US charges couple with attempting to sell secrets to unidentified foreign country

SSN-774 Virginia class submarine

AUTHORITIES IN THE UNITED States have charged a married couple with contacting a foreign power and trying to sell it military secrets, which some reports describe as “some of the United States’ most closely held”. Court documents unsealed on Sunday identify the couple as Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, of Annapolis, Maryland. The husband is reportedly a nuclear engineer who has been working on naval nuclear propulsion for at least a decade.

From 2017 until 2020, Toebbe worked for the United States military as a civilian nuclear engineer. He had a top-secret clearance and even worked for over a year out of the office of the Chief of Naval Operations —the head of the US Navy, who is typically an admiral. Toebbe reportedly left his government post in December of 2020. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a few months earlier he had sent a letter to a foreign government offering military secrets in return for money.

The US government claims that, in April of 2020, Toebbe sent a letter to a foreign government with a note asking its recipient to “please forward this letter to your military intelligence agency”. The note added: “I believe this information will be of great value to your nation. This is not a hoax”. However, the recipient of the letter forwarded the letter to the FBI, which proceeded to launch a sting operation targeting Toebbe. FBI special agents contacted Toebbe pretending to be representatives of the foreign government he had tried to contact by mail.

In a series of messages he exchanged with the FBI special agents, the nuclear engineer offered to share classified information relating to nuclear submarine propulsion, in exchange for $100,000 in cryptocurrency. According to the court documents, the information related to the propulsion system of the US Navy’s SSN-774 “Virginia” class submarines, which, according to The New York Times, is among “the United States’ most closely held secrets on submarine technology”.

Notably, the FBI affidavit does not identify the country that Toebbe attempted to solicit payments from. Given the fact that the country Toebbe had in mind voluntarily shared the information with the FBI, it is possible that it may be a Western country, rather than a country with which Washington has traditionally had adversarial relations. It is also important to note that the SSN-774 class submarine was at the heart of a recent diplomatic controversy between the United States, Australia and France.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 October 2021 | Permalink

More documents emerge on CIA effort to salvage Soviet submarine

Project AZORIANBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
New documents have emerged about a massive effort by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to recover a sunken Soviet nuclear submarine in the 1970s. This blog has written before about Project AZORIAN, a 1974 attempt to recover a Soviet submarine in 5,200 meters of water. The initiative cost the CIA over $800 million, which translates to something like $3 billion in today’s prices. It centered on an effort to salvage K-129, a Soviet Golf II class submarine that had suffered an internal explosion while on a routine patrol mission in the Pacific Ocean, in 1968. The explosion caused the vessel to sink along with the three nuclear ballistic missiles it was carrying and nearly 100 crew members, all of whom died in the incident. The Soviets initiated an immediate frantic effort to recover the vessel but gave up after two months, unable to bring it to the surface. After the Soviets abandoned the site, a number of CIA scientists proposed to undertake an American effort to recover the sunken submarine. This, they suggested, would allow Washington to study the design features of Soviet nuclear warheads, as well as obtain cryptographic hardware that could prove useful in deciphering Soviet naval codes. This prompted the launch of Project AZORIAN, which commenced in 1974, once the Agency secured the necessary funds. As we have indicated before, the recovery team nearly caused a nuclear explosion when the submarine split while being raised, and its body hit the ocean floor. The CIA prepared to enter a new phase of the project in 1975, aimed at launching a second attempt to raise the sunken vessel. But the attempt was cancelled when vague snippets of information about the project were leaked to the press. Nothing more emerged until 2010, when the CIA aired a heavily redacted article about the project, which had originally appeared in the 1980s in Studies in Intelligence, the Agency’s in-house publication. Now, however, intelligence historians are able to rely on 200 pages of mostly fresh information on Project AZORIAN, released under the US Department of State’s Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) program. Read more of this post

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