The FBI sting operation for debunking the clandestine ambitions of a Navy engineer and his wife for selling US nuclear secrets to a foreign nation could involve China.
While the FBI unearthed the conspiracy last year, both accused pleaded guilty this week.
Nuclear engineer caught red-handed for providing American secrets to China
Jonathan Tobbee, alongside his wife Diana Toebbe, was taken into custody in October last year for conspiring to sell US nuclear secrets to a foreign nation.
Although the FBI kept the name of the foreign country secret, the Washington Times noted the unnamed nation is China.
According to the Washington Times, China is the country mentioned as “Country 1” in FBI documents. Upon inquiry, the Justice Department did not comment if China was the country involved in the episode.
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) October 11, 2021
However, if China is really involved in using American individuals for stealing critical information, it would be just another case of FBI investigation into Chinese spying and technology theft ambitions.
Earlier this month, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the agency is busy debunking Chinese spying operations so much a new case is opened almost every 12 hours.
Likewise, he stated these operations of China are responsible for inflicting damage to many American industries.
Back in April 2020, the FBI received a letter with some documents attached. The letter noted the documents should be handed over to the US military in urgency and must not be treated as a hoax.
Jonathan was a civilian nuclear engineer working on top-secret projects in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion program. Both he and his wife Dianna plead guilty on Monday and Friday, respectively.
Diana Toebbe, 46, changed her plea four days after her husband, Jonathan Toebbe, pleaded guilty, admitting he shared data and documents with details about nuclear submarines.https://t.co/izuJ6oXXEE
— Stars and Stripes (@starsandstripes) February 18, 2022
FBI launched sting operations to arrests Toebbes
In their sting operations, both the CIA and FBI employed “dangles” agents, who are usually recruited in intelligence operations. These people talked to Toebbe, posing themselves as Chinese buyers of the crucial information.
When they asked the engineer to meet face to face, Toebbe rejected it, saying it was too risky for him.
The FBI agents impersonating as Chinese spies communicated to Toebbe they were interested in the deal of buying nuclear information and urged the engineer to respond to their message.
Consequently, Tobbee replied in February 2021.
After that, the FBI messaged the conspirator to see if he could provide specific nuclear propulsion information to their undercover agent in the United States.
Once again, Tobbee was reluctant to meet in person and asked the FBI for $10,000 worth of cryptocurrency. Later on, Toebbe received almost $20,000 and $70,000 for providing Navy submarine reactor secrets to the FBI.
While Toebbe can face a jail sentence of up to 17 years, his wife is likely to be in prison for three years.
As of now, only six countries operate nuclear submarines. Included in them are the United States, China, United Kingdom, France, and India.
Under the newly signed agreement of AUKUS, Australia is also expected to get its hand on this technology in the near future.