2021-10-10 23:05:16 US navy engineer arrested for selling nuclear submarine secrets | Nuclear Weapons News
US navy engineer arrested for selling nuclear submarine secrets | Nuclear Weapons News
Jonathan Toebbe sold a nuclear-powered warship design to a foreign official who was also an undercover FBI agent.
According to the US Department of Justice, a US Navy nuclear engineer and his wife were arrested on espionage charges after allegedly attempting to sell confidential information.
According to court records made public on Sunday, Jonathan Toebbe and his wife, Diana Toebbe, were arrested and charged with violating the Atomic Energy Act after attempting to sell the design of nuclear-powered warships to a person they mistook for a representative of a foreign power.
According to the department, Toebbe, who had a security clearance, unwittingly communicated with FBI agents and passed sensitive military secrets in a nearly year-long scheme.
An FBI official received a package in December 2020 from someone attempting to establish “a covert relationship” with a representative from a foreign country, identified only as “COUNTRY1” in court documents.
Toebbe had provided a return address in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with instructions for establishing a covert relationship to obtain additional information.
He began corresponding via encrypted email with an individual he mistook for a representative of a foreign government, but who was actually an undercover FBI agent, and they corresponded for several months before reaching an agreement to exchange thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.
Before agreeing to travel to a location in West Virginia to complete the transaction, the undercover agent sent Toebbe $10,000 in cryptocurrency as “good faith” payment. He hid an SD card within a peanut butter sandwich at a prearranged “dead drop” location, with his wife acting as a lookout.
The undercover agent sent a $20,000 cryptocurrency payment to Jonathan Toebbe in exchange for a decryption key for the SD card, which contained restricted data on US submarine nuclear reactors.
After two more “dead drops,” the FBI arrested Toebbe and his wife on Saturday.
Merrick B. Garland, the United States Attorney General, applauded the arrest. “The work of the FBI, prosecutors from the Department of Justice, 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 toward bringing the perpetrators to justice,” he said.
Toebbe worked for the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, also known as Naval Reactors, and had access to military-sensitive design elements, operating parameters, and performance characteristics of nuclear-powered warship reactors.
The couple is scheduled to appear in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia, on Tuesday, charged with conspiracy to communicate restricted data and communication of restricted data.
Arrested and Charged.
According to Reuters, Jonathan Toebbe, a nuclear engineer in the US Navy, was accused of passing on information about the assault submarines’ nuclear propulsion system to another country.
Rivals of the United States, such as China and Russia, have long sought the country’s submarine propulsion. It was unclear whether the uninvited offer was to an ally or an adversary.
Toebbe has been with the Navy since 2017, and he was previously on active duty. Since 2012, he has worked on naval nuclear propulsion, as well as expertise developed to study the vibration and noise of submarines, which may reveal their location.
The materials in question included designs that are useful to a number of countries that manufacture submarines.
According to The Washington Post, the United States and Britain would assist Australia in deploying nuclear-powered submarines under the terms of the agreement.
These submarines are outfitted with nuclear propulsion systems that provide limitless range and run so quietly that they are difficult to detect.
Nuclear propulsion is just one of the many secrets guarded by the United States Navy. The reactors are powered by enriched uranium, which can be used to create bomb gas for nuclear weapons.
Engineers may face difficulties in building compact, secure naval reactors. Until the agreement with Australia, the US had only shared its expertise with the United Kingdom since 1958.
The FBI’s Role in Toebee’s Arrest
According to Politico, the investigation into Toebees’ case began in December 2020, when the FBI received the package deal that had been dispatched to a different country.
The package included operational manuals, technical details, and a covert relationship proposal. The transaction was intercepted in the mail system and forwarded to an FBI authorized attaché.
The FBI obtained the instructions from the package and began an encrypted conversation. The sender divulged Navy secrets and techniques in exchange for $100,000 in cryptocurrency.
Following a series of exchanges, the FBI persuaded the sender to provide more information in exchange for cryptocurrency payments at an undisclosed drop in West Virginia. The FBI spotted Toebbe and his wife, Diana Toebbe, near the drop site.
Toebbe’s wife stood guard as he left an SD card inside a peanut butter sandwich in a plastic bag. Toebbe was given $20,000 after the secret agent obtained the sandwich.
Brokers arranged for another drop in Pennsylvania and a third in Virginia, where they claimed Toebbe hid an SD card in a package filled with chewing gum.
Toebbe had access to the paperwork and information that he is accused of passing on to the secret agent, according to the Bettis Atomic Energy Laboratory, a government research facility in Pennsylvania.
Toebbe’s sentence has yet to be announced, and no hearing has been scheduled for him.
The US government has been dealing with leaked nuclear-weapons information. In May, US soldiers inadvertently leaked the nuclear arsenal’s location online.
REvil, a notorious hacking group, hacked the data of Sol Oriens, a US nuclear weapons contractor, in June. The FBI has stepped in to investigate and arrest those responsible for the constant leaks and hacks.
FBI: Accused attempted to sell information in exchange for cryptocurrency
According to the FBI, the scheme began in April 2020, when Jonathan Toebbe sent a package of Navy documents to a foreign government, claiming he wanted to sell operations manuals, performance reports, and other sensitive information.
Authorities claim he also gave instructions on how to conduct the covert relationship in a letter that stated: “Please accept my apologies for the poor translation into your language. Please forward this letter to the military intelligence agency in your country. This information, I believe, will be extremely beneficial to your country. This is not a ruse.”
Last December, the FBI’s legal office in the foreign country received the package, which had a return address in Pittsburgh. This sparked a months-long undercover operation in which an agent posing as a representative of a foreign government offered thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency in exchange for the information Toebbe was offering.
According to the FBI, the undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Toebbe in June as a sign of good faith and trust.
Chewing gum, SD cards hidden in a peanut butter sandwich
According to the complaint, FBI agents observed the Toebbes arriving at an agreed-upon location in West Virginia for the exchange, with Diana Toebbe appearing to serve as a lookout for her husband during the dead-drop operation. According to the complaint, the FBI discovered a blue SD card wrapped in plastic and sandwiched between two slices of bread on a peanut butter sandwich.
According to the Justice Department, the FBI paid Toebbe $20,000 for the transaction and provided the contents of the SD card to a Navy subject matter expert, who determined that the records included design elements and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors. According to the complaint, these submarines are sophisticated, nuclear-powered “cruise missile fast-attack submarines,”
The SD card also contained a typed message that read, in part, “I hope your experts are very happy with the sample provided and I understand the importance of a small exchange to grow our trust.”
According to the complaint, the FBI conducted similar dead-drop exchanges over the next several months, including one in August in Virginia in which Toebbe was paid $70,000 and concealed an SD card in a chewing gum package.
Violations of the Atomic Energy Act are among the charges.
The complaint alleges violations of the Atomic Energy Act, which prohibits the disclosure of information about nuclear weapons or materials.
The Toebbes are scheduled to appear in court for the first time on Tuesday in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
According to the FBI, Jonathan Toebbe has worked for the US government since 2012, holding a top-secret security clearance and specializing in naval nuclear propulsion. He has also been assigned to a laboratory in the Pittsburgh area that works on nuclear power for the US Navy, according to officials.
On a Sunday afternoon in a waterside Annapolis community near the South River, no one answered the phone at the Toebbe residence. An outside light was turned on above their front door, and a dog barked inside.
Across the street from the Toebbes, John Cooley, said he counted more than 30 FBI agents on his block on Saturday from about 2:30 p.m. until after dark. He claimed that agents went inside the house.