FBI sting operation nets couple accused of trying to sell US nuclear secrets

US Navy nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe, who held a top-secret safety clearance, and his spouse Diana have been arrested Saturday in West Virginia by the FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service after the couple allegedly offered data in regards to the design of nuclear-powered US warships “to a person they believed was a representative of a foreign power but was actually an undercover FBI agent,” in accordance to a Department of Justice assertion.

The Justice Department stated Toebbe had entry to data on naval nuclear propulsion and delicate army design parts together with “operating parameters and performance characteristics of the reactors for nuclear powered warships.”

An FBI agent in a legal criticism justifying the arrest alleges Toebbe first despatched a bundle to a international authorities in April 2020 providing to sell the nuclear secrets, and an undercover FBI agent responded a number of months later through an encrypted e mail program and corresponded with him. The agent labored on gaining Toebbe’s belief earlier than he allegedly agreed to sell the knowledge for 1000’s of {dollars} in cryptocurrency, in accordance to the criticism.

According to the criticism, the FBI “conducted an operation in the Washington, D.C. area that involved placing a signal at a location associated with (the foreign government) in an attempted effort to gain bona fides with ‘ALICE,'” the title Toebbe used as an alias when penning emails.

During what Toebbe believed to be a “dead drop,” or a hiding spot spies use to secretly move data, the FBI stated it arrested Jonathan and Diana on Saturday after Jonathan “placed yet another SD card” with categorized data at a pre-arranged location in West Virginia. The couple has been charged with violations of the Atomic Energy Act, which prohibits anybody with entry to categorized data from sharing that data. The criticism claims the Toebbes tried to “communicate, transmit, and disclose the same to another person with the intent to injure the United States and to secure an advantage to a foreign nation.”

It is unclear whether or not the couple has retained authorized counsel but.

Building belief

In one trust-building transfer through the prolonged correspondence, the FBI organized to ship a sign to Toebbe from a constructing that homes the unnamed nation’s diplomats.

After gaining Toebbe’s belief, the agent tried to persuade Toebbe to meet in particular person, however Toebbe was apprehensive about being caught. The agent instructed utilizing a lifeless drop at a location of his selecting. In March 2021, Toebbe allegedly wrote, “I am concerned that using a dead drop location your friend prepares makes me very vulnerable. If other interested parties are observing the location, I will be unable to detect them.”

Toebbe additionally stated he was apprehensive about receiving money funds, as a result of serial numbers will be traced, and he apprehensive “tracking devices and other nasty surprises must be considered as well,” in accordance to the FBI’s legal criticism.

In April 2021, Toebbe allegedly wrote, “Is there some physical signal you can make that proves your identity to me? I could plan to visit Washington D.C. over the Memorial Day weekend. I would just be another tourist in the crowd. Perhaps you could fly a signal flag on your roof? Something easily observable from the street, but nothing to arouse an adversaries (sic) suspicion?”

The secret agent replied, “We will set a signal from our main building observable from the street. It will bring you comfort with signal on display from area inside our property that we control and not a [sic] adversary. If you agree please acknowledge.”

Toebbe as an alternative allegedly instructed utilizing the decentralized cryptocurrency Monero as a result of it “gives both us excellent deniability.” In an e mail cited within the complaisnt, Toebbe allegedly stated he would ship an SD card, containing a number of hundred pages of technical knowledge. Once he confirmed receipt of the cryptocurrency, Toebbe allegedly wrote, “I will give you the passphrase.”

Toebbe additionally allegedly advised the agent he would by no means use “the same drop location twice. I will give you a new Monero address each time. The decryption key will be different each time. No patterns for third parties to observe. The only electronic footprints will be Proton to Proton, so there is less risk of encrypted traffic being collected for future analysis by third parties. That part is not perfect. Perhaps as our friendship develops we will change addresses periodically?”

In June 2021, Toebbe and his spouse traveled to West Virginia the place the FBI stated Toebbe “placed an SD card concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich at a pre-arranged ‘dead drop’ location.”

After retrieving the SD card, the secret agent despatched Toebbe a $20,000 cryptocurrency cost and Toebbe responded with the outline key for the cardboard, in accordance to the criticism. The FBI stated it “opened the provided SD card and provided the contents” to a US Navy material skilled, who confirmed it had categorized data.

An ongoing correspondence

The FBI stated Toebbe allegedly carried on the connection with the secret agent, making one other lifeless drop in japanese Virginia in August 2021, the place the FBI had him below surveillance as he left his home in Annapolis, Maryland, and drove to the lifeless drop.

The criticism stated “the FBI observed JONATHAN TOEBBE service a dead drop in eastern Virginia. The FBI observed JONATHAN TOEBBE place an item in the container and remove a written message placed in the container by the FBI.”

“The FBI subsequently opened the SD card and provided the contents to the U.S. Navy subject matter expert. The U.S. Navy subject matter expert determined that multiple documents on the SD card contained Restricted Data. Specifically, the U.S. Navy subject matter expert determined that the document contained schematic designs for the Virginia-class submarine. Virginia-class submarines are nuclear-powered cruise missile fast- attack submarines, which incorporate the latest in stealth, intelligence gathering, and weapons systems technology,” the legal criticism alleged.

In one other alternate listed within the criticism, Toebbe defined how he obtained all of the categorized data, saying, “I was extremely careful to gather the files I possess slowly and naturally in the routine of my job, so nobody would suspect my plan. We received training on warning signs to spot insider threats. We made very sure not to display even a single one. I do not believe any of my former colleagues would suspect me, if there is a future investigation.”

He additionally stated, “I have considered the possible need to leave on short notice. Should that ever become necessary, I will be forever grateful for your help extracting me and my family. I surmise the first step would be unannounced travel to a safe third country with plans to meet your colleagues. We have passports and cash set aside for this purpose.” He stated he hoped such a transfer would by no means show vital.

Toebbe stated he hoped to in the future to meet and have drinks together with his international handler, writing unwittingly to the FBI agent, “Thank you for your partnership as well my friend. One day, when it is safe, perhaps two old friends will have a chance to stumble into each other at a cafe, share a bottle of wine and laugh over stories of their shared exploits. A fine thought, but I agree that our mutual need for security may make that impossible. Whether we meet or no[sic], I will always remember your bravery in serving your country and your commitment to helping me.”

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