Navy nuclear engineer tried to spy, FBI says

WASHINGTON – A US Navy nuclear engineer and his wife have been accused of trying to share some of the United States’ top secrets in subm...


WASHINGTON – A US Navy nuclear engineer and his wife have been accused of trying to share some of the United States’ top secrets in submarine technology with another country, according to court documents unsealed on Sunday.

Engineer Jonathan Toebbe has been accused of attempting to sell information about the nuclear propulsion system of US Virginia-class attack submarines – the technology at the heart of a recently announced deal with Britain and Australia.

While rivals like Russia and China have long researched details of the propulsion of U.S. submarines, it was not clear whether the unsolicited offer was for an adversary or an ally.

Mr. Toebbe has worked for the military as a civilian since 2017 and was originally part of the Navy on active duty. He’s been working on naval nuclear propulsion since 2012, including technology designed to reduce noise and vibrations from submarines, which can reveal their locations.

The classified material in question included designs that could be of use to many different countries building submarines. In the Australia Agreement, the United States and Britain would help the country deploy nuclear-powered submarines, equipped with nuclear propulsion systems that offer unlimited range and operate so quietly they are difficult to detect.

Nuclear propulsion is one of the most closely held information in the US Navy, as the reactors are fueled by highly enriched uranium, which can also be converted into bomb fuel for nuclear weapons. The construction of compact and safe naval reactors is also a difficult engineering task. Until the agreement with Australia, the United States had only shared the technology with Great Britain, starting in 1958.

According to court documents, the Toebbes investigation began in December 2020, when the FBI obtained a package that had been sent to another country with operational manuals, technical details and an offer to establish a secret relationship. The package was intercepted in the other country’s courier system and sent to an FBI legal attache.

“Please forward this letter to your military intelligence agency,” a note in the package reads. “I believe this information will be of great value to your nation. This is not a hoax. “

The FBI followed the package’s instructions and struck up a crypto conversation, in which the sender offered Navy secrets in exchange for $ 100,000 in cryptocurrency.

During a series of exchanges, the FBI persuaded the sender to leave information at a standstill in exchange for cryptocurrency payments. The FBI then observed Mr. Toebbe and his wife, Diana Toebbe, at the site of the fall in West Virginia.

With Ms Toebbe acting as a lookout, Mr Toebbe left an SD card hidden inside a half peanut butter sandwich in a plastic bag, according to court documents. After the undercover agent retrieved the sandwich, Mr. Toebbe received $ 20,000.

Officers then set up another dead drop in Pennsylvania and a third in Virginia, where they said Mr. Toebbe dropped off an SD card concealed in a packet of gum.

While working at the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, a little-known government research center in West Mifflin, Pa., Mr. Toebbe is said to have had access to documents he is accused of passing on to the undercover FBI agent.

Many details of the exchange were redacted in court documents, but there was a reference to scale drawings and maintenance details. One quoted a memo, whose documents suggest was written by one of the Toebbes, that the information “reflects decades of” lessons learned “from the US Navy that will help ensure the safety of your sailors “.

The FBI and Navy Criminal Investigation Services arrested Jonathan and Diana Toebbe on Saturday. They will appear in federal court in Martinsburg, WV, on Tuesday.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Navy nuclear engineer tried to spy, FBI says
Navy nuclear engineer tried to spy, FBI says
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