Just a little light treason

You've probably heard about the recent espionage caper, but if you haven't read the actual court document, you should! It's a page-turner!

Criminal Complaint: Conspiracy to Communicate Restricted Data:

On June 18, 2021, the UC posing as a representative of COIJNTRY1 emailed "ALICE" to provide detailed instructions on servicing a dead drop location in Jefferson County, West Virginia to occur on June 26, 2021. [...]

34. On June 26, 2021, at approximately 10:41 a.m., the FBI observed JONATHAN TOEBBE physically service a dead drop location in Jefferson County, West Virginia. Records show that JONATHAN TOEBBE is a government employee working as a nuclear engineer for the United States Navy and holds an active Top Secret Security Clearance through the United States Department of Defense and an active Q clearance from the United States Department of Energy.

People keep busting on them for having terrible opsec, but I dunno, I think they did ok. And I watched all six seasons of The Americans, so I'm kind of an expert on this.

But when the party that you are trying to engage in international espionage flips on you to the FBI at your very first contact, it's pretty much over.

The other surprising thing about this is, they did this for only $100k? I know that criminals aren't always the best decision-makers, but when you do the risk/reward analysis of something like this, come on! "On the one hand they might execute us... on the other hand, we could make as much money as six months' salary!" (Dude was a nuclear engineer, that job doesn't pay minimum wage.)

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12 Responses:

  1. Dave says:

    Diana and I were friends in high school. Reading the details in the complaint has been one of the major "WTF?!" experiences in life for me.

  2. AmericansWatcher says:

    That’s my big question in all of this. How did a nuclear engineer (aka, not a complete moron) pick a country that had a resident FBI liaison who they immediately contacted? What, was he trying to sell secrets to the Australians? The Israelis?

    • AmericansWatcher says:

      Actually, now that I say it. Prob the Australians. They ratted the guy out, and we said sure, we’ll just lease you the nuke subs

    • jack lecou says:

      The cover letter apologizes for the "poor translation into your language," which narrows it down a little. Ozzies talk funny, but not that funny. And I doubt they would've even attempted translating into Hebrew.

      France, maybe? It fits the part fantasizing about someday reminiscing with his "contact" over a glass of wine at a cafe. A little weird because France is a nuclear power, but...everything about this story is weird and inexplicable.

      (Or Germany? Italy? Maaaybe Latin America (Brazil? Argentina?), but that seems like a stretch. Someplace like the Czech Republic might kinda work too, assuming he was too dumb to realize they're NATO allies. And landlocked.)

    • Nick Lamb says:

      Nah. The Russians.

      Think about it. You're the Russians, some American allegedly wants to sell you a bunch of documents about nuclear submarines. But you have nuclear submarines. This is a technology you already know a lot about. There will undoubtedly be some interesting information in these documents if they're real, but how much? And this isn't stuff offered by a supporter, they're clear that this is a cash situation. It's going to cost you money to find out.

      So you weigh it up, and, after a period of time, you decide to give it to the Americans in exchange for some favor, the nature of which of course will not have been revealed to the FBI let alone a US Federal judge or us. Worst case, it was 100% on the up-and-up, the submarine documents would have saved you a bunch of R&D and this was a bad call. Best case, the stupid CIA sent this and you squeeze some favors out of your US contact in exchange for material that they know is actually worthless dog shit.

      • AmericansWatcher says:

        I’m not in this world at all, but the Russians theory doesn’t match with this indictment.

        One, it really seems like his first response was from the FBI. Which means NATO, Five Eyes or Israel

        Two, its pretty obvious even from open source intel (like LinkedIn) this guy had the real goods. So if you’re the Russians you play it out. Worst case, you get somebody PNG’d. What do they care? They’re murdering people in London and DC with no repercussions. Best case, even if this specific info isn’t useful because you have nuke subs (unlikely that the schematics aren’t useful in some way), you can then squeeze this guy for next gen shit.

        • Anomenat says:

          One, the indictment says that his first package was passed to the FBI legal attaché in that country. The FBI has legal attachés in 60 different countries, not just NATO, Five Eyes or Israel.

          Two, he didn't reveal his name. There was no way for anyone to look him up on LinkedIn and see that he was really a nuclear engineer.

          His mistake was really just cold calling a foreign country and offering to be a spy. They'd have to assume it's a set up, at which point turning him over to the FBI is the obvious thing to do. Nick Lamb is right!

  3. Nick Lamb says:

    ALICE wants a total of $5M for the secrets. So, unless the US is paying nuclear engineers a lot better than I think, that's a life-changing amount of extra money.

    Also, you mention execution, and sure, the US is barbaric and does actually execute its own citizens both as extra-judicial punishment (though mostly not in US territory, at least, officially sanctioned) and as an actual de jure criminal penalty, but it's not as though execution is at all likely if you get caught for this sort of white color crime.

    The US Federal Government uses execution almost exclusively as a penalty for aggravated murder. If you can get the US public really angry about somebody, and they've got a confirmed body count, you might even have them killed on TV while there's a Democrat in the White House, though I wouldn't guarantee it today. But espionage? I wouldn't be surprised if she walks and he gets a few years in some minimum security facility with people who gambled their company pension fund or stole from charity boxes - and then emerges to share the $5M they received not from COUNTRY1 but from a Hollywood studio that made a successful star vehicle out of their "true" story.

    • apm74 says:

      This is small potatoes compared to what Ames or Hanssen gave away and they're "just" living out life sentences without the possibility of parole. Hanssen in particular getting to spend his life in the most uncomfortable setting available to the Federal BoP in Colorado.

  4. Zygo says:

    My favorite line is:

    your generosity so far also matches exactly an adversaries [sic] likely play to entrap me.

    Well, he wasn't wrong...

    • jack lecou says:

      There's a certain "I’m not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool; you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me," vibe to it, isn't there?

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