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United States: couple arrested for nuclear espionage

They had just dropped off an SD card at a meeting place. An American couple, including a US Navy engineer, were arrested in West Virginia on Saturday and charged with nuclear espionage for a foreign government , in reality an undercover FBI agent who paid them with cryptocurrency, said American justice announced Sunday, October 10.

“For nearly a year,” writes the US Department of Justice,  42-year-old nuclear engineer  Jonathan Toebbe, aided by his 45-year-old wife, Diana, “ sold protected information about the design of ships from nuclear-powered war on a person they believed to be a representative of a foreign power, “but who was” an undercover FBI agent. “

The complaint of the federal prosecutor, made public, tells how this agent came into contact with the suspect, employed in the nuclear propulsion program of the navy, after the interception of a first package containing in particular “documents of the navy” and a computer card giving the procedure for establishing contact on an encrypted messaging system. The package was intended for a foreign country which was not disclosed by the courts.

SD cards hidden in sandwiches

According to excerpts from the exchanges, the undercover agent offers “a gift” from “a trusted friend in your country”, but the engineer, based in Annapolis, capital of the state of Maryland, is is wary and wants to be paid in  cryptocurrency . In several times between June and August, the man received payments in cryptocurrency for 100,000 dollars , in exchange for which he handed over confidential information related to the nuclear reactors of submarines.

Jonathan Toebbe and his wife Diana were arrested in West Virginia on Saturday, the Justice Department announced.

They allegedly tried to sell nuclear submarine design data, hidden in a peanut butter sandwich, to someone they thought represented another country.

In fact, it was an undercover FBI agent.

Mr Toebbe and his partner – 42 and 45 respectively – have now been charged under the Atomic Energy Act.

Mr Toebbe worked in the US Navy’s nuclear propulsion programme and had national security clearance. His wife is a high school teacher.

The Justice Department said that in April 2020 he sent a package to an unnamed foreign government containing restricted data and a message suggesting a covert relationship, so that they could buy more data from him.

He then allegedly began writing to an individual by encrypted email. While he thought this person represented the foreign government, they were actually an FBI agent, the affidavit said.

After several months, the accused couple allegedly made a deal to share secret information in exchange for around $100,000 (£73,000) in cryptocurrency.

In June this year, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe travelled to West Virginia to drop off the data.

With Diana acting as a lookout, Jonathan “placed an SD card concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich” at a determined location, the affidavit said.

After the agent collected the card, they sent payment and received a decryption key to access the SD card. On it was restricted data “related to submarine nuclear reactors”.

Mr Toebbe then performed a second so-called dead drop – this time hidden inside a chewing gum packet – in August, with yet more secret data on it.

FBI agents then arrested the couple on Saturday, during a third dead drop.

The couple are set to appear in federal court on 12 October.

A Maryland couple were arrested Saturday and accused of trying to sell military secrets to a foreign power.

According to the Department of Justice, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe were arrested in Jefferson County, W. Va., where they were allegedly attempting to sell information about the design of nuclear reactors on American submarines to someone they thought was an agent of another country — but who was actually an undercover FBI agent.

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