INTERNATIONAL – A U.S. Navy engineer and his wife were arrested in West Virginia on Saturday and charged with selling secret information about nuclear submarines for the benefit of a foreign government, behind which an undercover FBI agent was hiding, American justice announced Sunday, October 10.
“For nearly a year,” writes the US Department of Justice, 42-year-old nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe, aided by his 45-year-old wife, Diana, “sold protected information on the design of ships from nuclear-powered war on a person they believed to be a representative of a foreign power ”but who was“ an undercover FBI agent ”. The ministry did not specify which “foreign power” it was.
The complaint from the Federal District Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, made public, more specifically accuses the couple of having transmitted, “on or around June 26, 2021”, “militarily sensitive design elements, operating parameters and the performance characteristics of the reactors of the “Virginia class” submarines, the latest generation of attack submarines in the US fleet.
The suspect, an engineer employed in the navy’s nuclear propulsion program, “has been working since October 2012” on these issues, the complaint said.
The US nuclear submarines were recently at the center of a major diplomatic crisis between Paris and Washington, when Australia canceled a mega-contract with France to announce a strategic partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom.
Denouncing a “betrayal”, a “duplicity” and a “contempt” on the part of its allies, Paris had recalled its ambassadors in Australia and in the United States, an unprecedented gesture towards these two countries, on September 17th.
Data hidden in a peanut butter sandwich
The complaint of the American justice tells how the agent of the FBI came into contact with Jonathan Toebbe, after the interception of a first package containing in particular “documents of the navy” and a computer map giving the procedure to follow to establish a contact on an encrypted messaging.
“I apologize for this poor translation into your language,” says the engineer in a “letter”, where he promises that “the information will be of great value to your nation” and that “it is not a hoax ”, details the complaint.
According to excerpts from the exchanges, the undercover agent offers “a gift” from “a trusted friend in your country”, but the engineer, based in Annapolis, capital of the state of Maryland, is is wary and wants to be paid in cryptocurrency. In several times between June and August, the man received payments in cryptocurrency for 100,000 dollars, in exchange for which he handed over confidential information related to the nuclear reactors of submarines.
This data was contained on encrypted SD cards, deposited at pre-arranged locations in West Virginia, and concealed in a peanut butter sandwich or packet of chewing gum. The engineer wrote there under the name “Alice”.
The couple were arrested by the FBI on Saturday after again dropping an SD card at a meeting place.
Indicted for violating the atomic energy law, the Toebbe will appear in court for the first time on Tuesday in the case, in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
See also on Then24: To spy on the seas, China designed this ultra-realistic drone-fish