Charged with attempts to sell secret data related to American nuclear submarines to an unnamed foreign entity, a US engineer and his wife could face life in prison.
The hearing for Jonathan Toebbe, 42, and wife Diane, 45, is set to take place next week, USA Today reported.
"By all accounts, the (shared) information was critical," said Philip Mudd, a former CIA official who also served as deputy director of the FBI's National Security Branch. "Unless there was an opportunity to see the information downloading to a thumb drive or something, I'm not sure you get such a jump (on the investigation)."
The two were actually in touch with an FBI undercover agent after the country they were trying to sell the data to notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) arrested the Toebbes in Jefferson County, West Virginia, last week.
Had that country not turned the information over, the solicitation could have avoided US detection, suggested David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in Florida.
"I don't know, maybe 50-50 they find out eventually," Weinstein said. "This was more an example of fiction becoming reality."
‘This is not a hoax!’
US Navy documents, an SD disc and a letter were initially sent to an unspecified foreign country in December 2020, which ended up in the hands of the FBI attaché in that country.
"Please forward this letter to your military intelligence agency. I believe this information will be of great value to your nation," the letter in the package allegedly said. "This is not a hoax."
He initially received $10,000 in cryptocurrency to drop some sensitive documents somewhere in West Virginia.
"Records show that JONATHAN TOEBBE is a government employee working as a nuclear engineer for the United States Navy and holds an active Top Secret Security Clearance through the United States Department of Defense and an active Q clearance from the United States Department of Energy," according to court documents.
He received $100,000 in total to sell restricted data related to American nuclear submarines in three drop-off, which could have potentially undermine the US national security.
"Specifically, the US Navy subject matter expert determined that several of the documents contained militarily sensitive design elements, operating parameters, and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors," stated court documents.
The data was apparently related to Virginia-class nuclear-powered cruise missile submarines, which are expected to be in use at the navy by the year 2060.
"The US Navy subject matter expert determined that multiple documents on the SD card contained Restricted Data. Specifically, the U.S. Navy subject matter expert determined that the document contained schematic designs for the Virginia-class submarine. Virginia-class submarines are nuclear-powered cruise missile fastattack submarines, which incorporate the latest in stealth, intelligence gathering, and weapons systems technology," read the documents. "Virginia-class submarines, with a per unit cost of approximately $3 billion, are currently in service with the United States Navy and are expected to remain in service until at least 2060."