A husband and wife espionage team could face up to 10 years in prison after investigators discovered their alleged attempts to hide — and sell — top-secret military information in ordinary items such as a peanut butter sandwich and a stick of chewing gum.
The couple hoped to trade the national security details for $100,000 in privacy-focused crypto Monero.
According to the Department of Justice, US Navy engineer Jonathan Toebbe offered an unnamed foreign power the inside track on US nuclear submarines.
In April last year, Toebbe allegedly sent over a slew of official printouts, manuals, digital media files, and reports as a taster. He included a note that read:
“I apologize for this poor translation into your language. Please forward this letter to your military intelligence agency. I believe this information will be of great value to your nation.”
Lunch special: PB&Jail
The country in question — referred to in the criminal complaint as COUNTRY1 — kept schtum for nearly eight months.
Eventually, “COUNTRY1” handed over documents allegedly sent by Toebbe to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Agents — going by the alias “BOB” — corresponded with Toebbe and his wife Diana, who was under the codename “ALICE.”
They proceeded to hammer out an acceptable payment plan and set up a series of dead drops.
“ALICE” attempted to sell classified information to “BOB” over the course of several months. She agreed to drop off SD cards at pre-determined locations on three separate occasions.
These SD cards were hidden in inconspicuous objects, including a peanut butter sandwich, a chewing gum packet, and band-aid packaging.
Once the husband and wife received $70,000 of the agreed $100,000 package, FBI agents and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) swooped in.
Toebbe and his wife are expected to appear in a West Virginia federal court this week.
Monero preferred crypto for husband and wife
During his initial exchanges with undercover agents, Toebbe explained why Monero was his preferred method of payment.
“I will give you a Monero address. This form of gift protects both of us very well… I am very aware of the risks of blockchain analysis of BitCoin and other cryptocurrencies and believe Monero gives both of us excellent deniability.”
Monero has the ability to hide, not only the amount of money exchanged, but the identities of all those involved.
As a result, it gradually became the husband and wife’s currency of choice.
Bitcoin, considered the world’s biggest crypto, seems to have lost its standing among high-profile criminals.
For example, Russia-linked REvil, thought to be responsible for the attack on meatpacker JBS in June, and DarkSide, which has been blamed for the Colonial Pipeline hack in May, have either turned away from Bitcoin completely or are charging a premium for accepting the payment.
In a June interview with the Financial Times, cybersecurity expert Bryce Webster-Jacobsen outlined why, for criminals, Monero is everything that Bitcoin is not.
This sting is the latest success for the FBI as it wages war on crypto criminals.
Recall how the agency cracked DarkSide’s Bitcoin wallet in the wake of the aforementioned Colonial Pipeline attack. It also leveraged information collected during its investigation into now-defunct dark web marketplace Silk Road to help Australian cops pull off the country’s biggest-ever Bitcoin seizure in August.
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