A Maryland couple has been charged with attempting to transfer US nuclear secrets to another country in return for cryptocurrencies, after a year-long investigation by undercover FBI agents.
In a statement released on Saturday, the Department of Justice announced that it had arrested Jonathan Toebbe and Diana Toebbe, a US Navy engineer and his wife, after the couple allegedly tried to sell information about the design of nuclear-powered US warships “to a person they thought was a representative of a foreign power but was actually an undercover FBI agent.”
The Justice Department said in separate court filings on Monday that the Toebbes should be held in custody until their trial because there is a possibility that they would flee or destroy evidence. The bare-bones court filings didn’t go into detail about why prosecutors believe the pair is a flight risk, but they did state that the allegations may result in a life sentence. The pair has yet to enter a plea, and their first hearing in federal court in West Virginia is scheduled on Tuesday.
The Justice Department says that Jonathan Toebbe had access to information about naval nuclear propulsion and military design elements including “operating parameters and performance characteristics of nuclear-powered warship reactors.”
Toebbe allegedly sent a package to a foreign government in April 2020 seeking to sell nuclear secrets, and an undercover FBI agent responded several months later using an encrypted email program and talked with him, according to a criminal complaint justifying his arrest.
The lawsuit says the FBI agent sought to gain Toebbe’s trust before offering to sell the information for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.
The FBI “conducted an operation that involved sending a signal to a site connected with a foreign government in an attempt to get bona fides with ‘ALICE,'” Toebbe’s email alias, as per the complaint.
The FBI said it detained Jonathan and Diana on Saturday after Jonathan “placed yet another SD card” containing sensitive material at a pre-arranged site in West Virginia, in what Toebbe thought was a “dead drop,” or a hiding area spies use to surreptitiously transmit information. The pair is accused of breaking the Atomic Energy Act, which forbids anybody with access to secret material from discussing it. According to the lawsuit, the Toebbes attempted to “communicate, transmit, and expose the same to another individual with the aim of harming the United States and obtaining an advantage for a foreign government.”
It’s unknown whether or not the couple has hired a lawyer yet.