Two U.S. citizens suspected of spying will appear in federal court today. Federal agents arrested a U.S. Navy nuclear engineer over the weekend. Jonathan Toebbe allegedly tried to pass information about the design of American nuclear-powered submarines. Toebbe and his wife will face serious criminal charges—which could include treason.
The U.S. government says Toebbe sold information for nearly the past year to a contact he believed represented a foreign power. Instead, the person turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.
Agents arrested Toebbe in West Virginia on Saturday along with his wife, Diana. Toebbe had placed a removable memory card at a prearranged “dead drop” in the state, according to the Justice Department. (A dead drop is a location for leaving something which another person will pick up at a different time. This lets two people transfer that thing without meeting face to face.)
The Toebbes join a notorious group. Traitors engage in things that God hates: lying, devising wicked plans, running to evil, and deceit (Proverbs 6:16-19) to name a few. Probably the most wicked traitor was Judas Iscariot, who gave information about Jesus to the Jewish Sanhedrin for money. (Mark 3:19)
The FBI says the Toebbes’ scheme began in April 2020 when Jonathan Toebbe sent a package of Navy documents to a foreign government. Toebbe said he was interested in selling sensitive information to that as-yet unnamed country.
Authorities say he also provided instructions for how to conduct the secretive relationship. His letter 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 had a return address in Pittsburgh. The FBI obtained it last December through an office in the unnamed country.
The FBI used Toebbe’s outreach to launch an undercover operation. During the sting, an agent posed as a representative of a foreign contact. The agent agreed to pay thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency for Toebbe’s information.
After weeks of back and forth over email, the undercover agent sent Toebbe about $10,000 in cryptocurrency in June. He (ironically!) described 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. Diana Toebbe appeared to serve as a lookout for her husband during the dead-drop operation.
The FBI paid $20,000 for that exchange. In return, agents recovered a blue memory card wrapped in plastic and placed between the two slices of bread of half a peanut butter sandwich. 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. Those included one in August in eastern Virginia. The Toebbes received roughly $70,000 for that exchange. In that instance, Toebbe concealed a memory card in a chewing gum package. The card 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.
Jonathan Toebbe has worked for the U.S. government since 2012. He held a top-secret security clearance and specialized in naval nuclear propulsion. He had also been assigned to a government-owned nuclear power laboratory in the Pittsburgh area.
Some sources say Toebbe told the undercover agent that he hoped the foreign government would help him escape with his family if he were ever caught. At one point he said, “We have passports and cash set aside for this purpose.”
(The U.S.S. Virginia during its first sea trials. AP/Jack Sauer)