A US Navy nuclear engineer and his wife have been charged with trying to pass information about the design of American nuclear-powered submarines to a person they believed was a representative of a foreign power. In actuality, that person was an undercover FBI agent, the Justice Department said Sunday.
For almost a year, Jonathan Toebbe, 42, aided by his wife, Diana, 45, sold information known as Restricted Data concerning the design of nuclear-powered warships. The Toebbes have been charged in a criminal complaint alleging violations of the Atomic Energy Act.
Conspiracy and Communication of Restricted Data
"The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation," said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. That country was not named in the court documents.
The complaint affidavit alleges that on April 1, 2020, Toebbe sent a package to a foreign government, listing a return address in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, containing a sample of Restricted Data and instructions for establishing a covert relationship to purchase additional Restricted Data.
The affidavit also alleges that, thereafter, Toebbe began corresponding via encrypted email with an individual whom he believed to be a representative of the foreign government. Toebbe continued this correspondence for several months, which led to an agreement to sell Restricted Data in exchange for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.
Military Secrets were Hidden in a Peanut Butter Sandwich
On June 8, 2021, the undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Toebbe as "good faith" payment. Shortly afterwards, on June 26, Toebbe and his wife traveled to a location in West Virginia. There, with Diana acting as a lookout, Toebbe placed an SD card concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich at a pre-arranged "dead drop" location.
After retrieving the SD card, the undercover agent sent Toebbe a $20,000 cryptocurrency payment. In return, Toebbe emailed the undercover agent a decryption key for the SD Card. A review of the SD card revealed that it contained Restricted Data related to submarine nuclear reactors.
On Aug. 28, Toebbe made another "dead drop" of an SD card in eastern Virginia, this time concealing the card in a chewing gum package. After making a payment to Toebbe of $70,000 in cryptocurrency, the FBI received a decryption key for the card. It, too, contained Restricted Data related to submarine nuclear reactors.
The FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) arrested the couple on Oct. 9 in Jefferson County, West Virginia after Toebbe placed yet another SD card at a pre-arranged "dead drop" at a second location in West Virginia.
The couple are scheduled to make an appearance in federal court in Martinsburg, on Tuesday.