US Nuclear Submarine Spy Couple Reportedly Tried to Hawk Stolen Cache of Secrets to Brazil

© US Navy / Chris Oxley / The Virginia-class fast-attack submarine USS California
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Former US Navy engineer Jonathan Toebbe, pleaded guilty last month to trying to sell classified information pertaining to the technology behind the nuclear reactors that power the American submarine fleet, after being accused in October 2021 in an espionage case.
Jonathan Toebbe, a former naval engineer, approached Brazil nearly two years ago with an offer to sell classified documents about American nuclear reactors that he had stolen from the US Navy Yard in Washington, according to The New York Times.
Toebbe, 43, was arrested in October and accused of trying to pass information about designs for nuclear-powered submarines to an undercover FBI agent posing as a representative of a foreign government, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to communicate restricted data at a hearing in West Virginia on 14 February.
He faces a possible sentence of 12 ½ to 17 ½ years in prison, according to a court filing.
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His wife, Diana Toebbe, was also arrested in October on two counts of communication of restricted data and one count of conspiracy to communicate restricted data, however, she pleaded not guilty.
The identity of the foreign nation that Jonathan and Diana Toebbe had approached had remained publicly undisclosed.

Submarine Secrets ‘On sale’

Last year, court documents had revealed the couple thought of a country that was rich enough to buy the classified information, not hostile to the US, but eager to acquire the technology they were selling. The country in question was Brazil, according to a senior Brazilian official and other people briefed on the investigation, cited by the outlet.
Apparently, soliciting traditional adversaries of Washington, such as Moscow or Beijing, to acquire the secrets was deemed morally reprehensible by the duo.
In a message left on a memory card hidden in a Band-Aid wrapper, the Toebbes had sought $5 million in cryptocurrency in return for some 11,000 pages of information, the court heard last year from the FBI agent who surveilled the couple, Peter Olinits.
“This information was slowly and carefully collected over several years in the normal course of my job to avoid attracting attention and smuggled past security checkpoints, a few pages at a time,” the note on the memory card said.
Jonathan Toebbe’s outreach, according to the report, came as then-President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, dubbed at the time as “Trump of the tropics” for appearing to emulate the POTUS in tone and style, had strengthened the countries’ alliance.
The offer also came as Brazil continued to struggle with its submarine nuclear reactor programme, a source was cited as saying.
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In April 2020, Jonathan Toebbe sent a letter offering stolen secrets to Brazil’s military intelligence agency, according to the publication.
However, Brazilian officials handed the letter over to the FBI legal attaché in the country, after which, in December 2020, an undercover agent posed as a Brazilian official to gain Toebbe’s trust.
Finally, Toebbe, who had worked on the US Navy’s nuclear propulsion programme, reportedly agreed to deposit the classified docs in a location chosen by investigators.
Initially, Toebbe wanted to deal by email, eventually persuaded to store the data on SD cards, which he would leave at designated “dead drop” locations, said prosecutors in the case.
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The SD cards containing the secrets were concealed in a peanut butter sandwich, a chewing gum package and a sealed Band-Aid wrapper, with drops made in June, July, August and October, according to court documents. The cards are said to have included designs for the Us Navy’s nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarines, which incorporate stealth technology.
Jonathan Toebbe had also offered technical assistance to Brazil’s nuclear-submarine programme, claiming to have accumulated years of experience while working for the US Navy.
The couple, who lived in Annapolis, Md., were arrested in October 2021, with Jonathan Toebbe pleading guilty last month.
US officials, which have repeatedly said the couple had not tried to sell the secrets to the United States’ main adversaries, nor to its closest NATO allies, originally sought to release the name of the country the Toebbes had solicited, says the report. However, Brazilian officials insisted their cooperation with the FBI should be classified.
There has not yet been any official comment on the report from the White House, Justice Department or FBI.
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