NATIONAL NEWS

Navy nuclear engineer charged with trying to pass secrets

Oct 11, 2021, 7:53 AM
FILE PHOTO: BREMERTON, Wash. (Dec. 15, 2016) The Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Connecticu...
FILE PHOTO: BREMERTON, Wash. (Dec. 15, 2016) The Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22) departs Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for sea trials following a maintenance availability. (U.S. Navy photo by Thiep Van Nguyen II)
(U.S. Navy photo by Thiep Van Nguyen II)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Navy nuclear engineer with access to military secrets has been charged with trying to pass information about the design of American nuclear-powered submarines to someone he thought was a representative of a foreign government but who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent, the Justice Department said Sunday.

In a criminal complaint detailing espionage-related charges against Jonathan Toebbe, the government said he sold information for nearly the past year to a contact he believed represented a foreign power. That country was not named in the court documents.

Toebbe, 42, was arrested in West Virginia on Saturday along with his wife, Diana, 45, after he had placed a removable memory card at a prearranged “dead drop” in the state, according to the Justice Department.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Toebbes, who are from Annapolis, Maryland, have lawyers. The Navy declined to comment Sunday.

The FBI says the scheme began in April 2020 when Jonathan Toebbe sent a package of Navy documents to a foreign government and wrote that he was interested in selling to that country operations manuals, performance reports and other sensitive information.

Authorities say he also provided instructions for how to conduct the furtive relationship, with a letter that said: “I apologize for this poor translation into your language. 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.”

That package, which had a return address in Pittsburgh, was obtained by the FBI last December through its legal attache office in the unspecified foreign country. The court documents don’t explain how the FBI came to receive the package or from whom.

In any event, the FBI used Toebbe’s outreach as the launching pad for a monthslong undercover operation in which an agent posing as a representative of a foreign contact made contact with Toebbe and agreed to pay thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency for the information that Toebbe was offering.

After weeks of back and forth over email, the undercover agent in June sent Toebbe about $10,000 in cryptocurrency, describing it as a sign of good faith and trust, the FBI says.

Weeks later, federal agents watched as the Toebbes arrived at an agreed-upon location in West Virginia for the exchange, with Diana Toebbe appearing to serve as a lookout for her husband during a dead-drop operation for which the FBI paid $20,000.

The FBI recovered a blue memory card wrapped in plastic and placed between two slices of bread on a half of a peanut butter sandwich, court documents say. The records on the memory card included design elements and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors.

The Justice Department describes those submarines as “cruise missile fast-attack submarines, which incorporate the latest in stealth, intelligence gathering, and weapons systems technology.”

The memory card also included a typed message that said, in part: “I hope your experts are very happy with the sample provided and I understand the importance of a small exchange to grow our trust.”

The FBI conducted similar dead-drop exchanges over the next several months, including one in August in eastern Virginia for which Toebbe was paid roughly $70,000. In that instance, prosecutors say, he concealed in a chewing gum package a memory card that contained schematic designs for the Virginia-class submarine.

The complaint alleges violations of the Atomic Energy Act, which restricts the disclosure of information related to atomic weapons or nuclear materials.

The Toebbes are expected to have their initial court appearances Tuesday in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

Jonathan Toebbe has worked for the U.S. government since 2012, holding a top-secret security clearance and specializing in naval nuclear propulsion, the FBI says. He has also been assigned to a government-owned laboratory in the Pittsburgh area that officials say works on nuclear power for the U.S. Navy.

No one answered at the Toebbe residence on Sunday afternoon in a waterside Annapolis community by the South River. An outside light was on above the door of their home, and a dog barked inside.

John Cooley, who lives across the street from the Toebbes, said he counted more than 30 FBI agents on his block on Saturday from about 2:30 p.m. until after dark. He said agents went inside the home.

_____

Associated Press writers Brian Witte in Annapolis, Robert Burns in Washington and Adrian Sainz in Memphis contributed to this report.

——-

Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

In an aerial view, freight rail cars sit in a rail yard near shipping containers on November 22, 20...
JOSH FUNK, AP Business Writer

Biden calls on Congress to head off potential rail strike

President Joe Biden is calling on Congress to pass legislation to intervene and block a railroad strike before next month’s deadline in the stalled contract talks.
21 hours ago
U.S. President Donald Trump listens as Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a news conference at...
JILL COLVIN, Associated Press

Pence calls on Trump to apologize for dinner with antisemite

Former Vice President Mike Pence says Donald Trump “demonstrated profoundly poor judgment” and is calling on him to apologize after his supposed dinner a with Holocaust-denying white nationalist.
21 hours ago
Onlookers watch as law enforcement investigates the site of a fatal shooting in a Walmart on Novemb...
Associated Press

Virginia city holds vigil to honor Walmart shooting victims

The city of Chesapeake, Virginia, has scheduled a candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the mass shooting at a Walmart store.
21 hours ago
RSV and flu...
Deidre McPhillips, CNN

Flu season intensifies, holiday gatherings could make it worse

Americans gathered for Thanksgiving last week amid a flu season that's worse than any has been in more than a decade, and experts continue to urge caution as multiple respiratory viruses circulate at high levels nationwide.
21 hours ago
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are all making news with wild up-and-down swings in value. (File...
KEN SWEET and MICHELLE CHAPMAN, The Associated Press

BlockFi files for bankruptcy, latest crypto company to fail

Cryptocurrency lender BlockFi filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday, the latest casualty of the collapse of crypto exchange FTX.
21 hours ago
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 11: Election workers open mail in ballots at the Maricopa County Tabula...
JONATHAN J. COOPER, Associated Press

GOP-controlled Arizona county refuses to certify election

Republican officials in a rural Arizona county refused Monday to certify the 2022 election ahead of the deadline.
21 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Navy nuclear engineer charged with trying to pass secrets