Engineer accused of selling US nuclear submarine secrets arrested

A Navy engineer and his wife were arrested on charges of selling restricted information on the design of US nuclear submarines to an alleged representative of a "foreign power" that he was actually an undercover FBI agent, the Department of Justice (DOJ) reported Sunday.

Jonathan Toebbe, 42, and his wife, Diana (45), were arrested on Saturday in Jefferson County, in the state of West Virginia, by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, after being accused in a criminal complaint of having violated the Atomic Energy Law, said the DOJ in a statement.

The United States Attorney General, Merrick Garland, said in the statement that the complaint alleges a "plot to convey design-related information" from US nuclear submarines to a foreign nation.

The United States Atomic Energy Act defines as "restricted data" those related to "design, manufacture or use of atomic weapons", the production of special nuclear material and the use of special nuclear material in energy production.

Toebbe and his wife have been charged with conspiracy to communicate restricted data and communication of restricted data.

According to the DOJ, Toebbe, a Navy nuclear engineer assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, had a national security clearance that gave him access to "restricted data".

Specifically, the defendant worked and had access to information related to naval propulsion, among which military elements of sensitive design, operating parameters and performance characteristics of the reactors for nuclear-powered submarines stand out.

The indictment indicated that on April 1, 2020, Toebbe sent a package to a foreign government, with a return address in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, containing a sample of "restricted data" and instructions for establishing covert communication to purchase more information.

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Since then, the engineer maintained an encrypted email exchange with a person he believed represented a foreign government and who turned out to be an FBI agent, leading to a deal to sell information in exchange for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.

The undercover agent sent Toebbe a payment of "good faith" $ 10,000 worth of cryptocurrency, and on the 26th of that month Jonathan and Diana Toebbe traveled to West Virginia to drop off a memory card camouflaged in the middle of a peanut butter sandwich.

The woman apparently acted like "look-out", detailed the DOJ.

After receiving the card, the agent made another payment of $ 20,000 to obtain, via email, a password to access the information.

Another card, this time hidden in a pack of gum, was left on August 28 by Toebbe, who received $ 70,000 to disclose the key.

This Saturday, the couple was taken into custody after placing another card at a concealed location in West Virginia. Both will have their first appearance on Tuesday in court in Martinsburg, in that state.

According to The Washington Post, the data was related to the Virginia nuclear attack submarines, which have been in service with the US Navy since 2004 and were designed to replace the previous Seawolf class.

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