A US couple has been arrested in the state of West Virginia for allegedly selling statistics on nuclear warships to what they believed used to be a foreign state, the Justice Department said Sunday.
Jonathan Toebbe, who worked as a nuclear engineer for the US Navy, and his wife Diana — each in their forties — have been arrested by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents on Saturday and charged with violating the Atomic Energy Act in a criminal complaint, the Justice Department said in a statement.
For almost a year, the couple “sold information known as restricted data concerning the design of nuclear-powered warships to a person they believed used to be a representative of a foreign power,” the statement said, including that the recipient of the information was, in fact, an undercover FBI agent.
Jonathan Toebbe, who had access to restricted information on nuclear-powered warships through his work, collaborated with his spouse to exchange information on submarine nuclear reactors for around $100,000 in cryptocurrency, the complaint affidavit alleges.
The affidavit says Toebbe in April 2020 mailed a package to foreign authorities “containing a sample of restricted information and instructions for organizing a covert relationship,” according to the statement.
According to the complaint, the FBI intercepted the package, and the undercover agent posed as a representative of the foreign authorities in order to establish a relationship with the couple.
The agent sent Jonathan Toebbe, who used the pseudonym “Alice,” an email offering him a gift as thanks for the data. But Toebbe responded with caution, asking instead to set up a “dead drop” place and to be paid in cryptocurrency.
The couple in the following months transferred multiple SD cards of information to the agent. In the first dead drop, “the SD card used to be wrapped in plastic and positioned between two slices of bread on a half a peanut butter sandwich,” the agent said in the complaint.
Other SD cards have been hidden in a chewing gum package and a sealed Band-Aid wrapper, with the Band-Aid nevertheless inside.
The couple used to be arrested Saturday after leaving some other SD card at a dead drop location.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland praised the agencies involved for “thwarting the plot” and “taking this first step in bringing the perpetrators to justice,” the assertion said.
The Department of Defense declined to remark when contacted.
The couple is due to appear in West Virginia federal court on Oct 12.
US nuclear-powered submarines have been the issue of recent interest when Australia and Britain in September unveiled a new defense contract for such subs, negotiated secretly over several months.
In order to join the pact, Australia tore up a landmark multimillion-dollar contract with France, sparking a global row that saw Paris recall its ambassador to Canberra.