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What just happened? A navy nuclear engineer and his wife have been charged with trying to sell submarine technology secrets to another country in exchange for cryptocurrency. The FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) arrested Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, of Annapolis, Maryland, after the former tried to sell information on the nuclear propulsion system of Virginia-class attack submarines to what he thought was a representative of a foreign government, but was actually an undercover FBI agent.
A criminal complaint by the Department of Justice (DoJ) states that 42-year-old Toebbe worked on the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. His high-level national security clearance gave him access to information that rival nations would doubtlessly pay handsomely for.
The USS Virginia
According to the complaint, on April 1, 2020, Jonathan sent a package to an unnamed foreign government stating he was interested is selling submarine operations manuals, performance reports and other sensitive information in return for $100,000 in cryptocurrency. "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," he wrote.
The FBI office in the foreign country received the package, which had a return address of Pittsburgh. It led to an FBI agent posing as the foreign representative communicating with Toebbe via Proton Mail over the course of several months. The federal agent sent Toebbe $10,000 worth of Monero in June as a sign of good faith and trust. A week later, Toebbe and his 45-year-old wife, Diana Toebbe, agreed to travel to a West Virginia drop site to exchange the classified data.
With his wife acting as a lookout, Toebbe made the drop at the agreed location. He left half a peanut butter sandwich that contained a blue SD card wrapped in plastic. The device contained, among other things, design elements and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors. Toebbe had also left a message that read: "I hope your experts are very happy with the sample provided and I understand the importance of a small exchange to grow our trust."
The FBI paid Toebbe $20,000 for the transaction. Several more exchanges took place over the following months, including one in which he was given $70,000 after leaving an SD card in a chewing gum packet.
The couple was arrested on October 9 and will appear in a Martinsburg, West Virginia federal court on October 12. They face charges of conspiracy to communicate restricted data and communicating restricted data as violations of the Atomic Energy Act.
Image credit: @joefoodie