A Maryland couple has been arrested and charged with attempting to sell US nuclear secrets to another country in exchange for cryptocurrency after a yearlong operation by undercover FBI agents.
Jonathan Toebbe, a US Navy nuclear engineer with top-secret security clearance and his wife Diana Toebbe were arrested Saturday by the FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service after the couple allegedly sold information concerning the design of nuclear-powered US warships “to a person they believed was a representative of a foreign power but was actually an undercover FBI agent,” according to a Department of Justice statement.
An FBI agent in a criminal complaint alleges Toebbe first sent a package to a foreign government in April 2020 offering to sell the nuclear secrets. The undercover FBI agent responded months later via an encrypted email program and corresponded with him. The agent worked on gaining Toebbe’s trust before he allegedly agreed to sell the information for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency, according to the complaint.
After receiving a $10,000 advance payment, Toebbe and his wife allegedly arranged to leave an SD card containing the data at a pre-arranged location in West Virginia in June 2021. While his wife allegedly acted as a lookout, Toebbe allegedly performed the dead drop by hiding an encrypted SD card in a peanut butter sandwich and leaving it at a site agreed upon with the agent. The agent retrieved the card and paid Jonathan Toebbe $20,000 for the encryption key. The card was found to contain Restricted Data related to submarine nuclear reactors.
In August 2021, Jonathan Toebbe allegedly made a second dead drop, this time concealing an SD card in a pack of chewing gum and accepting a payment of $70,000 from the undercover agent. “The FBI subsequently opened the SD card and provided the contents to the U.S. Navy subject matter expert. The U.S. Navy subject matter expert determined that multiple documents on the SD card contained Restricted Data. Specifically, the U.S. Navy subject matter expert determined that the document contained schematic designs for the Virginia-class submarine. Virginia-class submarines are nuclear-powered cruise missile fast-attack submarines, which incorporate the latest in stealth, intelligence gathering, and weapons systems technology,” the criminal complaint alleged.
In another exchange, Toebbe explained how he obtained all of the classified information, saying, “I was extremely careful to gather the files I possess slowly and naturally in the routine of my job, so nobody would suspect my plan. We received training on warning signs to spot insider threats. We made very sure not to display even a single one. I do not believe any of my former colleagues would suspect me, if there is a future investigation.”
In October 2021, the FBI arrested Jonathan and Diana Toebbe after he placed a third SD card at a prearranged location in West Virginia.
The Toebbes have been charged in a criminal complaint alleging violations of the Atomic Energy Act.
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