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How an unnamed friendly country helped FBI nab couple offering to sell US’ N-sub secrets

WASHINGTON: In yet another baffling espionage case, an accomplished US Navy nuclear engineer and his wife were produced in a West Virginia court on Tuesday after the FBI arrested them on charges of trying to sell nuclear submarine propulsion technology to an unnamed friendly foreign country.
Jonathan Toebbe and his wife Diana, who has a PhD in anthropology, were arrested by the FBI on Saturday after a nearly year-long sting operation when they went for a “dead drop” of information on nuclear propulsion systems they had offered to a foreign power several months before. The unnamed foreign power had reported the offer to US government via the local FBI liaison, enabling the bureau to launch an undercover sting operation.
According to the FBI complaint affidavit, on April 1 2020, Jonathan Toebbe sent a package to a foreign government containing a sample of restricted data relating to nuclear submarine propulsion systems, and instructions for establishing a covert relationship to purchase additional restricted data on payment in the form of cryptocurrency. The affidavit also alleges that, thereafter, Toebbe began corresponding via encrypted email with an individual whom he believed to be a representative of the foreign government, when the individual was really an undercover FBI agent.
On June 8, 2021, the FBI affidavit states, the undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Toebbe as “good faith” payment. Shortly afterwards, on June 26, the husband and wife team travelled from Annapolis, where they lived, to a location in West Virginia, where with Diana acting as a lookout, Jonathan placed an SD card concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich at a pre-arranged “dead drop” location.
A review of the SD card after additional cryptocurrency payments to secure a de-encryption key revealed that it contained restricted data related to submarine nuclear reactors, the FBI said. Similar exchanges took place on August 28 and on October 9 — with data cards containing restricted data hidden in a band-aid wrapper and a chewing gum package — before the couple was arrested.What is perplexing in this case, which could be straight out of a TV spy serial, is the couple appeared to have led an innocuous suburban life with their two children. They were well regarded by their friends and neighbors, and had steady well-paying jobs (Diana taught in an elite private school).
Also intriguing was the identity of the unnamed foreign country that alerted the FBI. It was described in some reports as more of a partner than an ally, which would put India on the shortlist. Russia, China, France, and UK already have nuclear propelled submarines, and US and UK have offered the same to Australia. Besides, Australia and Japan are also counted as US allies by way of treaties. Officials from both sides declined to comment further on the case.
Jonathan Toebbe and his wife, Diana, were arrested after a yearlong sting operation by undercover FBI agents. Toebbe, 42, a nuclear engineer with top-secret security clearance, is accused of sending navy documents to an unnamed foreign entity in 2020. A court on Tuesday ruled that the couple will remain behind bars for now.

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