Navy engineer, wife accused of selling nuclear-sub data

Guided-missile submarine USS Georgia, front, crosses the Strait of Hormuz with the guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal on Dec. 21, 2020. Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Indra Beaufort/U.S. Navy/TNS

WASHINGTON — The U.S. arrested a Navy Department employee and his wife on spying-related charges after they allegedly sold restricted data on nuclear-powered submarines to an FBI agent posing as a foreign official.

Jonathan Toebbe, 42, and his wife Diana, 45, were ensnared in an investigation involving cryptocurrency payments, encrypted emails and a “dead drop” in West Virginia of a memory card hidden in a peanut butter sandwich, the Justice Department said in a statement on Sunday.

Jonathan Toebbe, a nuclear engineer assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, set the probe in motion by sending a package in April 2020 to a foreign government, with a sample of restricted data and an offer to sell them more, according to the statement.

The package’s contents were obtained in December by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s attache in the foreign country, according to the government’s criminal complaint. It didn’t identify the country.

Toebbe had access to information on naval nuclear propulsion, including militarily sensitive design elements, operating parameters and performance characteristics of reactors for nuclear powered warships, according to DOJ.

Over several months, the undercover agent sent a total of $100,000 in cryptocurrency to Toebbe, who dropped off two SD cards containing restricted data related to submarine nuclear reactors, according to the department.

The FBI arrested both suspects on Saturday after Jonathan Toebbe placed another SD card at a “dead drop” in West Virginia. They’re charged with espionage-related offenses under the U.S. Atomic Energy Act.

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