U.S. Navy Engineer Charged in Attempt to Sell Nuclear Submarine Secrets

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According to a criminal complaint, Jonathan Tobey and his wife tried several times to pass on information about nuclear propulsion systems to a foreign government.

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WASHINGTON – A US Navy nuclear engineer and his wife have been charged with attempting to share some of the United States’ best-kept secrets on submarine technology with another country. court documents Closed on Sunday.

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The engineer, Jonathan Toebe, was accused of trying to sell information on the nuclear propulsion systems of US Virginia-class attack submarines – the technology at the heart of recently announced deals with Britain and Australia.

While rivals such as Russia and China have long sought details of US submarine propulsion, it was unclear whether the unsolicited offer was for an adversary or an ally.

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Mr Tobe has served for the military as a civilian since 2017 and was originally part of the active-duty Navy. He has worked on naval nuclear propulsion since 2012, including a technology designed to reduce submarines’ noise and vibration, which can give away their location.

The classified materials in question included designs that could be useful to many different countries for building submarines. In the Australia deal, the United States and Britain will help the country deploy nuclear-powered submarines, which are equipped with nuclear propulsion systems that offer limitless range and move so quietly that they are difficult to detect.

Nuclear propulsion is one of the most closely tracked by the US Navy because the reactors are fueled by highly enriched uranium, which can also be converted into bomb fuel for nuclear weapons. Building compact, safe naval reactors is also a difficult engineering task. Until the agreement with Australia, the United States shared technology only with Britain, which began in 1958.

According to court documents, Toeb’s investigation began in December 2020, when the FBI received a package that was sent to another country with operational manuals, technical details and a proposal to establish a secret relationship. The package was intercepted in another country’s mail system and sent to an FBI legal attaché.

“Please forward this letter to your military intelligence agency,” read a note in the package. “I believe this information will be very important to your nation. This is not a hoax.”

The FBI followed the instructions in the package and began an encrypted conversation, in which the sender offered Navy secrets in exchange for $100,000 in cryptocurrency.

In a series of exchanges, the FBI persuaded the sender to leave information on a dead-fall in exchange for cryptocurrency payments. The FBI then found Mr. Tobey and his wife, Diana Tobey, at the drop site in West Virginia.

According to court documents, while Ms Tobe acted as a lookout, Mr Tobe left an SD card hidden inside half a peanut butter sandwich in a plastic bag. After receiving the sandwich by an undercover agent, $20,000 was sent to Mr. Tobe.

Agents then set up another Dead Drop in Pennsylvania and a third in Virginia, where they said Mr Tobe deposited an SD card hidden in a package of chewing gum.

While working at the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, a little-known government research facility in West Mifflin, PA, Mr. Toebe will have access to documents he is accused of passing on to an undercover FBI officer.

Many details of the exchanges were revised in the court documents, but there were references to scaled-up drawings and maintenance details. One cited a note, which documents reveal was written by one of Toebs, that the information “reflects decades of the US Navy’s ‘lessons learned’ that will help keep your sailors safe.”

The FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Services arrested Jonathan and Diana Tobe on Saturday. He will appear in federal court in Martinsburg, WV, on Tuesday.

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