The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) have arrested a nuclear engineer and his spouse on allegations of espionage, a complaint from the Department of Justice said. Hailing from Annapolis, Maryland, the nuclear engineer was employed by the U.S. Navy and had an active national security clearance, the complaint said.
The couple has been charged with violations of the Atomic Energy Act. The naval engineer, Jonathan Toebbe was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Programme, also called Naval Reactors, and had access to information related to design elements, operating parameters, and performance characteristics of the reactors for nuclear-powered warships, the complaint said.
On April 1, 2020, Toebbe, the complaint alleges, sent a package to a foreign government with a sample of military sensitive restricted data. Toebbe also communicated over encrypted email with an individual, whom he thought was a foreign government representative but was actually an undercover agent of the FBI.
Following months of correspondence, on June 8, 2021, the agent sent a 'good faith' payment of $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Toebbe following which the engineer and his wife, Diane, traveled to West Virginia. With Diane acting as a lookout, Jonathan placed an SD card inside a peanut butter sandwich at a 'dead drop location. After receiving the card, the agent sent Jonathan $20,000 worth of cryptocurrency following which Jonathan sent the encryption key to unlock the data on the card.
After reviewing that the SD card did contain restricted data related to submarine nuclear reactors, the agent paid a further $70,000 worth of cryptocurrency to receive and decrypt another SD card, this time in eastern Virginia, which also contained information about submarine nuclear reactors.
Jonathan and his wife were arrested on October 9 after setting the stage for another such drop, scheduled in Jefferson County, West Virginia. 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."