A former member of the US Army special forces has been charged with providing classified information to Russian intelligence for over 15 years and faces life in prison, the Department of Justice has announced.

Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, 45, was arrested in Gainesville, Virginia on Friday and charged with “conspiracy to provide US national defense information to agents of a foreign government,”according to the DOJ.

He allegedly made contact with agents of the Russian military intelligence back in 1996, when he was still on active duty, and was assigned a Russian codename “and signed a statement attesting that he wanted to serve Russia,” in 1997, according to the charges against him. 

Former Army Green Beret charged in Russian espionage conspiracy. @TheJusticeDept@FBIWFO

Upon leaving the Army in 2008, Debbins allegedly gave Russian intelligence agents information about his previous activities with the Green Berets and names of former team members so they could be approached and recruited, the indictment says, adding that the conspiracy activities lasted through 2011.

“Debbins is accused of giving Russian intelligence officers sensitive information about the units in which he once served and also providing the names of other service members so Russia could try to recruit them,” said Alan Kohler, assistant director of the FBI Counterintelligence Division.

The indictment refers to the Russian agency Debbins allegedly had contact with as “GRU,” the military intelligence service that changed its name to “GU” a decade ago. If convicted, the former Green Beret faced a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Pointing out this is the second espionage arrest this week, John C. Demers, assistant Attorney General for National Security, said this demonstrated the US “must remain vigilant against espionage from our two most malicious adversaries — Russia and China.” 

Demers was referring to the arrest of Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 67, in Hawaii on Monday. The Hong Kong-born former CIA officer and FBI contractor allegedly passed information to the Chinese government, according to the charges against him. 

Charges against Debbins and Ma come amid the increased hostility towards Moscow and Beijing in Washington. Earlier on Friday, China accused the US of demonstrating a “Cold War mentality” by wanting to deploy medium-range missiles to the Asia-Pacific region, and said it would respond with “countermeasures.”

China and Russia have also been opposed to the US push in the UN Security Council to “snap back” sanctions against Iran, an initiative that likewise failed to win over Washington’s NATO allies, the UK, France and Germany.

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