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A US Navy nuclear submarine engineer has been charged with passing military secrets to a 'foreign power' – via a peanut butter sandwich.

The 42-year-old was arrested on espionage-related charges after an FBI sting involving agents posing as foreign spies.

The FBI says the scheme began in April 2020 when Jonathan Toebbe sent a package of navy documents to a foreign government and said he was interested in selling operations manuals, performance reports and other sensitive information.

In exchange for the information, the FBI said he received separate payments of around $ 100,000 ( £73,500 ).

Authorities say he also provided instructions for how to conduct the furtive relationship, with a letter that said : "I apologize for this poor translation into your language.

please forward this letter to your military intelligence agency.

I believe this information will be of great value to your nation.

The couple are accused of trying to sell secrets to an unspecified foreign government over a period of several months (Picture: Instagram)

this is not a hoax."

The message was intercepted and the FBI began an undercover operation which involved a series of exchanges between Mr Toebbe and agents in return for money.

In order to gain his trust, FBI agents planted a 'signal' at a building in Washington DC associated with the country Mr Toebbe thought he was dealing with after he suggested they could ‘ raise a flag ’ on the roof to prove their authenticity.

Toebbe was arrested in West Virginia on Saturday along with his wife, a teacher, after he had placed a removable memory card at a prearranged 'dead drop' in the state, according to the Justice Department.

PICTURED: Diane Toebbe, 45, and Jonathan Toebbe, 42, were charged with espionage and violation of the Atomic Energy Act after the FBI received a package from an unidentified foreign country saying it had received sensitive classified information on Americ

the fbi recovered a blue memory card wrapped in plastic and placed between two slices of bread on a peanut butter sandwich, the complaint says.

the memory card also included a typed message that said, in part :' i hope your experts are very happy with the sample provided and i understand the importance of a small exchange to grow our trust. '

Mr Toebbe told agents he had 'passports and cash set aside' for a quick getaway after asking for help being ‘ extracted ’ should the plot be uncovered, according to the justice department.

On another occasion, Mr Toebba was paid around $ 70,000 for information on a memory card which he had concealed in a chewing gum packet.

Teacher Diana Toebbe is accused of acting as a lookout during the exchange of documents (Picture: Facebook)

The complaint alleges violations of the Atomic Energy Act, which restricts the disclosure of information related to atomic weapons or nuclear materials.

A US navy nuclear engineer with access to military secrets has been charged with trying to pass information about the design of American nuclear-powered submarines to someone he thought was a representative of a foreign government – but who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.

In a criminal complaint detailing espionage-related charges, he is alleged to have sold information for nearly the past year to a contact he believed represented a foreign power.

Jonathan Toebbe has worked for the US government since 2012, holding a top-secret security clearance and specializing in naval nuclear propulsion, the FBI says.

A bird's eye show of Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory lab, where the FBI claims is the only place where Toebbe could have obtained the classified information on US nuclear subs

That led to a months-long undercover operation in which an agent posing as a representative of the foreign government offered to pay thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency for the information Toebbe was offering.

In June, the FBI says, the undercover agent sent $ 10,000 in cryptocurrency to Toebbe, describing it as a sign of good faith and trust.

The following week, FBI agents watched as the Toebbes arrived at an agreed-upon location in West Virginia for the exchange, with Diana Toebbe appearing to serve as a lookout for her husband during the dead-drop operation, according to the complaint.

The FBI paid Toebbe $ 20,000 for the transaction and provided the contents of the SD card to a navy subject matter expert, who determined that the records included design elements and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors, the justice department said.

The residence of Jonathan and Diana Toebbe is shown on Sunday in Annapolis, Maryland, a day after it was searched by FBI agents

the fbi conducted similar dead-drop exchanges over the next several months, including one in august in virginia in which toebbe was paid $ 70,000 and concealed an sd card in a chewing gum package, the complaint says.

That country was not named in the court documents.

He was commissioned in the Navy and rose to the rank of lieutenant before moving to the Navy Rescue, which he left in December 2020 — the month the FBI established contact with him.

He also worked on naval reactors in Arlington, Virginia, from 2012 to 2014.

The leaked secrets contained 'militarily sensitive design elements, operating parameters and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors,' according to a federal court affidavit.

It is unclear how many counts the couple, who have two children and live in Annapolis, Maryland, face.

Diana Toebbe is a humanities teacher at the Key School, a private school in Annapolis.

They were both charged with conspiracy and "communication of restricted data" in violation of the Atomic Energy Act, and are scheduled to appear at a West Virginia federal court on Tuesday.

No one answered at the Toebbe residence on Sunday afternoon in a waterside Annapolis community by the South River.

A US Navy employee with high security clearance and his wife have been arrested after an undercover FBI sting (Picture: Instagram/AFP)

an outside light was on above the door and a dog barked inside.

John Cooley, who lives across the street from the Toebbes, said he counted more than 30 FBI agents on his block on Saturday from about 2.30pm until after dark.

He said agents went inside the home.

it wasn't immediately clear whether the toebbes are from annapolis, maryland.

The navy declined to comment.

' I understand your proposal to start a dead drop.

I will tell you the location and how to find the card.

After I confirm the second payment I will provide you with the decryption passphrase using the new communication method.

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.

A US navy engineer who is alleged to have hidden a memory card loaded with classified files in a peanut butter sandwich before leaving it at a "dead drop" location, has been charged with selling secrets about nuclear submarines.

It wasn't immediately clear whether either Toebbe had a lawyer who could speak on their behalf.

The FBI office in the foreign country received the package, which had a return address of Pittsburgh, last December.

Those submarines are sophisticated and nuclear-powered "cruise missile fast-attack submarines", according to the complaint.

He has also been assigned to a laboratory in the Pittsburgh area that officials say works on nuclear power for the US navy.

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