The Department of Justice’s indictment’s view into the clandestine relationship between Russia’s military intelligence entity, the GRU and Peter Debbin’s concludes in early 2011 with Debbins having moved to the Washington D.C. metro area to work for a defense contractor.  The GRU had spotted and assessed Debbins during his university years when he did a study abroad in Chelyabinsk, Russia in the late 1990s. Debbins returned following graduation and prior to his entering the U.S. Army to marry his Russian girlfriend. He also codified his relationship with the GRU, with whom he would meet multiple times in Russia (1998-2010).

As the indictment’s narrative stops when his association with the U.S. Army inactive reserve concludes in 2010, it is highly probable his relationship with the GRU did not.

Debbins Finally Emerges as a GRU Asset

Debbins, via roles with various defense and intelligence contractors and his relationship with the Institute of World Politics, appears to have been able to evolve into the asset the GRU had envisioned. He constantly positioned himself to provide first hand information on a plethora of topics to include signals intelligence, chemical and biological weapons, nuclear weapons, cybersecurity, and cyber operations, as well as spot, assess, and identify to the GRU individuals with access and vulnerabilities.

While the number of trips to/from Russia in the period 2011-2020 is not known,  Debbins claims in a 2017 interview not to have been to Russia since 2010. That ultimate Chelyabinsk meeting, identified in the court documents, show there was no need for him to travel to Russia since he had in his possession a complete communications package using email, telephone, and a mail drops (see below) to sustain communications with the GRU from the U.S. or elsewhere.

2020: The Year the GRU lost Debbins and his Golden Eggs

Indeed, in 2013, he created an LLC while employed with a defense contractor and created a personal mail drop in Arlington, VA, which is not his home address. Years later in 2018, he reactivated this LLC, this time in South Dakota and set up a similar mail drop and forward service for himself in Sioux City. He used this service during the time period in which he was working with EUCOM and NATO at the joint intelligence center in the United Kingdom.

In 2019/2020, the LLC became one of the vehicles he would use to insinuate himself into the U.S. and Ukraine cyber worlds.

His social network presence is in and of itself puzzling. The folks at StrikeSource identified accounts associated with Debbins which were using an alias, “Peter Alcuin.” When questioned by his contemporaries about the alias, StrikeSource tells us that he explained it away as a “pseudonym” even though he used photos associated with his true name.

In sum, with the arrest of Debbins, the GRU lost the goose that was repeatedly laying golden eggs for the GRU both in actionable intelligence, as well as, influence operations.

Debbins cooperating with U.S. counterintelligence

Based on the level of detail in the indictment, it would appear Debbins is cooperating with U.S. law enforcement and counterintelligence. The indictment covers the first 12 years. A superseding indictment describing his espionage within the defense and intelligence communities may not be necessary to extract a guilty plea from Debbins. The level of complicity by his spouse, Yelena Selyutin, will be a point of leverage used by the DOJ in ensuring Debbins cooperation in the conduct of the damage assessment covering the 20-plus years of collaboration with the GRU.

The Debbins timeline 2011-2020.

 

2011 Debbins arrives in  Washington DC in January 2011, finds a home in the Manassas, VA area and begins 39 months of employment with defense contractor, Mission Essential Personnel. His role, as described by Debbins in his LinkedIn profile was to “Provide commercial research and analysis, due diligence research, competitive intelligence and value chain analytics to identify current and emerging trends and environment to support customer activities in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.”

The company tells us via their web site that as of today, they supported over 20,000 deployments to 46 countries.

If this role required access to classified information in support of the various contracts Mission Essential Personnel had with the U.S. government and other defense/intel community contractors, it would also mean that a new SF-86 would have been filed in order to obtain a national security clearance.

2012 While continuing to work for Mission Essential Personnel, Debbins begins his relationship with the Institute of World Politics (IWP). He begins work on his Professional M.A. in in Strategic and International Studies.
2013 Debbins continues his work with Mission Essential Personnel and his pursuit of his M.A. at the IWP. Debbins also purchases a single-family home in a new subdivision in Gainesville, Virginia for $506,960 on July 12, 2013 – his wife, Yelena V. Selyutin’s name does not appear as an owner.

On October 2, 2013, Debbins forms Horizon Leadership Group, LLC as a Virginia corporation via a proxy, United States Corporation Agents. The address given for the conduct of business is to a private mail service located within a UPS store in Arlington, VA.

2014 The IWP confers a Master’s Degree upon Debbins. He also makes an employment change to Booz Allen and assumes the role of “Associate.” Based on a 2018 interview of Debbins, he was assigned to a contract with the National Security Agency (NSA) where he was a contract Russian analyst.

