Wednesday, 27 Oct 2021

Who is US Navy nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe?

JONATHAN Toebbe is a US Navy nuclear engineer who has been charged with trying to pass information about nuclear submarines to a foreign government.

His contact though was in reality an undercover FBI agent and Toebbe along with his wife were arrested on October 9, 2021 in West Virginia.

Who is Jonathan Toebbe?

Jonathan Toebbe, 42, has worked for the US government since 2012, holding a top-secret security clearance and specializing in naval nuclear propulsion, the FBI says.

He worked as a US Navy nuclear engineer and worked on naval nuclear propulsion since 2012.

Toebbe also worked on naval reactors in Arlington, Virginia, from 2012 to 2014.

According to public Navy records, he worked for 15 months in the office of the chief of naval operations, the top officer in the military's branch. 

He has also been assigned to a government-owned laboratory in the Pittsburgh area that officials say works on nuclear power for the US Navy.

Diana Toebbe, 45, is a humanities teacher at the Key School, a private school in Annapolis, Maryland.

The K-12 school said Sunday that she had been suspended indefinitely.

The Toebbes live in Annapolis and have two children.

What has Jonathan Toebbe been accused of?

Toebbe faces espionage-related charges.

In a criminal complaint, 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 was arrested in West Virginia on October 9, 2021, 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.

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 months-long 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.

It is unclear how many counts the couple face.

Espionage carries a maximum sentence of ten years under US law.

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