Nuclear Scientist Caught Trying To Trade Secrets For Crypto
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A US Nuclear scientist from Maryland pled guilty to an attempted espionage offense on February 14, 2022. He is accused of trying to sell US nuclear warship designs to a foreign entity for crypto.

Details Of The Arrest

According to an information charge published by the DoJ, Jonathan Toebbe 43, from Annapolis, Maryland, was arrested on October 9, 2021, after he placed an SD card containing state secrets at a dead drop in West Virginia.

Toebbe was working at the Department of the Navy as a nuclear engineer at the time of his arrest. During the time of his arrest, he was assigned to Naval Reactors, which are the nuclear plants that power naval ships. His authorization gave him access to restricted data concerning the design, manufacture, or utilization of atomic weapons as well as the production of nuclear material and their use to produce energy. Toebbe had clearance to a lot of information including the performance characteristics of naval nuclear-powered ships.

How He Was Caught

In April 2020, Toebbe sent a package to a foreign government with a listed return address. It contained a sample of restricted nuclear secrets as well as instructions on how the foreign government could buy more secrets. Toebbe began a correspondence with a person he believed to be a foreign government representative. In reality, it was an FBI agent. Eventually, Toebbe reached an agreement to sell nuclear secrets for thousands of dollars in crypto.

Initially, the FBI agent sent Toebbe $10,000 in crypto as a good faith payment. Toebbe then left the SD card at a dead drop inside a peanut butter sandwich. Once the agent had the SD card, they sent another $20,000 to Toebbe. After that, Toebbe sent the agent a decryption key for the SD card. When agents checked the SD card, they found that it indeed contained restricted data.

In another instance, Toebbe sent an SD card inside a pack of chewing gum, for which he received $70,000 in crypto. The SD card was checked and found to contain nuclear secrets.

In October 2021, the FBI eventually arrested Toebbe on charges of conspiring to communicate restricted data. He faces a life sentence and a $100,000 fine. However, he pled guilty and the sentence he faces was lowered to 12 and a half years in federal prison. The possible sentence for his wife, who was charged along with him, was not revealed in the DoJ press release. It has also not been revealed whether or not authorities were able to recover the crypto they sent to Toebbe.

Assistant AG Mathew G. Olsen, commenting on the arrest and charge, noted that Toebbe was entrusted with state secrets but he chose to betray that trust. He tried to sell the secrets for personal profit.

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