Especially noteworthy is that Debbins must have been able to pass through the background check and counterintelligence screening required of all who work within the NSA, to include a polygraph.  The GRU’s training on dealing with the polygraph, an imprecise operational testing tool was put to good use.

2015 He writes an article for the American Thinker in April 2015, “Ukraine: A Contrarian Approach” in which he subtly makes the Russian case for the annexation of the Crimea.

He continues his work within the NSA and then in December 2015, Debbins leaves his role with Booz Allen after 21 months. It would appear he was a contemporary and fellow Booz Allen contractor within NSA with Harold Martin who was arrested for hoarding over 50 terabytes of NSA classified materials.

2016 In January 2016, he transitioned to CACI International as a cyber instructor.

In July 2016, Debbins changes the registered agent for his Virginia-based Horizon Leadership Group to himself and the address to his Gainesville, VA residence.

He also gives a talk for the IWP, “Caucasus Flashpoint: The Nagorono Karabakh Conflict in Context” on April 25, 2016.

2017 CoSolutions, Inc hires Debbins in August 2017 as an Russia Area Studies and Hybrid Warfare instructor for the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and NATO, and he moves with his family to the United Kingdom – his presence is U.S. Government contract to which he is assigned places him at RAF Alconbury/RAF Molesworth. He is working out of the national joint intelligence facility. He’s granted U.S. APO mail privileges. Debbins allows Horizon Leadership Group’s Virginia corporate status to go dormant and become inactive.

He uses the position to good avail and is documented as hobnobbing with a plethora of individuals whose activities were frequenting the headlines at the time as evidence by his attending the Fifth Annual American Awards Dinner Celebration hosted by the London Center for Policy Research.

Debbins is noted highlighting the Gerasimov Doctrine in an August 21, 2017 a Recorded Future interview “Russia Revisited: How Did We Get Here.”

2018 He and family continue their residence in the UK and his work with CoSolutions.  Debbins and spouse sell their St. Paul home and take a loss of $17,500.
2019 On April 1, 2019, from the UK, Debbins reconstitutes his Horizon Leadership Group, LLC, this time as a South Dakota, corporation. The South Dakota address of the company resolves to a Sioux Falls, South Dakota mail-forwarding entity, Your Best Address, where for $12/month they will collect and forward mail. The mailing address for Debbins, the “organizer” of the LLC is his APO address.

In July 2019, Debbins was scheduled to give a talk at the Great Britain-Russia society. Research provided by former CIA officer, Jerwayne Cook, reveals Debbins was abruptly called back the United States from the U.K. for “official business” and this talk was canceled.

It appears Debbins returns to the United States and re-affiliates himself with IWP as an instructor within their “Cyber Intelligence Initiative.” His wife meanwhile continues her employment as a private masseuse.

2020 In early 2020, Cook’s research shows Debbins is now an IWP instructor within their “Cyber Intelligence Initiative” – the IWP page on Debbins (taken down as of 22 August) details how Debbins was a “Russian Cyber Analyst for the US Government” and an Area Studies and Hybrid Warfare instructor for US European Command and NATO.

The Cyber Intelligence Institute publishes their 2020-2021 Cyber Intelligence Virtual Seminar Sereies and Debbins is scheduled to present in September 2020 on the topic of “Cyber Critical Infrastructure.”

On January 31, he presented at IWP, “Russian Worldview, Grand Strategy and Cyberspace”; on February 20, Debbins, presented at IWP a talk “Influencing a Wired World with Cyber Intelligence

His Horizon Leadership Group domain and web page, which he appears to have created on February 19, shows his company is prepared to offer training programs in

  • “Analytic Methodology and Tradecraft Intelligence Studies”
  • “Intelligence Approaches to Key Strategic Domains”
  • “Applied Cyber Operations”
  • “Cyber Intelligence Seminars”

He keeps plugging away, successfully insinuating himself into various positions which provide him eyes on prospective targets for the GRU. In February 2020, he became a professor for the Wisconsin International University with a focus on cybersecurity, crimes, policy, and risk.

On March 17, Debbins files the annual report for Horizon Leadership Group in South Dakota. In this filing, Debbins changes all addresses associated with the LLC to the Sioux Falls maildrop/forward entity. He also names his minor daughter as the Beneficial Owner of the LLC with her address being the Gainesville residence.

On April 10, Horizon Leadership Group and the Ukrainian American Concordia University create a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which has Debbins providing training in “basics of economic and financial cybersecurity in the field of business administration.” The MOU notes both U.S. and Ukrainian government officials will be participatory, and that Horizon Leadership Group will be providing the advisory and training personnel. Concordia identifies a Michael P. Hansen as being associated with Debbins’s endeavor.

On  August 21, Debbins was arrested.

 

 

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of securelytravel.com

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