Jonathan Toebbe and his wife Diana are charged with attempting to sell nuclear secrets of US submarines to a foreign power. They were arrested by the FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service in West Virginia on Saturday. Both are from Annapolis, MD. Both are charged with violations of the Atomic Energy Act [42 U.S.C. § 2014(y)]. The full DOJ complaint can be read here. Jonathan Toebbe was a US Navy nuclear engineer with access to restricted data. They are both set for first appearance on Tuesday in Martinsburg, WV.
The letter in the first package sent to a foreign power (which was not named in the complaint) stated the following:
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.
A Navy nuclear engineer with a greed problem, not to mention espionage
According to the complaint, he sent a package to a foreign government on April 1, 2020, listing a return address in Pittsburgh containing a sample of Restricted Data and an FBI official in the unnamed country obtained the package and began communicating with Toebbe.
In June 8, 2021, the undercover agent sent Toebbe $10,000 in cryptocurrency as a “good faith” payment and Toebbe and his wife began traveling to locations in West Virginia and Pennsylvania where they left SD cards containing Restricted Data disguised in items including a peanut butter sandwich and a chewing gum package.
First, it was a ridiculous plan to start with. Not only was it obviously illegal and harmful to the United States, but not having a clue who to send it to in the first place was asking for trouble. It is unclear how the FBI agent got his hands on the package, but it goes to show what a dumb idea this was to start with. This couple flunked Espionage 101, even though they attempted to cover their tracks by using ProtonMail, an encrypted email service, and SD cards in various things such as a peanut butter sandwich.
Shortly afterwards, on June 26, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe traveled to a location in West Virginia. There, with Diana Toebbe acting as a lookout, Jonathan Toebbe placed an SD card concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich at a pre-arranged “dead drop” location. After retrieving the SD card, the undercover agent sent Jonathan Toebbe a $20,000 cryptocurrency payment. In return, Jonathan Toebbe emailed the undercover agent a decryption key for the SD Card. A review of the SD card revealed that it contained Restricted Data related to submarine nuclear reactors. On Aug. 28, Jonathan Toebbe made another “dead drop” of an SD card in eastern Virginia, this time concealing the card in a chewing gum package. After making a payment to Toebbe of $70,000 in cryptocurrency, the FBI received a decryption key for the card. It, too, contained Restricted Data related to submarine nuclear reactors. The FBI arrested Jonathan and Diana Toebbe on Oct. 9, after he placed yet another SD card at a pre-arranged “dead drop” at a second location in West Virginia.
Jonathan Toebbe was an employee of the US Navy, and worked in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. He held an active security clearance as a nuclear engineer. At one point he suspected a trap, but instead of walking away, he continued to pursue the connection with the undercover agent.
“I am sorry to be so stubborn and untrusting, but I can not agree to go to a location of your choosing. I must consider the possibility that l am communicating with an adversary who has intercepted my first message and is attempting to expose me.” Jonathan Toebbe
Should have listened to his gut instinct, d’ya think?
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