The FBI’s bite in the Navy’s nuclear secrets case may have ties to China

The FBI According to The Washington Times, the operation, in which a U.S. Navy engineer in Annapolis and his wife were captured in a conspiracy to sell the secrets of nuclear submarines, involved an unidentified foreign nation, which could be China.

Jonathan Toebe and him wife Diana Toebbe were arrested on October 9 on charges of conspiracy to sell limited nuclear data to a foreign nation whose identity was kept secret throughout the process.

But while prosecutors still do not say which country was involved, the details of the case and the court’s materials suggest that the foreign state named in the court documents as “Country 1” may be China.

Jonathan Toebe, a civilian nuclear engineer designed for a naval nuclear program known as Naval Reactors, pleaded guilty Monday. On friday him wife Diana Toebbe, a schoolteacher, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy. A Justice Department spokesman had no comment on whether China was a “country 1” to which the couple turned to sell documents for classified information.

If China was a country that Toebs turned to about the secrets of American nuclear submarines. it would be among the hundreds FBI investigations into Chinese espionage and technology theft.

“The Chinese government is stealing staggering amounts of information and causing deep damage that will destroy jobs in a wide range of industries – so much so that … we are constantly opening new cases to counter their reconnaissance operations, about every 12 hours,” FBI Director Christopher Ray said earlier this month.

According to the criminal case on the criminal case, Fr. FBI legal attache in an undisclosed foreign country received in April 2020 a letter and documents offering espionage, which will be tracked later Jonathan Toebe.

“I apologize for this poor translation into your language,” the letter said. “Please pass this letter to your military intelligence. I believe this information will be of great value to your nation. This is not a hoax. “

The FBI Affidavit, which sets out the case, provides the only public clue linking China to the case. The FBI The agent who signed the testimony was Jason Van Trump of the Pittsburgh office, who received awards for his work on Chinese counterintelligence.

Mr. Wang Trump along with two other federal agents received an award from the Department of Justice in 2020 for his work on two successful prosecutions of criminal cases involving China. The cases featured West Virginia University professors Qinyun Sun and James Patrick Lewis.

Both scholars have pleaded guilty to cases involving China’s Thousand Talents Program, Beijing’s government program that critics say was used to recruit American university professors to produce advanced technology and other know-how for China’s military-civilian development. FBI Counterintelligence agents have traditionally remained in charge of conducting business in their geographical area.

However, not all signs clearly point to Beijing. Evidence that China may not have been the target of a spy offer is the fact that instead of accepting the proposed secrets of the nuclear submarine, representatives of “Country 1” handed over Mr. Toebe’s letter to FBI in this country the Chinese secret services are unlikely to engage.

Only six countries operate nuclear submarines: the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China and India. Australia is expected to acquire nuclear submarines as part of a recent deal with the United States and the United Kingdom.

Another possible clue as to the identity of the country involved in the operation was Mr Toeba’s response FBI an undercover agent who pretended to be the country’s agent 1. A naval engineer at one point in his reports said he would look forward to one day drinking a glass of wine with his foreign agent, suggesting that the country could be France.

Bite surgery was also involved FBI signaling the object of a foreign state indicating that it is a friendly state cooperating with FBI.

The case had many features of a spy novel. Once the letter was received in FBI in December 2020, a large-scale counterintelligence operation involving the exchange of encrypted emails, a fall with an SD memory card with secrets hidden in a sandwich, secret encrypted communications exchanges, messages displayed at a foreign state building in Washington and the transfer of funds using unsaved cries.

According to FBI sworn testimony, the most detailed explanation of the fact in the case, Mr. Toebe’s letter to a foreign nation was key.

“December 20, 2020 FBIThe Attaché in Country 1 received a package that Representatives of Country 1 received in April 2020 through a postal carrier from the United States to an unknown entity in an attempt to establish a secret relationship, ”Mr. Wang said in a 23-page criminal complaint. Trump. “The package contained US Navy documents, an instruction letter and an SD card containing specific instructions on how Country 1 should respond using an encrypted communications platform, and additional documents.”

The package was described as a brown envelope with four U.S. postage stamps and a postal barcode with a return address in Pittsburgh.

As to why foreign intelligence did not prosecute the spy officer, analysts say the foreign nation may not have needed submarine secrets or may have considered the offer part of a counterintelligence operation. Court documents in the case identified the reactor technology as related to a Virginia-class strike submarine.

Virginia-class high-speed submarines are among the Navy’s most powerful nuclear-powered submarines and can fire both torpedoes and missiles. Submarines will play a major role in any conflict with China.

The submarine is powered by the SG9 nuclear reactor, a ninth-generation power plant built by General Electric. In recent years, GE has become a frequent target of Chinese economic espionage and theft of trade secrets.

The FBI and the CIA use what are called “bvistas” – controlled agents who pretend to be people who offer to spy for other countries as a way to obtain intelligence or disinformation operations.

Whatever the reason, the original package received FBI contained “confidential” naval secrets with promises of more information if a secret relationship could be established, the testimony said.

To attract Mr. Toebbe in a hidden relationship, at FBI Operation Sting switched to using encrypted emails for communication after the engineer rejected as too risky a request for a personal meeting with an agent who pretended to be a foreign intelligence officer.

“We received your letter. We want to work with you. It’s been many months, so we need to know if you’re still there. Please reply to this message, then we will give instructions on how to proceed, ”he said. FBIposing as a Chinese agent, he said.

Sir. Toebbe responded in February 2021 and blamed the restrictions on the COVID-19 pandemic him response delay.

Next, FBI asked for specific information about nuclear engines that could be provided to their undercover agent in the United States.

Sir. Toebbe again declined a face-to-face meeting and instead asked for $ 10,000 in the cryptocurrency Manero, a digital currency with privacy features that make it popular for illegal transactions. Manero describes its cryptocurrency on its website as “secure, private, untraceable”.

Sir. Toebbe later received $ 20,000 and $ 70,000 in cryptocurrency in exchange for supplying reactor secrets to Navy submarines.

Two dead drops included that the engineer placed SD cards containing encrypted nuclear secrets, in half a peanut butter sandwich and in a piece of chewing gum. Toebbe later sent the decryption keys via email to the alleged hsi handler he received payments in cryptocurrency.

At another point in the bite operation, FBI managed to signal the rally on the weekend of Remembrance Day from the building run by a foreign government, which from the street will see Mr. Toebbe.

“It will bring you comfort with a signal on display from an area inside our property that we control, not [sic] the enemy, ”the complaint reads FBI posing as a Chinese agent, as said. “If you agree, please confirm. We will then give additional instructions about the signal. We hope that this plan will continue to create the necessary trust and comfort of our identity. “

The FBI from May 29 to 30, 2021, “conducted an operation in the Washington area of ​​the District of Columbia, which provided for the location of the signal in a location associated with country 1, in an attempt to obtain a bona fide connection with” ALICE “,” the complaint said. “Alice” is Mr. Toeb’s code name in communication.

During the pre-trial exchange of documents, Jonathan Toebe denied him the wife was involved in the case. However, the prosecutor’s office denied that Mr. Toebbe knew about espionage and “acted as an observer” for Toebe while revealing secrets at one point.

Attorney Toebbe did not respond to a request for comment. Diana Toebe’s lawyer declined to comment before the verdict.

Mr. Toebe’s plea agreement provides for imprisonment for a term of 12 to 17 1/2 years. Diana Toebbe may receive up to three years in prison.

The couple pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transfer limited data to a foreign state. The maximum penalty for the charge is life imprisonment.

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