A naval nuclear engineer and his wife who are accused of trying to peddle secrets to a foreign country have been arrested.
Jonathan and Diana Toebbe of Annapolis, Maryland, were arrested in West Virginia by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service on Saturday, according to a Justice Department news release.
The couple is accused of selling information concerning the design of nuclear-powered warships to someone they thought was an agent of a foreign power, but who really was an undercover FBI agent.
“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.”
Jonathan Toebbe works in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and held a top secret security clearance. He had access to what the Justice Department release called “information related to military sensitive design elements, operating parameters and performance characteristics of the reactors for nuclear-powered warships.
According to the complaint against him, the FBI learned about Toebbe’s activities late last year.
“On or about December 20, 2020, the FBI’s attaché (“LEGAT”) in COUNTRY1 obtained a package representatives from COUNTRY1 had received in April 2020 through a mail carrier from the U.S. by an unidentified subject in an attempt to establish a covert relationship. The package contained U.S. Navy documents, a letter containing instructions, and an SD card containing specific instructions on how COUNTRY1 should respond using an encrypted communication platform, and additional documents,” the complaint said.
The complaint said that the letter “stated a desire to sell documents containing U.S. Navy information marked CONFIDENTIAL that included printouts, digital media files containing technical details, operations manuals, and performance reports. The letter requested the transmission of the enclosed technical data to COUNTRY 1’s military intelligence agency.”
The letter, sent from Pittsburgh, said that the person who sent the letter wrote, “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.”
In the course of an interchange of communication, according to the complaint, the individual seeking to send secrets to a foreign country wrote, “I am uncomfortable with this arrangement. Face to face meetings are very risky for me, as I am sure you understand. I propose exchanging gifts electronically, for mutual safety. I can upload documents to a secure cloud storage account, encrypted with the key I have provided you. You can send me a suitable gift in Monero cryptocurrency to an address I will provide. 100,000 usd should be enough to prove to me that you are not an unwelcome third party looking to make trouble for me. When I have confirmed receipt of your gift, I will provide you the download link. We are both protected. I understand this is a large request. However, please remember I am risking my life for your benefit and I have taken the first step. Please help me trust you fully.”
The complaint details the correspondence until June, when it says Toebbe was seen leaving information at what is called a dead drop location.
The FBI said that during the dead drop, both Toebbe and his wife participated, with both appearing to be on the lookout for anyone watching what they were doing.
The complaint said that the FBI recovered an SD card “wrapped in plastic and placed between two slices of bread on a half of a peanut butter sandwich. The half sandwich was housed inside of a plastic bag.”
The FBI ascertained that the SD card contained restricted data.
The complaint said that Toebbe continued to offer information and indicated an interest in a long-term relationship with the foreign government to which he thought he was sending information.
In August, the FBI received an SD card contained in a chewing gum package after a dead drop in West Virginia.
On Saturday, the couple was arrested when they arrived for another dead drop in West Virginia.
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