Navy Engineer Pleads Guilty to Nuclear Espionage

He attempted to pass an SD card holding military secrets to a foreign national using a peanut butter sandwich.

A 43-year-old Navy nuclear engineer pleaded guilty to espionage-related crimes on Monday.

Jonathan Toebbe was caught trying to provide design data for nuclear-powered warships to a foreign national. Toebbe was arrested in October 2021 after he left an SD card at a "dead drop" in West Virginia. But more on that in a minute. 

Toebbe worked for the Department of the Navy as a nuclear engineer and was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. He had security clearance that gave him access to “restricted data,” which pertains to any information on the design, manufacture or use of atomic weapons or special nuclear material, like naval reactors. Toebbe also had access to information on naval nuclear propulsion.

Back in April 2020, Toebbe sent a sample of restricted data to a foreign government with a note that said, “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.”

Using an encrypted email, he built a relationship with a person he believed to represent the foreign government, but it turns out that it was an undercover FBI agent. They built a relationship and eventually came to a deal to sell secrets for thousands of dollars in Monero cryptocurrency. 

On June 8, 2021, the undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Toebbe as “good faith” payment. A few weeks later, Toebbe executed a dead drop by placing an SD card holding military secrets on submarine nuclear in half of a peanut butter sandwich. For his efforts, he received another $20,000 in crypto.

Then in August, Toebbe made another dead drop, but this time, he used a package of chewing gum to hide the memory card. Toebbe received $70,000 in cryptocurrency. Toebbe and his wife, Diana, were arrested on Oct. 9 after a final dead drop.

Diana Toebbe was also arrested, but it's unclear what her role in the conspiracy was beyond serving as a lookout during the dead drops. 

Toebbe pleaded guilty to conspiracy to communicate restricted data. He faced up to life in prison and a $100,000 fine. As part of the plea deal, Toebbe will serve a minimum of 151 months, or 12.5 years, in federal prison.

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