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Engineer Sold Nuclear Submarine Data, But ‘Foreign Power’ Rep Was Really Undercover FBI Agent: DOJ

USS Pennsylvania in 2015

The USS Pennsylvania in a 2015 PBS report. The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately name any ships linked to Jonathan Toebbe’s alleged data sales.

The word combination of “nuclear” and “sold” is rarely comforting. A nuclear engineer allegedly sold submarine secrets to what he believed was a representative for a “foreign power.” That other person was actually an undercover FBI agent, according to The U.S. Department of Justice. Maryland man Jonathan Toebbe, 42, spent almost a year selling restricted data on nuclear submarines, authorities said. Wife Diana Toebbe, 45, allegedly helped.

“The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The work of the FBI, Department of Justice prosecutors, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the Department of Energy was critical in thwarting the plot charged in the complaint and taking this first step in bringing the perpetrators to justice.”

Officials say Jonathan Toebbe worked for the Department of the Navy as a nuclear engineer in their Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. He had access to restricted data through his active security clearance, authorities said.

“Toebbe worked with and had access to information concerning naval nuclear propulsion including information related to military sensitive design elements, operating parameters, and performance characteristics of the reactors for nuclear powered warships,” the DOJ wrote.

He allegedly sent a package out to a foreign government–which the DOJ did not name–on April 1, 2020. This included sample information for the purpose of establishing a secret relationship with the country, authorities said. Toebbe started writing someone through encrypted email, believing this person to be that nation’s representative, authorities said. In truth, this was an undercover FBI agent.

Correspondence continued for months, with them reaching an agreement for Toebbe to sell restricted data for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency, said officials. For example, he received $10,000 as a “good faith” payment on June 8. On June 26, he and his wife went out to West Virginia. From the DOJ:

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 August 28, 2021, 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.

Jonathan Toebbe allegedly made another SD card drop in West Virginia. The FBI arrested him and his wife on Saturday, officials said. It is unclear if the Toebbes have attorneys in this matter.

[Screenshot via PBS NewsHour]

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