US nuclear engineer sells restricted data to undercover FBI agents in exchange for crypto
A nuclear engineer, Jonathan Toebbe, has been arrested with his wife and Diana Toebbe, in the United States’ West Virginia on charges of spying and selling restricted data.
According to news reports, the couple had sold information about nuclear-powered warship designs for almost a year to an individual they thought was a foreign citizen.
However, the contact was an undercover FBI agent who was sending them payments in crypto as a ransom for the restricted data.
Both Jonathan and Diana Toebbe were apprehended on October 9 by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). They are slated to appear in a federal court on October 12, said a statement by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.
Garland has further said that the complaint charges include a plot to transmitting information relating to the “design of nuclear submarines to a foreign nation.”
Jonathan Toebbe was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and was holding an active national security clearance through the Department of Defense.
Back in April 2021, the FBI had raised suspicion on Toebbe after discovering he sent a package containing data and instructions on establishing covert communications.
Following the suspicion, this year in June, an undercover agent sent $10,000 to Toebbe in an unspecified crypto token as a “good faith” gesture on receiving the sample data with instructions.
Reportedly, the couple had used a “dead drop” for hiding an SD card having more information inside a peanut butter sandwich. For this, the agent paid another $20,000 in cryptocurrency for the decryption keys.
Another “dead drop” happened when the FBI paid $70,000 worth of crypto to Toebbe for more data on US nuclear submarines. The FBI arrested the Toebbes after a third drop had been organized.
This wasn’t the first incident when US federal agencies used cryptocurrencies as part of investigations targeting crimes. In August 2021, the US State Department began offering compensation in crypto tokens through its “rewards for Justice” website in exchange for leads on capturing high-ranking foreign terrorism suspects.