Navy engineer, wife busted for trying to sell confidential info

Listen to this article

This is nuts!

A turncoat Navy engineer was bagged by the feds for trying to pass along US nuclear secrets — inside half a peanut-butter sandwich, court documents allege.

The 42-year-old Maryland suspect found himself in a jam when it turned out the foreign operative he thought he was dealing with was actually an FBI agent, according to a federal criminal complaint unsealed Sunday.

The feds say Jonathan Toebbe of Annapolis stashed secrets about the country’s Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines on a blue, plastic-coated SD memory card — then sandwiched the tiny device between two slabs of bread slathered with peanut butter.

“The half sandwich was housed inside of a plastic bag,” the complaint said.

Toebbe also allegedly used a Band-Aid wrapper and pack of chewing gum to help hide SD cards at other times.

He would make drop-offs of material at various locations — with his wife, Diana, a 45-year-old teacher, acting as his “lookout,” authorities said.

Channeling his best inner John le Carré, Toebbe allegedly wrote at one point to his purported foreign contact, “One day, when it is safe, perhaps two old friends will have a chance to stumble into each other at a cafe, share a bottle of wine and laugh over stories of their shared exploits.’’

He and his wife were arrested Saturday in Jefferson County, W. Va., accused by the FBI for violating the Atomic Energy Act, the Justice Department said.

Jonathan Toebbe and his wife used memory cards hidden inside a peanut butter sandwich and a Band-Aid wrapper to transmit the secrets.
Amanda R. Gray/U.S. Navy via AP, File

All told, the feds shelled out $100,000 of the cryptocurrency Monero to Toebbe to make him believe they were a foreign government paying for the classified information, authorities said.

The feds’ espionage investigation began in December 2020 when an FBI official received a package that had allegedly been sent by Toebbe to an unidentified foreign country.

The package contained Navy documents and instructions on using “encrypted communications’’ — while expressing a desire by the sender to begin a “covert relationship,” the documents allege.

“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,” said a note inside the package, according to the complaint.

After verifying the validity of the confidential information, FBI agents posing as spies from the foreign country began communicating by e-mail with Toebbe, the complaint said.

After several e-mail exchanges, Toebbe allegedly wrote in March that he would provide the documents in return for cryptocurrency payments.

All of the memory cards contained information about the designs of Virginia-class nuclear submarines, the feds said.

The couple was busted when they showed up at a “dead drop” location in West Virginia, US authorities said.

The couple is  expected to appear in federal court in Martinsburg, W.Va., on Tuesday.

It’s unknown who is representing the husband and wife.