A Navy nuclear engineer who had access to military secrets has been charged with trying to pass information about the design of American nuclear-powered submarines, the Justice Department said. As per officials, the engineer thought that he was passing on the design to a representative of a foreign government. However, the receiver turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.

The government, in a detailed complaint citing espionage-related charges, said that 42-year-old Jonathan Toebbe sold information for nearly a year (2020).

Toebbe was arrested in West Virginia on Saturday along with his wife, Diana, 45, after he had placed a removable memory card at a prearranged “dead drop” in the state, according to the Justice Department.

The FBI said that the scheme began in April 2020 when Jonathan Toebbe sent a package of Navy documents to a foreign government. Inside he had a message that mentioned that he was interested in selling to that country operations manual, performance reports and other sensitive information.

After weeks of back and forth over email, the FBI said the undercover agent sent Toebbe about $10,000 in cryptocurrency to show good faith and trust.

At the dead drop location, the FBI recovered a blue memory card wrapped in plastic and placed between two slices of bread on a half of a peanut butter sandwich, court documents say. The chip had design elements and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors.

The Justice Department describes those submarines as “cruise missile fast-attack submarines, which incorporate the latest in stealth, intelligence gathering, and weapons systems technology.”

The memory card also included a typed message that said, in part: “I hope your experts are very happy with the sample provided and I understand the importance of a small exchange to grow our trust.”

The FBI conducted a similar dead-drop exchange over the next several months. In one of the drops, the prosecutors said that the information was concealed in a chewing gum package.

The complaint said that incident violates the Atomic Energy Act.

As per AP, Jonathan Toebbe has worked for the US government since 2012 and had held top-secret security clearance.