FBI arrests engineer for flogging nuclear warship data hidden in peanut butter sandwich


The FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) have arrested an engineer and his wife for trying to sell confidential military data. 

On Sunday, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) named Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, of Annapolis, Maryland, as the suspects in a plot to sell information to a foreign government.

According to the complaint, for close to a year, Jonathan — with the assistance of his wife — attempted to sell Restricted-class data in exchange for cryptocurrency.  

Jonathan served as a nuclear engineer for the US Navy. During his time with the Navy, the 42-year-old worked on the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and had secured high-level national security clearance. 

“Toebbe worked with and had access to information concerning naval nuclear propulsion including information related to military sensitive design elements, operating parameters, and performance characteristics of the reactors for nuclear-powered warships,” US prosecutors say. 

On April 1, 2020, Jonathan allegedly sent a sample pack of information relating to the nuclear program to an unnamed foreign government, together with a letter that alleged 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.” 

The DoJ has accused the engineer of then forming a relationship over email with someone he believed was part of this government. 

ProtonMail was used for back-and-forth exchanges over the course of several months under the names “Alice” and “Bob.” By June 8, the contactee had sent Toebbe a $10,000 payment in Monero cryptocurrency in “good faith,” and several weeks later, the engineer allegedly acted. 

The husband and wife traveled to West Virginia to an agreed drop location. While Diana assumed the role of a lookout, Jonathan then placed half a peanut butter sandwich at the drop site — and contained within was an SD storage card containing stolen nuclear reactor program information. 

The SD card was then retrieved by the contactee — who happened to be an undercover FBI agent, who sent Toebbe a further $20,000 in cryptocurrency. 

After the second payment was made, the engineer emailed the agent the decryption key required to access the information contained in the SD card. 

The FBI was then able to verify the legitimacy of the data and a second drop was arranged for the price of $70,000. This time, Toebbe smuggled the SD card into a chewing gum package. 

Among the stolen data was schematics for the Virginia-class submarine, a $3 billion design of which vehicles are in active service and are expected to remain so until at least 2060.

It was almost time for law enforcement to act and so they arranged for yet another package of data to be exchanged — and in the next drop zone, the pair were arrested. 

The Toebbes were arrested on October 9 and they are due to appear in a Martinsburg, West Virginia federal court on October 12 to faces accusations of conspiracy to communicate restricted data and communicating restricted data as violations of the Atomic Energy Act.

The FBI and the NCIS are continuing to investigate. 

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

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