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US Navy nuclear engineer, wife, arrested on espionage-related charges: FBI

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A nuclear engineer for the US Navy and his wife have been charged with attempting to sell information about nuclear-powered warships to another country, according to court documents released by the US Department of Justice.

For almost a year, Jonathan Toebbe, 42, aided by his wife, Diana, 45, both of Annapolis, Maryland, sold information known as “restricted data” concerning the design of nuclear-powered warships to a person they believed was a representative of a foreign power.

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In actuality, that person was an undercover FBI agent.

The couple had hoped to sell the data in exchange for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrencies and an undercover operation led to the Toebbes carrying out a series of “dead drops” with memory cards concealed in peanut butter sandwiches and chewing gum packages that contained details about secret submarine reactors.

The Toebbes have been charged in a criminal complaint alleging violations of the Atomic Energy Act.

“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. “The work of the FBI, Department of Justice prosecutors, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Department of Energy was critical in thwarting the plot charged in the complaint and taking this first step in bringing the perpetrators to justice.”

An FBI affidavit states that on April 1, 2020, Jonathan Toebbe allegedly 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 Toebbe then began corresponding via encrypted email with an individual whom he believed to be a representative of the foreign government but turned out to be an FBI agent.

Toebbe continued this correspondence for several months, which led to an agreement to sell the restricted data in exchange 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.

There, with Diana Toebbe acting as a lookout, Jonathan 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 Jonathan Toebbe a $20,000 cryptocurrency payment.

In return, Jonathan Toebbe emailed the undercover agent a decryption key for the SD Card. A review of the SD card revealed that it contained state secrets 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 FBI arrested Jonathan and Diana Toebbe on October 9, after he placed yet another SD card at a pre-arranged “dead drop” at a second location in West Virginia.

They will have their initial appearances on Tuesday in a federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

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 US Department of Defense, giving him access to the 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.

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