In West Virginia, a nuclear engineer and his wife were detained on suspicion of spying and selling classified information to an FBI undercover agent who paid for the data in crypto.
For nearly a year, the pair sold sensitive information on nuclear-powered battleship designs to a person they thought represented a foreign country.
The contact, on the other hand, was an undercover US Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who paid for the data in cryptocurrency.
“The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation.”
Jonathan Toebbe worked as a nuclear engineer for the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and was granted active national security clearance by the US Department of Defense.
After receiving a box containing sample data and instructions on how to start clandestine conversations and purchase more information, the FBI became suspicious of Toebbe in April 2020.
After obtaining some sample data in June of this year, an undercover agent wired $10,000 in an unnamed cryptocurrency to Toebbe as “good faith” payment.
The agent paid an additional $20,000 in crypto for the decryption keys after the pair used a “dead drop” to put an SD card holding extra information inside half a peanut butter sandwich.
In a second dead drop, the FBI paid Toebbe $70,000 in cryptocurrency in exchange for more information on US nuclear submarines. The couple was apprehended by the FBI after a third drop was planned.
The event isn’t the first time that US federal agencies have employed cryptocurrency as part of criminal investigations.
The US State Department began giving cryptocurrency in exchange for information leading to the detention of high-ranking international terrorism suspects through its “rewards for Justice” website in August.
The FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) detained Jonathan and Diana Toebbe on Saturday. On Tuesday, they will appear in federal court. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland issued the following statement: