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Navy Nuclear Engineer and Wife Charged With Trying to Pass Secrets to Undercover FBI Agent

A Navy nuclear engineer with access to military secrets has been charged with trying to pass information about the design of American nuclear-powered submarines to someone he thought was a representative of a foreign government but who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent, the Justice Department said Sunday.

In a criminal complaint detailing espionage-related charges against Jonathan Toebbe, the government said he sold information for nearly the past year to a contact he believed represented a foreign power. That country was not named in the court documents. The complaint alleges violations of the Atomic Energy Act, which restricts the disclosure of information related to atomic weapons or nuclear materials.

 

Toebbe was arrested in West Virginia on Saturday along with his wife, Diana, after he had placed a removable memory card at a prearranged “dead drop” in the state, according to the Justice Department.

According to a new report by the Associated Press, the scheme began in April 2020 when Jonathan Toebbe sent a package of Navy documents to an unnamed foreign government and wrote that he was interested in selling operations manuals, performance reports, and other sensitive information. Authorities say he also provided instructions for how to conduct the furtive relationship, with a letter that said: “I apologize for this poor translation into your language. Please forward this letter to your military intelligence agency. believe this information will be of great value to your nation. This is not a hoax.”

That package, which had a return address in Pittsburgh, was obtained by the FBI last December through its legal attache office in the unspecified foreign country. That led to a monthslong undercover operation in which an agent posing as a representative of the foreign government made contact with Toebbe and agreed to pay thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency for the information he was offering. In June, the FBI says, the undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Toebbe, describing it as a sign of good faith and trust.

Weeks later, according to the report, federal agents watched as the Toebbes arrived at an agreed-upon location in West Virginia for the exchange, with Diana Toebbe appearing to serve as a lookout for her husband during a dead-drop operation for which the FBI paid $20,000, according to the complaint. The FBI recovered a blue memory card wrapped in plastic and placed in between two slices of bread on a peanut butter sandwich, court documents say. The FBI provided the contents of the memory card to a Navy subject matter expert who determined that the records included design elements and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors, the Justice Department said. Court documents describe those submarines as nuclear-powered “cruise missile fast-attack submarines.”

 

The Toebbes are expected to have their initial court appearances Tuesday in Martinsburg, West Virginia.



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