A U.S. Navy nuclear engineer and his wife have been charged with trying to pass classified information on American nuclear-powered attack submarines to an FBI agent posing as a representative of a foreign government. The Justice Department named Jonathan Toebbe and his wife Diana Toebbe in a criminal complaint, charging them with violating the Atomic Energy Act. The Justice Department said he sold information for nearly the past year to a contact he believed worked for a foreign government. The country was not named in the court filing.
Toebbe, a Navy nuclear engineer with top secret security clearance, sent a package of classified data to an unidentified country in 2020. When authorities caught wind of his activities, an undercover FBI agent posed as a representative of the foreign country, to whom the Toebbes sold classified information for tens of thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.
The FBI says the couple’s efforts to sell top secret information began in April 2020 when Toebbe sent a package of Navy documents to a foreign government and expressed an interest in selling operations manuals, performance reports, and other sensitive information. He also provided instructions on how he believed the foreign nation, which speaks a different language than English, could benefit from the arrangement.
“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,” he wrote, according to authorities.
The package contained a return address in Pittsburgh after it was provided to the U.S. government through the legal attaché office of the unspecified foreign government. It led to an undercover operation, which saw an FBI agent posing as an agent of that government, who then contacted Toebbe and agreed to pay him thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency for classified data.
The undercover agent sent Toebbe $10,000 in cryptocurrency as a sign of good faith in June, whereupon Toebbe continued his relationship with the person whom he thought was an agent of a foreign government. Within weeks, the Toebbes arrived at a dead drop in West Virginia, with Diana serving as a lookout for her husband during which her husband received $20,000 from the undercover agent. In exchange, the Toebbes provided the agent with a memory card wrapped in plastic and placed inside a peanut butter sandwich.
The memory card included “militarily sensitive design elements, operating parameters and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors.” It also included a text file containing the message, "I hope your experts are very happy with the sample provided and I understand the importance of a small exchange to grow our trust.”
Over the next several months, the FBI conducted further dead-drop exchanges with the Toebbes, including in August in Virginia, when Toebbe concealed a memory card in a chewing gum package. The court documents state that the memory card contained schematics for the Virginia-class submarine, for which he was paid $70,000.
Authorities say the Toebbes were arrested after performing a dead drop in West Virginia, whereupon they were charged with conspiracy and “communication of restricted data” in violation of the Atomic Energy Act, which restricts disclosure of information relating to atomic weapons and nuclear materials. The Toebbes are scheduled to appear in West Virginia federal court on Tuesday.