Nuclear engineer and wife charged with trying to sell nuclear warship data to foreign government

The FBI says it collared an engineer and his wife after they attempted to sell design data about nuclear-powered warships to a foreign power. Their contact, unfortunately, for them, was an FBI agent.

On June 8, 2021, the undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Jonathan Toebbe as "good faith" payment. Shortly afterwards, on June 26, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe traveled to a location in West Virginia. There, with Diana Toebbe acting as a lookout, Jonathan Toebbe placed an SD card concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich at a pre-arranged "dead drop" location. After retrieving the SD card, the undercover agent sent Jonathan Toebbe a $20,000 cryptocurrency payment. In return, Jonathan Toebbe emailed the undercover agent a decryption key for the SD Card. A review of the SD card revealed that it contained Restricted Data related to submarine nuclear reactors. On Aug. 28, Jonathan Toebbe made another "dead drop" of an SD card in eastern Virginia, this time concealing the card in a chewing gum package. After making a payment to Toebbe of $70,000 in cryptocurrency, the FBI received a decryption key for the card. It, too, contained Restricted Data related to submarine nuclear reactors. The FBI arrested Jonathan and Diana Toebbe on Oct. 9, after he placed yet another SD card at a pre-arranged "dead drop" at a second location in West Virginia.

Whenever I read that the FBI has arrested someone for a serious crime such as terrorism or espionage, my first assumption is that the FBI spent millions of dollars recruiting someone with an obvious vulnerability to radicalization then spent a year cultivating, manipulating and ultimately bullying that person into committing a crime using criminal materials the FBI supplied.

But this is much juicier. As reported/claimed, Toebbe solicited work directly from a foreign power by snail-mailing them a taster. Implied: it was either intercepted or the foreign power decided he was too hot and stupid to have anything to do with and turned him in.

Nat-sec chatterers wondering where the suspects are on the MICE chart (and who the foreign power is) suggest that the profile is not Russia or Iran-level adversaries, but a goldilocks country friendly enough so that it doesn't feel like betrayal, but not so closely allied that the material would be a phone call away anyway. France or Israel, perhaps. It all seems very Coen Brothersy.