WASHINGTON — A nuclear engineer for the U.S. Navy and his wife have been charged with trying to share some of the United States’ most closely held secrets on submarine technology with another country, according to court documents unsealed on Sunday.
The engineer, Jonathan Toebbe, was accused of trying to sell information on the nuclear propulsion system of Virginia-class attack submarines — the technology at the heart of a recent deal that the United States and Britain struck with Australia.
While rivals like Russia and China have long sought details of U.S. submarine propulsion, based on the details in the court documents, some experts thought the unsolicited offer could have been aimed at a friendly country, not an adversary.
There is no allegation from the F.B.I. or the Justice Department that the foreign country obtained any classified information. But Mr. Toebbe had high-level clearances in nuclear engineering, and his service record showed that as a member of the Navy Reserve, he worked for 15 months from the office of the chief of naval operations, the top officer in the Navy.
An F.B.I. affidavit described the Toebbes as employing somewhat sophisticated encryption methods but extremely sloppy practices as they communicated with who they thought were representatives of a foreign power but turned out to be F.B.I. agents. They insisted on careful use of cryptocurrency and encrypted their messages, but they were lured into depositing the information, usually on small digital cards, at sites where they could be easily observed.
Mr. Toebbe has worked for the military as a civilian since 2017. He was commissioned in the Navy and rose to the
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