An In-Depth Look at Peter Debbins
The alleged spy living in Gainesville, Virginia known to his handlers as Iskar Leskinov, but to everyone else as Peter Debbins, was arrested on August 21, 2020. Debbins, who held Top Secret security clearance and had access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI-often referred to as above Top Secret), was a former member of 10th Special Forces Group. He is charged with “conspiring to provide United States national defense information to agents of a foreign government.” According to a seventeen-page indictment, Debbins provided sensitive information about his special forces unit and classified operations to the G.R.U., Russia’s primary military intelligence agency. If Debbins is convicted he faces a maximum sentence of Life in Prison.
TIES TO RUSSIA
According to the indictment, Debbins’, whose full name is Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins, mother was born in the former Soviet Union and he met and married his wife in Chelyabinsk, Russia. His wife’s father was a Russian military officer. Debbins first went to Russia in 1994 when he was 19 years old. He travelled again to Russia in 1995, 1997-1997, 1997-1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2008, and 2010. During some periods of time that he was in Russia, in addition to allegedly meeting with up to a total of 7 different Russian intelligence officers, Debbins lived and worked there.
While Debbins reportedly only accepted $1000, a bottle of cognac, and a Russian military uniform in exchange for the information he provided, his motivation appears to have been ideological rather than financial. He allegedly described himself to his Russian handlers as a “son of Russia” and signed a statement stating that he wanted to “serve Russia”, which he signed in his Iskar Leskinov codename. Accepting a Russian military uniform is also significant. It demonstrates more than a strong affinity for Russia but rather a desire to be “one of them”. This is reminiscent of Oleg Penkovsky, called The Spy Who Saved the World. Penkovsky worked on behalf of the West and famously informed about the presence of nuclear missiles in Cuba. He was presented with and photographed in both U.S. and British Military uniforms as an expression of how valued and respected he was by his handlers.
During the period from December 1996 to January 2011, Debbins repeatedly failed to disclose his contact with the Russian intelligence service on both official U.S. Government forms and during in-person interviews. Clearly, Debbins was aware he was not authorized to have this contact and was deliberately concealing it.
With the intent to provide a more complete profile of who Debbins is, Strike Source interviewed a close associate of Debbins and performed an in-depth online investigation into his pattern of life, behavior, and influence.
The associate Strike Source spoke to has spent a significant amount of time with Debbins. This source spoke on a condition of anonymity.
Q: What can you tell us about Debbins?
A: All I can say is that he and I met at the Institute of World Politics (IWP) when he was the guest speaker, and we’ve socialized over lunch, beers, Catholic Mass, and a gun range outing, but he never solicited any sensitive info from me, never asked me anything that would’ve raised my eyebrows or generated any suspicion that he wasn’t a patriotic American.
Q: Was he a nice guy?
A: Yes, super nice, super cool. Really smart, very intellectual.
Q: Did he talk about Russia a lot? Or just geopolitics in general?
A: A fair mix of both the former and the latter, as well as domestic politics. Nothing to indicate that he was a Putin sympathizer.
Q: Was he well off?
A: SUV was nothing fancy. I never saw the inside of his house, but from the outside, looked solidly middle-class. Definitely not a mansion or anything else that would come across as upper-crusty.
Q: Did he have any unexplained wealth?
A: Not that I observed.
Q: What was your reaction to hearing about the charges?
A: Shock and dismay and depression, because he seemed like a really great guy; patriotic American and faithful Catholic. I hope to hell he turns out to be innocent, but if not…shame on him for misleading me and the rest of his friends and professional acquaintances.
In addition, our research identified Debbins’ online alias, business interests, and influence as an intelligence instructor.
Debbins on Social Media
Online, Debbins went by the alias, Peter Alcuin. Strike Source was able to identify Mr. Debbins’ social media accounts through OSINT methodology, using publicly available information. The first thing of note is that Debbins, who is 45, used a false date of birth on his profile. That said, given Debbins was a special forces soldier, listing an incorrect date of birth on social media is perhaps not unusual.
A further review of his Facebook account shows that his friends list is private, and the last time he was actively posting to the page was in October 2017. Further interaction with the profile also revealed that Debbins is friends with a few of his publicly listed relatives on the account.
Wondering about the possibility that Debbins used this account as a line of communication with a foreign government, we asked our source about the Peter Alcuin alias. We were told, “He just told me it was a sort of pseudonym or alternate account or something like that—I don’t remember the specific verbiage, but he didn’t elaborate at length.”
Continued research identified an Instagram profile for Debbins. With the Instagram account, he used the same alias from his Facebook page.
Debbins’ Instagram profile is private, which makes it inaccessible. Further, using an OSINT technique to bypass the privacy of the account did not work. However, the Instagram profile pic provides some additional insight.
