Navy engineer, wife accused of trying to sell nuclear submarine secrets

A Navy nuclear engineer and his wife from Maryland were busted for trying to sell confidential information about US nuclear-powered submarines to a foreign country, using memory cards hidden inside a peanut butter sandwich and a Band-Aid wrapper to transmit the secrets, according to court documents. 

Jonathan Toebbe, who worked at the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and had a top-secret security clearance, and his wife, Diana, were busted Saturday in Jefferson County, W.Va., accused by the FBI for violating the Atomic Energy Act, the Justice Department said on Sunday. 

Toebbe, 42, “has passed, and continues to pass, Restricted Data as defined by the Atomic Energy Act … with the witting assistance of his spouse,” the criminal complaint alleges. 

The espionage investigation began in December 2020 when an FBI official received a package sent to a foreign country that contained Navy documents, a desire to begin a “covert relationship” and instructions on using “encrypted communications.” 

“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,” a note inside the package with the return address of PIttsburgh said.

After verifying the validity of the confidential information, FBI agents posing as spies from the unidentified foreign country began communicating via email with Toebbe.

They initially reached out in late December 2020 confirming that they wanted to work with him and would contact him on how to proceed, authorities allege. 

After several email exchanges, Toebbe in March 2021 allegedly wrote that he would provide the documents in return for cryptocurrency payments. 

The FBI agents agreed to pay him $10,000 upfront and another $20,000 after the information he provided was verified, and they worked out a “dead drop” in Jefferson County for June. 

the Virginia-class fast-attack submarine USS Missouri (SSN 780) departs Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for a scheduled deployment in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility, Sept. 1, 2021
Jonathan Toebbe and his wife used memory cards hidden inside a peanut butter sandwich and a Band-Aid wrapper to transmit the secrets.
Amanda R. Gray/U.S. Navy via AP, File

Toebbe and his wife were seen at the “dead drop” location, with Diana, 45, acting a “lookout” for her husband, the complaint says. 

Afterward, the FBI recovered a SD card that was “wrapped in plastic and placed between two slices of bread on a half of a peanut butter sandwich. The half sandwich was housed inside of a plastic bag,” the complaint says.

Another “dead drop” was arranged for July 31 in Pennsylvania. 

This time the SD card “was hidden in a sealed Band-Aid wrapper with a Band-Aid inside a clear Zip Lock bag,” the court documents say. 

At another “dead drop” in Virginia in August, FBI agents allege Toebbe put an SD card in a package of chewing gum. 

All of the memory cards contained information about the designs of Virginia-class nuclear submarines.

The couple was busted Saturday when they showed up at another “dead drop” location in West Virginia. 

They are expected to appear in federal court in Martinsburg, W.Va., on Tuesday.

It’s unknown who is representing the husband and wife.