The former Navy Nuclear engineer and his wife used a bubble gum package and peanut butter sandwich to hide SD card with sensitive data and sell it to undercover FBI agents.
According to a press release from the US Department of Justice (DoJ), the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) collaborated to arrest a Navy nuclear engineer named Jonathan Toebbe, 42, and his wife Diana Toebbe, 45, from Annapolis, Maryland, for their alleged involvement in selling military secrets to a foreign government.
Reportedly, the couple tried to sell confidential information on US submarine nuclear reactors. The duo was arrested from Jefferson County, West Virginia, on October 9, 2021, and will be presented before a federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia, on October 12.
About the Charges
As per the details shared by the DoJ, the Toebbes are the prime suspects in a scheme to sell sensitive data about the design of American nuclear-powered submarines to a representative of a foreign government.
However, that representative was actually an undercover FBI agent. Consequently, a criminal complaint was lodged against the couple in which they were charged for espionage, and it was mentioned that Jonathan sold sensitive data to the agent for nearly the past year, believing him to be representing a foreign country, the name of which wasn’t mentioned in the court documents.
After Jonathan placed a removable memory card at a previously selected Dead Drop in Jefferson Country, the couple could be caught.
Couple facing the heat for selling sensitive data
Jonathan worked as a nuclear engineer for the US Navy, and therefore, he had access to sensitive data and high-level national security information. During his employment tenure, Jonathan worked on the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program.
Therefore, he could easily access information on naval nuclear propulsion, such as sensitive design elements, performance characteristics of nuclear-powered warships reactors, and operating parameters.
A case of peanut butter sandwich and chewing gum box
The complaint explains that Jonathan and his wife sold restricted-class data to an individual in exchange for cryptocurrency for about one year. The FBI states that they started selling data in April 2020.
The first time Jonathan sent a package of sensitive Navy documents to his contact, he expressed his interest in selling operations manuals and performance reports too. On April 1, 2020, Jonathan allegedly sent a sample package containing information about the nuclear program to the contact with a letter that read:
“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.”
Later, he kept on sending data to that contact for months using ProtonMail. The accused used the alias Alice and Bob. By June 8, the couple had received $10,000 worth of Monero by their contact. The couple then traveled to West Virginia to drop the documents at a pre-determined location.
Jonathan placed half a peanut butter sandwich at the drop-side that contained an SD storage card containing stolen data on the nuclear reactor program. His wife guarded the area while Jonathan performed the task at hand. The contactee then sent Jonathan $20,000 more in cryptocurrency. After the second payment, Jonathan sent the decryption key to the contact.
The FBI verified the data’s legitimacy and arranged for another batch of documents for $70,000. This time Toebbe sent the SD card into a bubble gum package, which contained schematics for the $3 billion design of Virginia-class submarine. It was time to make the arrest, and the law enforcement acted without wasting any time.