highest levels, Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI)?

We surmise the likely reason is that this is when the truly damaging espionage began to occur. We assess that the details are not provided in order not to publicly reveal what that damage was, or perhaps because the full extent of the damage is still being assessed. It is also possible that to reveal those details would tend to potentially compromise the sources and methods used to uncover Debbins’ alleged activities.

While some have speculated that the level of detail in the indictment (at least up to 2011) is so precise that perhaps a defector or other human assest provided the information, we assess it is more likely Debbins himself who provided the details while meeting with investigators. Perhaps he did so while spinning a narrative to explain, justify, or minimize his actions. Dissecting this line of thought, the indictment refers to 7 separate Russian intelligence officers and very specific details regarding timing and events that occurred during meetings going back to 1996. Included in the indictment is which G.R.U. officer or officers were met and specific events that occurred during each meeting. Many intelligence officers who have handled human sources or followed them from a desk job would admit that it is very unlikely they would remember such a high degree of detail unless they had lived the events themselves. Another possibility could be that the operational file was somehow obtained. If that were the case, the protection of such sources and methods would certainly prevail over publicly providing the details in the indictment.

Debbins presents at the University of the Third Age in Cambridge on May 1, 2019

The U.K. Connection

The U.S. Department of Justice Press Release expresses great appreciation for the assistance of, among others, the United Kingdom’s Metropolitan Police and MI5, the U.K. domestic security service. What assistance could authorities in the U.K. have provided? If it was a human source that reported Debbins’ activities, the source could have been run by the U.K.. However, if that were the case, the U.K. likely would not want to reveal this because doing so would compromise their source. It would also be mere coincidence that Debbins worked in the U.K., at a U.K. military installation, and it was from there that he was apparently recalled to the U.S. where he began to be interviewed by U.S. authorities. That would be an awful lot of coincidence.

According to Debbins’ LinkedIn page, which has been taken down, he was an Instructor for CoSolutions, Inc. from August 2017 until January 2020 in Cambridge, United Kingdom. According to a January 16, 2019 tweet from the Institute of World Politics, Debbins was due to give a presentation at the University of Cambridge the following Thursday. There is no indication that he failed to give this presentation and it can be surmised that he did. As we reported in our previous article about Debbins, on March 18, 2019 Debbins changed the registered address of Horizon Leadership Group, LLC from an Army Post Office (APO) address in the U.K. to an address in South Dakota. This potentially indicates he already knew he was returning to the U.S.. According to the website of the University of the Third Age in Cambridge, Peter Debbins was scheduled to a give a presentation entitled Russian World View and Grand Strategy on May 1, 2019. There is no indication this presentation did not occur. According to a July 17, 2019 posting on the Great Britain-Russia Society webpage, a presentation Debbins was scheduled to give on July 22 had been postponed because “Peter Debbins has unexpectedly had to return to the USA on official business.” A post on the same page on July 21 about the same presentation had been updated to say only, “Unfortunately Peter Debbins’ talk on Putin’s Russia has been postponed.” It can be concluded from this timeline that Debbins departed the U.K. sometime prior to July 17, 2019.

Therefore, while the indictment and media focus is on the period from 1996-2011, our research and analysis makes a strong case that the espionage continued until 2019 when, with the help of law enforcement in the U.K., Debbins’ misdeeds were finally uncovered. He was seemingly at that point recalled to the U.S. and began meeting with- that is, being interviewed by- U.S. federal agents. As reported by the Washington Post, a female family member of Debbins said, “Debbins had been cooperative with federal agents since last year and voluntarily went Friday to what he thought was another meeting: “We thought it was over.”” Apparently, in the period from approximately Spring/Summer 2019 until August 20, 2020, those federal agents built their case to the point they felt confident of getting a conviction and they arrested Debbins.

It will not be surprising if there are further developments in this on-going situation and we will continue to dig into it and provide informed analysis and assessment of it.