A Russian Spy in the Think Tank and Assorted Nuclear Ramblings

// A look back at a forgotten story in August and a roundup of a troubling week in America.

Hello and welcome to Angry Planet’s weekly catalogue of a world in conflict. Every week Jason, Kevin, and Matthew watch the news and sort through the signal and noise so you don’t have to.

Thanks to everyone who has subscribed and I hope you’re enjoying the first premium episode, which is all about how 3D printed weapons will soon help rewrite all of our laws. Next week we’ll release September’s second episode—a roundtable discussion on why the Pentagon is paying soldiers and sailors to play video games.

The Spy of Think Tank Row

Back in August, the Department of Justice charged a former Green Beret with spying for Russian intelligence. Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins was born in Minnesota to an American father and Russian mother. He first visited Russia in 1994 and made many subsequent trips to visit the country of his mother’s birth. 

According to the indictment, Russian intelligence first reached out to Debbins in 1996 during one of these trips. Debbins was a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at the University of Minnesota. Russian intelligence wanted to know if Debbins planned to enlist and how far he wanted to go in the U.S. military.

Debbins went pretty far. He joined in 1998 and served until he was honorably discharged in 2005. He completed his Green Beret training in 2003 and the Pentagon assigned him as a captain to the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group stationed in Germany. From there, he deployed to Azerbaijan and then to the Republic of Georgia.

According to the indictment, something happened during Debbins’ deployment. He was investigated for a security violation and his clearance was suspended and he was removed from command. After leaving the Army, Debbins began actively meeting with the FSB in Russia and the FSB provided him with credentials for a cover company to help explain his frequent trips to Russia.

“During the meetings with [FSB], Debbins provided them with information about, among other things, his former Special Forces unit's mission and activities in Azerbaijan and Georgia,” the indictment said. Debbins also provided the FSB with names of Special Operations Forces members he thought the Russians could turn. According to the indictment, he told the FSB that he was mad at America and the Army and that the U.S. needed to be “cut down to size.”

During the last few years, Debbins was a character in Washington’s social and think tank scenes. As a former Green Beret, he had a certain cache and often lectured to various groups vying for power and attention in the nation’s capital. In 2017, he attended an event in New York City where he sat at a table with Erik Prince.

According to people who saw him speak, Debbins wasn’t subtle about his love for Russia. “I totally saw him speak once in D.C. and remember it being SUPER weird and focused on Russia's messianic dream of cleansing the world when I was promised a cyber talk,” Jenna McLaughlin, a national security reporter for Yahoo News said on Twitter.

Jenna McLaughlin @JennaMC_Laugh
Soo, if it's the same Peter Debbins (
justice.gov/opa/pr/former-…) alleged to have spied for GRU, I totally saw him speak once in DC and remember it being SUPER weird and focused on Russia's messianic dream of cleansing the world when I was promised a cyber talk.Former Army Special Forces Officer Charged in Russian Espionage ConspiracyA Gainesville, Virginia, man was arrested today for conspiring with Russian intelligence operatives to provide them with United States national defense information.justice.gov

Angry Planet

Bob Woodward released incendiary audio of his conversations with Trump as part of the press tour for his new book Rage. Much of the news focused on his downplaying COVID-19 numbers, but more interesting was the president’s claim he had “built a nuclear—a weapons system that nobody’s ever had in this country before. We have stuff that you haven’t even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There’s nobody—what we have is incredible.”

What’s the new weapon? No one knows, and nuclear experts aren’t even sure it’s a nuclear weapon. “There is not going to be a simple correspondence of words that come out of Donald Trump’s mouth and the facts in the real world,” Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear policy expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told me.

The wildfires continue in Oregon and amidst the blaze. Firefighters in the state are down six CH-47 Chinooks because they deployed to Afghanistan in May.

In Hawaii, Marines are guarding the nest of an endangered species of green sea turtles.

This massive and impressive story from The New York Timesexplains how a massive bomb came together in Beirut’s port. Co-written by Angry Planet guest Maria Abi-Habib.

Speaking of Maria and our episode on China’s confrontation with India, the two sides, which had been fighting with clubs, decided guns might be more effective. Even though they were reported to be just warning shots, analysts still see it as a dangerous escalation—as are the tens of thousands of troops being rushed to the area by both sides. Still, nothing to worry about. They’re just the two most populous nations on earth, both armed with nuclear weapons. What could go wrong?

20/20 has released an in-depth report on Vanessa Guillen and Fort Hood.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates are set to sign a treaty aimed at normalizing relations between the two countries next week. On Friday, Bahrain recognized Israel’s right to exist, which is nice. 

image: A.Savin photo