Couple Arrested After Spreading U.S. Navy Secrets Via a Peanut Butter Sandwich

The couple also used a chewing gum package to leak secrets.

What do espionage and a peanut butter sandwich have in common? A Maryland couple who thought they could outsmart the US government, apparently. According to the United States Department of Justice, Jonathan Toebbe allegedly tried to sell information about our nuclear-powered submarines to a foreign government. In his first attempt, he used half of a peanut butter sandwich, and in another attempt to pass the information on, Toebbe used a chewing gum package.

Toebbe served as a nuclear engineer for the United States Navy and was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, also known as Naval Reactors. According to the United States Department of Justice, "Toebbe held an active national security clearance through the US Department of Defense, giving him access to restricted data. He worked with and had access to information concerning naval nuclear propulsion including information related to military sensitive design elements." So basically, this man had some blueprints for US nuclear power.

On April 1, 2020, Toebbe sent a package to a foreign government with instructions for establishing a relationship, a sample of restricted data, and info on how to purchase more restricted data. According to the criminal complaint, Toebee allegedly wrote, "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. This is not a hoax."

After that, the 42-year-old began corresponding encrypted emails with someone he believed to be a foreign government representative. When in reality, he was talking to an undercover FBI agent. Toebbe continued his correspondence for several months, which eventually led to an agreement to sell restricted data in exchange for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.

Things started to move along this past June when the undercover agent sent Toebbe a "good faith" payment of $10,000 in Monero cryptocurrency. Following the payment, according to the criminal complaint, Toebbe and his 45-year-old wife, Diana, went to a "dead drop" location in West Virginia where the couple left a plastic-wrapped SD card inside of a peanut butter sandwich. The SD card had thousands of pages of restricted information on it, and some of that information was related to submarine nuclear reactors.

After the FBI agent received the peanut butter-covered SD card, they sent Toebbe a $20,000 payment. In July, Toebbe decided it was time to drop some more top-secret knowledge, but this time he left the SD card in a Band-Aid wrapper. On Toebbe's third and last successful info dump, he concealed an SD card inside a package of chewing gum. For his final exchange, Toebbe earned $70,000 to deliver a decryption key. On October 9, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, his lookout in all of the exchanges, were arrested at a second prearranged location in West Virginia.

"The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation," says Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. Attorney General Garland also added, "The work of the FBI, Department of Justice prosecutors, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Department of Energy was critical in thwarting the plot charged in the complaint and taking this first step in bringing the perpetrators to justice."

The Toebbes were charged with alleged violations of the Atomic Energy Act. The couple is scheduled to appear in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia, on Tuesday, October 12, 2021.

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Janae Price is a News Staff Writer at Thrillist. She's a native New Yorker and loves all things cheese, K-pop, and culture. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @janae_larie.