A U.S. Navy engineer and his wife were arrested on Saturday on charges of planning to transfer secrets about America’s nuclear-powered submarines to a foreign nation.
The Department of Justice announced the arrest and charges against Jonathan Toebbe, 42, and his wife Diana Toebbe, 45, of Annapolis, Maryland on Sunday. Jonathan is an employee of the Department of the Navy who served as a nuclear engineer, was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and had an active national security clearance.
The DOJ did not specify which foreign government the married couple had attempted to transmit the classified information to, but allege the efforts started in April of 2020 when Jonathan Toebbe sent a package to a foreign government containing a sample of restricted data and instructions for establishing a covert relationship to purchase additional restricted data.
According to the complaint, the sample package contained a letter that stated, “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.”
The package was subsequently obtained by an FBI attache in the foreign country in December of 2020. It is unclear from the complaint how the FBI came into possession of the package of classified materials but the package also included information to communicate on an encrypted email platform called ProtonMail. Thereafter, Toebbe began corresponding via encrypted email with an individual whom he believed to be a representative of the foreign government but who was actually an undercover FBI agent.
The communications continued for several months until Toebbe and the undercover agent reached an agreement for him to sell classified information. From there, the undercover agent paid $10,000 worth of a cryptocurrency called Monero for the Toebbes to arrange a dead-drop location in Jefferson County, West Virginia where they would leave a 16GB SanDisk SD card to be picked up by the undercover agent. After the dead-drop, the undercover agent sent along another $20,000 in Monero for a decryption key for the information contained on the card.
On August 28, the couple are alleged to have set up a second dead-drop, this time receiving another $70,000 in Monero for the effort.
The FBI arrested Jonathan and Diana Toebbe on Saturday after they placed yet another SD card at a pre-arranged dead-drop location in West Virginia.
“The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said on Sunday. “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 complaint charged the couple with violating the Atomic Energy Act, which prohibits the transfer of nuclear weapons and materials.
The Toebbes are expected to make their first court appearances Tuesday in Martinsburg, West Virginia, the Associated Press reported.