A Navy nuclear engineer was arrested for espionage, after being caught trying to sell submarine secrets.
A Maryland Navy nuclear engineer and his wife were arrested and charged with espionage after getting caught trying to sell nuclear submarine technology to a foreign power.
Jonathan Toebbe, 42, and his wife Diana, 45, both of Annapolis, were arrested on Saturday and charged with violations of the Atomic Energy Act.
According to the criminal complaint unsealed on Sunday, Jonathan Toebbe sent a package of sensitive Navy documents known as “Restricted Data concerning the design of nuclear-powered warships to an individual he believed was a representative of a foreign power. In actuality, that person was an undercover FBI agent.” the DOJ announced.
“Jonathan Toebbe is an employee of the Department of the Navy who served as a nuclear engineer and was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, also known as Naval Reactors. He held an active national security clearance through the U.S. Department of Defense, giving him access to Restricted Data. Toebbe worked with and had access to information concerning naval nuclear propulsion including information related to military sensitive design elements, operating parameters and performance characteristics of the reactors for nuclear powered warships.” the DOJ said.
Toebbe sent a package to the under cover FBI agent on April 1, 2020 containing a sample of the “Restricted Data” along with instructions on establishing a relationship in order to purchase more sensitive information.
Toebbe communicated with the under cover fed via encrypted email for several months which eventually led to an agreement to sell the submarine technology for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.
“On June 8, 2021, the undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Jonathan Toebbe as “good faith” payment. Shortly afterwards, on June 26, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe traveled to a location in West Virginia.” the criminal complaint said.
Jonathan Toebbe’s wife acted as a lookout as her husband placed an SD card inside of a peanut butter sandwich at a “dead drop” location.
The under cover agent picked up the SD card and sent Jonathan Toebbe $20,000 in cryptocurrency – in return, Teobbe sent the fed 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, Jonathan 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 criminal complaint said.
The Teobbes were arrested on Saturday and will appear in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia on Tuesday.
A Navy nuclear engineer with access to military secrets has been charged with trying to pass information about the design of American nuclear-powered submarines to someone he thought was a representative of a foreign government but who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent, the Justice Department said Sunday.
In a criminal complaint detailing espionage-related charges against Jonathan Toebbe, the government said he sold information for nearly the past year to a contact he believed represented a foreign power. That country was not named in the court documents.
Toebbe, 42, was arrested in West Virginia on Saturday along with his wife, Diana, 45, after he had placed a removable memory card at a prearranged “dead drop” in the state, according to the Justice Department.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Toebbes, who are from Annapolis, Maryland, have lawyers. The Navy declined to comment Sunday. The FBI says the scheme began in April 2020 when Jonathan Toebbe sent a package of Navy documents to a foreign government and wrote that he was interested in selling to that country operations manuals, performance reports and other sensitive information.
Authorities say he also provided instructions for how to conduct the furtive relationship, with a letter that said: “I apologize for this poor translation into your language. Please forward this letter to your military intelligence agency. I believe this information will be of great value to your nation. This is not a hoax.”
That package, which had a return address in Pittsburgh, was obtained by the FBI last December through its legal attache office in the unspecified foreign country. The court documents don’t explain how the FBI came to receive the package or from whom.
In any event, the FBI used Toebbe’s outreach as the launching pad for a monthslong undercover operation in which an agent posing as a representative of a foreign contact made contact with Toebbe and agreed to pay thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency for the information that Toebbe was offering.
After weeks of back and forth over email, the undercover agent in June sent Toebbe about $10,000 in cryptocurrency, describing it as a sign of good faith and trust, the FBI says. Weeks later, federal agents watched as the Toebbes arrived at an agreed-upon location in West Virginia for the exchange, with Diana Toebbe appearing to serve as a lookout for her husband during a dead-drop operation for which the FBI paid $20,000.
The FBI recovered a blue memory card wrapped in plastic and placed between two slices of bread on a half of a peanut butter sandwich, court documents say. The records on the memory card included design elements and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors.
The Justice Department describes those submarines as “cruise missile fast-attack submarines, which incorporate the latest in stealth, intelligence gathering, and weapons systems technology.” The memory card also included a typed message that said, in part: “I hope your experts are very happy with the sample provided and I understand the importance of a small exchange to grow our trust.”
The FBI conducted similar dead-drop exchanges over the next several months, including one in August in eastern Virginia for which Toebbe was paid roughly $70,000. In that instance, prosecutors say, he concealed in a chewing gum package a memory card that contained schematic designs for the Virginia-class submarine.
A Navy nuclear engineer has been charged with trying to pass information about the design of American nuclear-powered submarines to an undercover FBI agent, the DOJ says. https://t.co/zfuLtOtTLK
— WSYX ABC 6 (@wsyx6) October 11, 2021