couple arrested for spying on nuclear submarines

Called to sail the depths of the sea, submarines never leave the surface of the news. On Saturday, a US Navy engineer and his wife were indicted in West Virginia for selling information about their technology to an FBI agent they believed represented a foreign power. They will appear on Tuesday.

A United States Navy engineer and his wife were arrested in West Virginia on Saturday and charged with selling secret information about nuclear submarines for the benefit of a foreign government, behind which an undercover FBI agent was hiding, he said Sunday. American justice.

“For almost a year”, writes the US Department of Justice.The 42-year-old nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe, assisted by his wife of 45, Diana, “sold protected information on the design of nuclear-powered warships to someone they believed was the representative of a foreign power,” but who was “an undercover FBI agent.” The ministry did not specify what “foreign power” it was.

The US District Attorney’s complaint for the Northern District of West Virginia, made public, specifically accuses the couple of having transmitted, “around June 26, 2021,” “militarily sensitive design elements, operating parameters, and performance characteristics. of the reactors of the “Virginia-class” submarines, the latest generation of attack submarines in the US fleet. The suspect, an engineer employed in the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program, “has been working since October 2012” on these issues. , according to the complaint.

“This is not a joke”

US nuclear submarines were recently at the center of a major diplomatic crisis between Paris and Washington, when Australia canceled a mega-contract with France to announce a strategic partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom. Denouncing a “betrayal”, a “duplicity” and a “contempt” on the part of its allies, Paris had called its ambassadors in Australia and the United States, an unprecedented gesture towards these two countries, on September 17.

The complaint of the US justice relates how the FBI agent came into contact with Jonathan Toebbe, after the interception of a first package that contained in particular “navy documents” and a computer map that gives the procedure to follow to establish a contact in an encrypted message.

“I apologize for this bad translation into your language,” says the engineer in a “letter”, in which he promises that “the information will be of great value to his nation” and that “it is not a hoax,” the complaint details.

Paid in cryptocurrency

According to excerpts from the exchanges, the undercover agent offers “a gift” from “a trusted friend in your country,” but the engineer, based in Annapolis, the Maryland state capital, is cautious and wants to be paid in crypto. . On several occasions between June and August, the man received payments in cryptocurrencies for $ 100,000, in exchange for which he handed over confidential information related to the reactors.

This data was contained on encrypted SD cards, deposited in preset locations in West Virginia, and hidden in a peanut butter sandwich or gum packet. The engineer wrote there under the name “Alice.” The couple were arrested by the FBI on Saturday after again dropping an SD card at a meeting place.

Charged with violating the atomic energy law, the Toebbe will appear in court for the first time Tuesday in the case, in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

Vince Fernandez

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