Couple accused of sharing nuclear secrets through peanut butter sandwich

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FILE – In this Friday, July 30, 2004 file photo, the U.S.S. Virginia returns to the Electric Boat Shipyard in Groton Conn., after its first sea trials. A Navy nuclear engineer with access to military secrets has been charged with trying to pass information about the design of American nuclear-powered submarines to someone he thought was a representative of a foreign government but who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent, the Justice Department said Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Jack Sauer, File)

WASHINGTON — A Maryland couple was arrested Saturday in Jefferson County, West Virginia, after being accused in a criminal complaint of selling data related to the design of U.S. nuclear-powered warships.

Jonathan Toebbe, 42, and his wife, Diana, 45, are accused of violating the Atomic Energy Act. They have a federal court appearance scheduled for Tuesday in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

According to the complaint, the couple sold restricted data concerning “the design of nuclear-powered warships to a person they believed was a representative of a foreign power.” That person was actually an undercover FBI agent. They were arrested by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

“The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “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.”

Jonathan Toebbe, a nuclear engineer for the Department of the Navy serving the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, also known as Naval Reactors, held active national security clearance through the U.S. Department of Defense, which would give him access to restricted data.

The complaint affidavit alleges that on April 1, 2020, Jonathan Toebbe reached out to a foreign government, giving a sample of restricted data and instructions in order to establish a covert relationship to purchase additional restricted data.

After this, Toebbe began corresponding via encrypted email with an undercover FBI agent whom he believed was a representative of the foreign government.

After several months of correspondence, an agreement to sell restricted data in exchange for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency was made.

On June 8, $10,000 in cryptocurrency was sent to Jonathan Toebbe as a “good faith” payment.

On June 26, Jonathan and his wife Diana Toebbe traveled to a location in West Virginia where, with Diana Toebbe acting as a lookout, Jonathan Toebbe placed an SD card inside half a peanut butter sandwich at an agreed-upon location.

Jonathan Toebbe was then sent $20,000 in cryptocurrency as payment by the undercover agent. In response, Jonathan Toebbe emailed the undercover agent a decryption key for the SD Card.

The SD card was found to contain restricted data related to submarine nuclear reactors.

The complaint affidavit also alleges that on Aug. 28 Jonathan Toebbe delivered another SD card, this time concealed in a chewing gum package, in eastern Virginia. Toebbe then received $70,000 in cryptocurrency for the decryption key.

This card also contained restricted data related to submarine nuclear reactors.

On Oct. 9, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe were arrested by the FBI after Jonathan Toebbe placed an SD card at another pre-arranged location in West Virginia.

Trial Attorneys Matthew J. McKenzie and S. Derek Shugert of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jarod J. Douglas and Lara Omps Botteicher of the Northern District of West Virginia, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Lieber Smolar for the Western District of Pennsylvania are prosecuting the case on behalf of the government.

The NCIS and FBI are investigating the case.

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