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He was hiding SD cards in sandwiches: nuclear submarine expert arrested for spying by FBI

A US Navy engineer and his wife were arrested Saturday, October 9 in West Virginia and charged with selling secret information about nuclear submarines for the benefit of a foreign government, behind which an undercover FBI agent was hiding, American justice announced on Sunday.

“For nearly a year”, writes the US Department of Justice, 42-year-old nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe, assisted by his wife of 45, Diana, “Sold protected information on the design of nuclear-powered warships to someone they believed to be a representative of a foreign power”, but who was “An FBI agent undercover”. The ministry did not specify which “Foreign power” it was.

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The complaint from the federal prosecutor for the Northern District of West Virginia, made public, more specifically accuses the couple of having transmitted, “On or around June 26, 2021”, “Militarily sensitive design elements, operating parameters and performance characteristics of Virginia class submarine reactors”, the latest generation of attack submersibles in the US fleet.

The suspect, an engineer employed in the navy’s nuclear propulsion program, “Has been working since October 2012” on these issues, says the complaint.

“The information will be of great value”

The US nuclear submarines were recently at the center of a major diplomatic crisis between Paris and Washington, when Australia canceled a mega-contract with France to announce a strategic partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom.

Denouncing a ” treason “, a “Duplicity” and one “Contempt” On the part of its allies, Paris had recalled its ambassadors to Australia and the United States, an unprecedented gesture towards these two countries, on September 17.

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The complaint from the American justice tells how the FBI agent got in touch with Jonathan Toebbe, 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.

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“I apologize for this poor translation into your language”, says the engineer in a ” letter “, where he promises that “The information will be of great value to your nation” and that’“This is not a hoax”, details the complaint.

The engineer wrote under the name “Alice”

According to excerpts from the exchanges, the undercover agent proposes ” a gift “ from “From a trusted friend in your country”, but the engineer, based in Annapolis, capital of the state of Maryland, 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.

This data was contained on encrypted SD cards, deposited at pre-arranged locations in West Virginia, and concealed in a peanut butter sandwich or packet of chewing gum. The engineer wrote there under the name of“Alice”.

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The couple were arrested by the FBI on Saturday after again dropping an SD card at a meeting place. Indicted for violating the atomic energy law, the Toebbe will appear in court for the first time on Tuesday in the case, in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

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