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Nuclear peanut butter sandwich gets engineer in a jam with the FBI

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An engineer and his wife have been arrested by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) for trying to sell confidential nuclear warship data hidden in a peanut butter sandwich.

The US Department of Justice named Jonathan and Diana Toebbe suspects in a plot to sell information to a foreign government on Sunday. The suspects tried to sell restricted-class data to a foreign entity in exchange for cryptocurrency, according to the complaint.

According to US prosecutors, “Toebbe worked with and had access to information concerning naval nuclear propulsion, including military sensitive design elements, operating parameters, and performance characteristics of the reactors for nuclear-powered warships.”

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Nuclear engines and peanut butter sandwiches

Jonathan served as a nuclear engineer for the US Navy working on the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and had high-level national security clearance. He even allegedly sent a pack of sample information to an unnamed foreign government along with a letter on April 1, 2020. 

The engineer used Protonmail for back-and-forth communication over several months using the names ‘Alice’ and ‘Bob’. The contactee even sent Jonathan a payment worth $10000 in Monero by June 8 in “good faith.” Several weeks later, Jonathan made the first drop. 

The couple travelled to an agreed drop location in West Virginia. Diana was on lookout duty while Jonathan made the drop, placing an SD card in a half-eaten peanut butter sandwich. The SD card contained stolen nuclear reactor program information.

The contactee, an undercover FBI agent, retrieved the SD card and sent the engineer another $20,000 in cryptocurrency. After this payment, Toebbe emailed the agent the decryption key required to access the data.

The FBI was able to verify the legitimacy of the data and arranged for a second drop for $70,000. This time, the SD card was smuggled in a chewing gum packet. Among the stolen data were schematics for the Virginia-class submarine, a $3 billion design of which vehicles are in active service and are expected to be there till at least 2060. 

Finally, after arranging for yet another drop, the couple was arrested on October 9 and are now due to appear in a Martinsburg, West Virginia federal court on October 12 facing accusations of conspiracy to communicate restricted data and communicating restricted data as violations of the Atomic Energy Act.

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Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah is a Computer Science graduate who writes/edits/shoots/codes all things cybersecurity, gaming, and tech hardware. When he's not, he streams himself racing virtual cars. He's been writing and reporting on tech and cybersecurity with websites like Candid.Technology and MakeUseOf since 2018. You can contact him here:

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