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Got Lunch? Navy Nuclear Engineer Attempted to Hide Classified Docs in Peanut Butter Sandwich

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One of the Navy’s nuclear engineers “with access to military secrets has been charged with trying to pass information about the design of American nuclear-powered submarines to someone he thought was a representative of a foreign government who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent, the Justice Department said Sunday” reports the Associated Press.

A criminal complaint has been filed against Jonathan Toebbe, 42, who was arrested with his wife, Diana, 45, in West Virginia. The Justice Department says Toebbe placed a removable memory card at a prearranged “dead drop”.

“The FBI recovered a blue memory card wrapped in plastic and placed between two slices of bread on a half of a peanut butter sandwich, court documents say. The records on the memory card included design elements and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors” reports the AP.

Toebbe faces espionage-related charges for trying to sell government secrets to a contact he believed represented a foreign power for almost an entire year. The Navy declined to comment Sunday, and “the FBI says the scheme began in April 2020 when Jonathan Toebbe sent a package of Navy documents to a foreign government and wrote that he was interested in selling to that country operations manuals, performance reports and other sensitive information.”

Authorities say the FBI used Toebbe’s outreach to begin the almost yearlong operation. An undercover agent emailed with Toebbe for weeks and eventually sent him about $10,000 in cryptocurrency as a sign of good faith and trust.

Toebbe’s package had a return address in Pittsburgh and “Was obtained by the FBI last December through its legal attaché office in the unspecified foreign country” reports the AP. “The court documents don’ explain how the FBI came to receive the package or from whom.”

The package also included a letter that 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.”

Only weeks later, agents watched Toebbe make the drop at an agreed-upon location in West Virginia, “with Diana Toebbe appearing to serve as a lookout for her husband during a dead-drop operation for which the FBI paid $20,000.”

The Associated Press reports:

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, including one in August in eastern Virginia for which Toebbe was paid roughly $70,000. In that instance, prosecutors say, he concealed in a chewing gum package a memory card that contained schematic designs for the Virginia-class submarine.

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