US authorities have charged a US Navy employee and his wife with allegedly selling information on nuclear-powered vessels to an undercover FBI agent they believed represented a foreign country in exchange for cryptocurrency.
Jonathan Toebbe, a nuclear engineer with the US Navy, and Diana Toebbe, a humanities teacher, were arrested on Saturday for allegedly sharing restricted military information “with the intent to injure the United States and to secure an advantage to a foreign nation,” according to a complaint filed by the FBI.
“The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation,” said Merrick Garland, the US attorney-general, in a statement on Sunday.
After allegedly sending a package with navy documents to an unnamed foreign country seeking a “covert relationship”, the couple sold sensitive information for nearly a year to an undercover FBI agent for tens of thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency, according to the US justice department.
The couple is accused of sharing information including data on Virginia-class submarines — vessels with the latest stealth, intelligence-gathering, and weapons systems technology — via so-called dead drops in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia arranged via encrypted email exchanges.
SD cards containing the military information were allegedly hidden in half a peanut butter sandwich, a sticking plaster wrapper and a chewing gum packet.
In exchange, the FBI paid the couple at least $100,000 in Monero, a decentralised cryptocurrency with “privacy-enhancing technologies that obfuscate transactions to achieve anonymity and fungibility”, according to the FBI’s complaint.
Jonathan Toebbe, who has worked for the US government since 2012, held an active national security clearance that gave him access to “restricted data”, according to the justice department. He was released from active duty in 2017 after completing his required service, according to the FBI’s complaint.
A typed message allegedly delivered by Jonathan Toebbe at the last dead drop in August read: “One day, when it is safe, perhaps two old friends will have a chance to stumble into each other at a cafe [sic], share a bottle of wine and laugh over stories of their shared exploits . . . Whether we meet or no [sic], I will always remember your bravery in serving your country and your commitment to helping me.”
The Toebbes, who will appear in federal court on Tuesday, could not be reached for comment.