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Maryland nuclear engineer and wife arrested for trying to sell secret military data to foreign power

The person the couple sold restricted data to was actually an undercover FBI agent, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

MARYLAND, USA — A Maryland nuclear engineer and his wife have been arrested for trying to sell secret information about the design of nuclear-powered warships to someone they thought was representing a foreign power, but was actually an undercover FBI agent, according to the United States Department of Justice.

42-year-old Jonathan and 45-year-old Diana Toebbe, both from Annapolis, were arrested in Jefferson County, West Virginia, by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) on Saturday, Oct. 9.

The Toebbes have been charged in a criminal complaint alleging violations of the Atomic Energy Act.

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Toebbe was a nuclear engineer for the U.S. Navy. He was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and held an active national security clearance, the U.S. Dept. of Justice said in a release on Sunday, Oct. 10. 

Through that clearance, Toebbe could access information related to military sensitive design elements, operating parameters and performance characteristics of the reactors used to power the warships.

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The complaint affidavit alleges that on April 1, 2020, Jonathan Toebbe sent a package to a foreign government, listing a return address in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

The package contained a sample of restricted data, as well as instructions to purchase more restricted data. The affidavit alleges that after this initial exchange, Toebbe began communicating through encrypted email with someone he believed to be a representative of the foreign government. 

That person was really an undercover FBI agent. 

Toebbe is accused of continuing this correspondence for several months, which led to an agreement to sell restricted data in exchange for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.

On June 8, the undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Toebbe as “good faith” payment. On June 26, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe traveled to 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.

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The affidavit alleges that after retrieving the SD card, the undercover agent sent Toebbe a $20,000 cryptocurrency payment. In return, 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, according to the affidavit. 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.

“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 through a release from the U.S. Department of Justice. “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.”

The FBI and the NCIS are investigating the case.

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