A U.S. Navy nuclear engineer was charged by the Department of Justice for allegedly selling secret information about nuclear submarines to an undercover agent who posed as an operative from a foreign country.
Jonathan Toebbe and his wife, Diana, were arrested on Oct. 9 in West Virginia, the Justice Department (DOJ) said on Oct. 10. They were charged with violating the Atomic Energy Act and will appear in a court in West Virginia on Oct. 12.
A statement from the agency said that Toebbe, 42, and his wife, 45, sold information “concerning the design of nuclear-powered warships to a person they believed was a representative of a foreign power.” According to the Justice Department, the person was actually an FBI agent.
“The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “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.”
Toebbe is an employee with the Navy who served as an engineer and had an active national security clearance, giving him access to restricted data, according to the DOJ.
“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 statement reads.
Starting in 2020, he began selling secrets for tens of thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency to an undercover agent and at one point hid a digital memory card containing documents in a peanut butter sandwich at a “dead drop” location in West Virginia, according to the Justice Department.
When he made another drop in Virginia, the card was contained in a chewing gum package, the agency said. Both cards contained restricted data about nuclear submarines.
Court papers state that in December 2020, an FBI official received a package that was sent to the unnamed foreign country containing Navy documents, a letter and instructions, and other details.
A letter contained in the package allegedly sent by Toebbe reads, “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,” according to the court papers.
Neither the court papers nor the DOJ statement identified the foreign country that Toebbe allegedly believed was purchasing the nuclear secrets. The agency also didn’t explain how the FBI obtained the package when it was sent to the country.
No attorneys were listed for Toebbes in either the court documents or in the DOJ statement.