- Jonathan Toebbe, 42, was arrested on espionage-related charges on October 9.
- Toebbe was nabbed by an undercover FBI officer, who posed as a foreign agent looking to buy intel.
- Toebbe is accused of selling Navy intel to the undercover agent by concealing an SD card containing the data in a peanut butter sandwich.
A Navy engineer is accused of attempting to sell classified data about nuclear submarines to someone he thought was a foreign agent — by popping the intel into an SD card and slotting it into a peanut butter sandwich.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has accused Jonathan Toebbe, 42, of espionage-related charges and violations of the Atomic Energy Act.. In a criminal complaint, it was alleged that Toebbe, who worked with the Navy since 2012, was attempting to send out classified intel containing military intelligence to someone he thought was a foreign agent, in exchange for cash.
According to the court filing, Toebbe was a nuclear engineer for the US Navy and had top-secret security clearance at the Department of Defense.
The FBI became aware of Toebbe’s intentions to sell US Navy secrets last April when their agents in an unnamed country received a package containing classified documents from the Navy. This package also contained a letter containing instructions on how to communicate with Toebbe via an encrypted platform, and further details on what he intended to sell.
The DOJ alleges that Toebbe was the sender of the initial document, which included 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.”
An FBI undercover agent then took over and contacted Toebbe, setting him up to drop the intel over several months of communications via an encrypted email.
According to the criminal complaint, the undercover agent first sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Toebbe as a sign of his “good faith.”
Toebbe then showed up at an agreed-upon location in Jefferson County, West Virginia, on June 26, 2021, and dropped off a blue memory card that was wrapped up in plastic and hidden inside a peanut butter sandwich. The FBI later checked the SD card and found that the records Toebbe dropped off included information on the capabilities and designs of Navy submarine reactors. A further $20,000 was transferred to Toebbe, the complaint read.
This memory card Toebbe dropped off in the sandwich included a message that read: “I hope your experts are very happy with the sample provided and I understand the importance of a small exchange to grow our trust.”
Per the court filing, the Bureau set up another exchange with Toebbe. On August 27, Toebbe slotted an SD card containing detailed designs of a Virginia-class submarine into a packet of chewing gum and left it at a location in eastern Virginia.
Toebbe was paid around $70,000 for this second drop, bringing the total amount paid to him via cryptocurrency to $100,000.
Toebbe’s wife, Diana Toebbe, 45, a teacher in Maryland, was also charged in connection with the case. She is accused of helping Toebbe by acting as a lookout during the first information exchange.
The Toebbes were arrested on October 9, according to the DOJ.
“The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a DOJ statement released on October 10. “The work of the FBI, Department of Justice prosecutors, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the Department of Energy was critical in thwarting the plot charged in the complaint and taking this first step in bringing the perpetrators to justice.”