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US Naval Reactors engineer arrested on espionage-related charges involving sale of Virginia-class submarine data

Jonathan Toebbe, an engineer for the US Navy (USN) Naval Reactors, and his wife Diana, both of Annapolis, Maryland, were arrested on 9 October in Jefferson County, West Virginia, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and charged in a criminal complaint alleging violations of the US Atomic Energy Act, the US Department of Justice confirmed on 10 October.

The couple sold information known as Restricted Data concerning the design of nuclear-powered warships to a person they believed was a representative of a foreign power, the Justice Department said in a release.

According to the charging complaint: “Specifically, the US Navy subject matter expert determined that several of the documents contained militarily sensitive design elements, operating parameters, and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors.”

“The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Toebbe worked with and had access to information concerning naval nuclear propulsion including information related to military-sensitive design elements, operating parameters, and performance characteristics of the reactors for nuclear-powered warships, the Justice Department said.

Toebbe began corresponding via encrypted email with an individual whom he believed to be a representative of a foreign government, but was actually an undercover FBI agent. Toebbe continued this correspondence for several months, which led to an agreement to sell Restricted Data in exchange for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.

The undercover agent sent USD10,000 in cryptocurrency on 8 June 2021 to Toebbe as “good faith” payment, the Justice Department said. Toebbe placed an SD card concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich at a pre-arranged “dead drop” location.

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