The history of Russian spies in the United States
This appeared in The Millennial Source
While the idea of spies infiltrating the US may feel like a throwback notion from the Cold War, in the three decades since the Russian Federation supplanted the fallen Soviet Union, Russian spies have remained a persistent issue for US intelligence.
In August, a former United States Army Green Beret named Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins was arrested on charges that he had served as a spy for Russia. On November 18, Debbins, whose Russian codename was Ikar Lesnikov, formally pleaded guilty to charges of espionage, capping a 15-year career as a double agent that lasted from 1996 to 2011.
Debbins’ military career and work as a Russian spy began in Minnesota, where he grew up. In 1996, while training in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at the University of Minnesota, he was simultaneously meeting with the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU; Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravlenie), which had recruited him.
Debbins’ mother was from Russia. As a student, he met his future wife, Yelena Selyutin, while involved in a study-abroad program in Chelyabinsk, a city in the European part of Russia.
Debbins was on active duty in the US Army from July 1998 through December 2005. A portion of that service, from 2003 to 2005, was spent in the Special Forces. He was deployed to multiple countries around the world, including South Korea, Azerbaijan and Georgia. In all that time, he was passing on information to Russia, including about his fellow Green Berets.
It’s a remarkable story, one that reveals an alarming breach in US intelligence. It also underlines the fact that international espionage has not gone completely digital.
In recent years, Russia has frequently been accused of cyberespionage, including hacking government systems and using disinformation to influence US elections. As Spain learned in 2019, though, Russian spies work in the field as well.
While the idea of spies infiltrating the US may feel like a throwback notion from the Cold War, in the three decades since the Russian Federation supplanted the fallen Soviet Union, Russian spies have remained a persistent issues for US intelligence. (At the…