WASHINGTON: A US Navy nuclear engineer and his wife have been charged with selling secret information about nuclear submarines to an undercover FBI agent who posed as an operative for a foreign country.
Jonathan Toebbe and his wife, Diana, were arrested on Saturday in West Virginia and charged with violating the Atomic Energy Act, the Justice Department said in a statement. They are scheduled to appear in a West Virginia federal court on Tuesday.
Toebbe, 42, a Navy nuclear engineer with top-secret security clearance, sent a package of restricted data to an unidentified country in 2020 and later began selling secrets for tens of thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency to an undercover FBI agent posing as a foreign official, the Justice Department said.
At one point, Toebbe hid a digital memory card containing documents about submarine nuclear reactors in half a peanut butter sandwich at a “dead drop” location in West Virginia, while his wife acted as lookout, the Justice Department said.
The memory card contained “militarily sensitive design elements, operating parameters and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors,” according to a federal court affidavit. Another memory card was concealed in a chewing gum package, the Justice Department said. Toebbe received separate cryptocurrency payments totalling $100,000, according to the Justice Department.
Officials said Toebbe and his wife, who are from Annapolis, Maryland, were arrested after placing yet another memory card at a drop site in West Virginia. They were charged with conspiracy and “communication of restricted data,” according to a criminal complaint. No attorney for the Toebbes was listed in either the court documents or the Justice Department statement.
The FBI said the scheme began in April 2020 when Jonathan Toebbe sent a package of navy documents to a foreign government and said he was interested in selling operations manuals, performance reports and other sensitive information.
The FBI office in the foreign country received the package, which had a return address of Pittsburgh, last December. This led to a months-long undercover operation in which an agent posing as a representative of the foreign government offered to pay thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency for the information Toebbe was offering.
Jonathan Toebbe has worked for the US government since 2012, holding a top-secret security clearance and specializing in naval nuclear propulsion. He has also been assigned to a laboratory in the Pittsburgh area that officials say works on nuclear power for the US navy.