WASHINGTON, (AP) — A Navy nuclear engineering with access to military secret information was charged Sunday with trying to relay information about the design of American submarine-powered nuclear-powered submarines to a person he thought was a representative for a foreign government. But, it turned out that he was actually an undercover FBI agent.
The government filed a criminal complaint against Jonathan Toebbe alleging that he sold information over the past year to a contact who he believed represented foreign powers. In court documents, that country was not mentioned.
According to the Justice Department, Toebbe, 42 years old, was arrested in West Virginia Saturday with his wife Diana, 45, after placing a removable memory chip at a prearranged dead drop in Jefferson County.
It was not immediately clear if either Toebbe employed a lawyer. The Toebbes come from Annapolis in Maryland. Sunday’s comments were not made by Navy officials.
According to the FBI, the scheme started in April 2020 when Jonathan Toebbe sent documents from Navy to a foreign government. He stated that he was interested selling operation manuals and performance reports as well as other sensitive information.
Authorities claim he also provided instructions about how to conduct the furtive relation, along with a note that stated: “I apologize in advance for any mistakes in translation into your language. Please forward this letter directly to your military intelligence agency. This information is of great value for your country, I believe. This isn’t a hoax.
Last December, the package arrived at the FBI’s legal department in the foreign country. It had a return adress of Pittsburgh. This led to months of undercover operations in which an agent pretending to be a representative of the foreign country offered to pay thousands in cryptocurrency for the information Toebbe was providing.
According to the FBI, Toebbe received $10,000 in cryptocurrency from an undercover agent in June. He described it as a sign that he had good faith and trusted Toebbe.
According to the complaint, FBI agents observed the Toebbes arrive at a agreed-upon West Virginia location for the exchange the following week. Diana Toebbe appeared to be a watchdog for her husband during the dead drop operation. The complaint states that the FBI discovered a blue SD card wrapped up in plastic, placed between two slices bread and a peanut butter sandwich.
Toebbe received $20,000 from the FBI and the contents of his SD card were provided to a Navy subject-matter expert who found that the records contained design elements as well as performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors. The complaint states that these submarines were nuclear-powered, sophisticated and fast-attack submarines.
An SD card contained a message written in type that stated, “I hope your experts were very happy with the sample supplied and I understand how important it is to exchange small amounts to grow our trust.”
According to the complaint, similar dead-drop exchanges were conducted by the FBI over the next few months. One such exchange was in August in Virginia, in which Toebbe received $70,000 and hidden an SD card inside a chewing gum packet.
The complaint alleges violations to the Atomic Energy Act. It restricts the disclosure information regarding atomic weapons or nuclear materials.
The Toebbes are scheduled to make their first court appearance Tuesday, in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
The FBI claims that Jonathan Toebbe, who holds a top secret security clearance and is a specialist in naval nuclear propellant, has been working for the U.S. Government since 2012. A laboratory in Pittsburgh has been assigned to him, which officials claim works on nuclear power.
On Sunday afternoon, no one answered the door at the Toebbe residence in Annapolis, a community near the South River. A dog barking inside the house was heard from above their front door.
John Cooley, who lives next to the Toebbes said that he counted more then 30 FBI agents on his street on Saturday, from around 2:30 p.m. to after dark. Agents entered the home, he said.
Adrian Sainz, Adrian Witte and Robert Burns from Washington contributed to this report.