The Justice Department announced Sunday, Oct. 10, that they had charged a Navy nuclear engineer with access to military secrets attempting to pass information about the design of American nuclear-powered submarines. He was accused of giving the information to someone he thought was a foreign government representative but turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.
According to a criminal complaint detailing espionage-related charges against Jonathan Toebbe, he sold information to a source he believed represented a foreign power for over a year. The court filings did not mention that country, Fox News reported.
Toebbe, 42, and his wife, Diana, 45, were detained in West Virginia on Saturday, Oct. 9, after he dropped a removable memory card at a designated “dead drop” in the state, according to the Justice Department.
According to the FBI, the plan started in April 2020 when Jonathan Toebbe sent a package of Navy documents to a foreign nation, stating that he was interested in selling operations manuals, performance reports, and other sensitive information to that country.
Authorities say he also gave directions on how to carry on the secret relationship in a letter that read: “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.”
Last December, the FBI got that parcel, which had a return address in Pittsburgh, through its legal attache office in an unidentified foreign country. This resulted after a months-long undercover operation. An agent posing as a representative of a foreign government contacted Toebbe and agreed to pay thousands of dollars in bitcoin in exchange for the information he was promising.
According to the FBI, the undercover agent allegedly gave $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Toebbe in June, characterizing it as a demonstration of good faith and trust.
According to the complaint, federal investigators watched the Toebbes arrive at an agreed-upon spot in West Virginia for the swap weeks later. Diana Toebbe appeared to serve as a lookout for her husband during a dead-drop operation for which the FBI paid $20,000. The FBI discovered a blue memory card sandwiched between two slices of bread on a peanut butter sandwich, wrapped in cellophane, according to court records.
The records from the Justice Department state that, the FBI gave the memory card contents to a Navy subject matter expert, who assessed that the documents contained design features and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors.
According to the complaint, the submarines are advanced nuclear-powered “cruise missile fast-attack submarines.”
The memory card also contained a typed message, which said, in part:: “I hope your experts are very happy with the sample provided and I understand the importance of a small exchange to grow our trust.”
According to court records, the FBI performed similar dead-drop exchanges over several months, including one in August in Virginia. In this case, Toebbe placed a memory card with schematic plans for the Virginia-class submarine in a chewing gum box and was paid nearly $70,000.
The complaint argues that the Atomic Energy Act, which prohibits sharing knowledge about nuclear weapons or materials, has been violated.
The Toebbes’ first court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 12, in Martinsburg, West Virginia.