Accused of attempting to sell nuclear submarine secrets to a foreign government, a U.S. Navy engineer and his wife were recently charged with violating the Atomic Energy Act.
On April 1, 2020, Jonathan Toebbe, a Navy nuclear engineer with an active Top Secret Security Clearance through the Defense Department and a Q clearance from the Department of Energy, allegedly mailed a package containing U.S. Navy documents, an SD card with instructions to secretly communicate online, and a letter to an address in a foreign country. According to the indictment, Toebbe wrote in the letter: “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.”
On December 20, 2020, representatives from the unidentified foreign country gave the package to an FBI attaché. Six days later, the FBI sent an encrypted email to Toebbe, who spent the next several months falsely believing that he was communicating with a representative of the foreign government.
After the undercover agent issued a $10,000 payment in cryptocurrency for “good faith,” Toebbe and his wife, Diana, were observed by FBI agents at the dead drop location in Jefferson County, West Virginia, on June 26, 2021. Diana allegedly acted as a lookout, while Toebbe placed an SD card inside a peanut butter sandwich that was used for the dead drop.
When the undercover agent paid $20,000 in cryptocurrency, Toebbe reportedly provided the password to the encrypted files, which contained sensitive military design elements, operating parameters, and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors.
On August 28, Toebbe made another dead drop of an SD card in eastern Virginia, this time concealing the card in a chewing gum package. After making a payment to Toebbe of $70,000 in cryptocurrency, the FBI received a decryption key for the card, which contained more classified information regarding military-grade nuclear submarines.
On Saturday, the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) arrested Toebbe and his wife for violating the Atomic Energy Act. According to the criminal complaint, they were charged with Conspiracy to Communicate Restricted Data and Communication of Restricted Data.
“The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a recent press release. “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.”