An enlarged version of the profile picture shows Debbins in front of a fence where a partial phrase can be seen, “…NE QUEEN OF ENGLAND”.
Further research shows that Debbins is at the Tomb of Katherine (Catherine) of Aragon at Peterborough Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, England.
Research into Debbins also returns an article about him in the Alumnus Spotlight for the Institute of World Politics, which mentions England.
In the article, dated February 2018, Debbins explains his extensive history in intelligence. He then says, “I’ve been at my new job in the UK for about 4 months and teach Russian studies through Co-solutions.” In addition, Debbins’ LinkedIn account lists his experience working for Co-Solutions from August 2017-January 2020. With this information, it can be determined with confidence that the Instagram photo puts him in England within that time frame.
Though no further details are currently available, the Department of Justice press release thanks the United Kingdom’s Metropolitan Police and MI5, the U.K.’s domestic security service, for their assistance in this case. It is not publicly known what this assistance amounted to but it can be surmised that it occurred during Debbins’ time in the U.K..
Mr. Debbin’s LinkedIn profile provides a lot of information about his work experience.
From reviewing his account, we know Debbins worked as a:
- A Professor at Wisconsin International University (USA) Ukraine
- Principal at Horizon Leadership Group, LLC
- As an Instructor for Co-Solutions, Inc.
- As an Instructor for CACI International, Inc
- As an Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton
- A Senior Research Analyst for Mission Essential Personnel, LLC
- As a Transportation Coordinator at Trademark Transportation Inc.
- And a Market Representative for Eastern Marketing Solutions, Inc.
The majority of the companies listed on Debbins’ LinkedIn are in the defense and security industry. The three businesses on that list that aren’t known to be in that space are Horizon Leadership Group, LLC, Trademark Transportation, Inc., and Eastern Marketing Solutions, Inc.
Debbins’ Business Interests
With three companies to research, Strike Source wanted to see what role Debbins had in each.
According to publicly available information, Debbins is the registered agent for Horizon Leadership Group, LLC. Horizon Leadership Group, LLC, was incorporated in Virginia on October 2, 2013, and in South Dakota on March 18, 2019. Public filings for Horizon Leadership Group, LLC show Debbins as the owner of the company, using a Army Post Office (APO) address in Alconbury, England.
Further research into Horizon Leadership Group, LLC shows that Debbins aimed to do business in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine.
Trademark Transportation Inc has been in business for thirty-seven years and seems to raise little suspicion to dig into further.
Research indicates Debbins was Chief Executive Officer of Eastern Marketing Solutions, Inc, and held 100,000 shares of the company. His LinkedIn profile refers to him as a Market Representative, not CEO.
When Strike Source asked our source if Debbins had ever brought up Horizon Leadership Group or Eastern Marketing Solutions, he said, “For all I remember, he might’ve mentioned the Horizon thing during one of our conversations, but if so, it went in my one ear and out the other.”
Debbins’ Influence as an Intelligence Instructor
Based on the research conducted, Debbins held significant influence as an intelligence instructor.
Debbins’ profile on IWP, where he was a cyber intelligence instructor, reads, “Mr. Debbins has 20 years of experience and knowledge in intelligence, national security, strategic planning, CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, enhanced Explosives), cyber and cyberspace, hybrid warfare, business, economics, finance, world geopolitical environment, and science and technology (S&T). He possesses native fluency in Russian.”
“Mr. Debbins served as an officer in the US Army and has also worked in commercial businesses in Ukraine and Russia. He was a Russian Cyber Analyst for the US Government, and later a Cyber Operations instructor. Currently, he works as an Area Studies and Hybrid Warfare instructor for the US European Command (EUCOM) and NATO.”
Additionally, in April 2020, Debbins taught a webinar on cybersecurity for Ukrainian-American Concordia University. Also, a June 2020 MeetUp event lists Debbins helping teach a video-based course on how to utilize intelligence tools and cyber capabilities.
The limited activity from Debbins’ social media accounts shows that he is careful not to leave a digital trail behind. Further, his alias suggests that Debbins likely doesn’t want the majority of people to know about his social media activity. Debbins’ business, Horizon Leadership Group, LLC, seeks to do business in Armenia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Russia. While the connections to that particular region are intriguing given the accusations against Debbins, there isn’t enough public information about the company to analyze it further.
According to our source, if Debbins is indeed an asset for Russian intelligence, nobody who spends time with him would likely suspect it based on his personal behavior and comments. Unfortunately, if Debbins is indeed a mole for Russia, he was able to gain significant influence in the U.S. national security community and to market himself as an intelligence professional that others turned to for training and advice.
While Debbins sits in holding waiting for his court appearance on Monday, Russia is likely searching for its next source to help undermine and compromise the national security of the U.S. or worse, working to better safeguard the ones they already have.
Note: This article has been updated to include information about Debbins’ ties to Russia and the role of MI5 in the case against him.