An American nuclear engineer and his wife have been charged of selling restricted information about the design of nuclear-powered warships against thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency. They thought they made a deal with the “representative of a foreign power”. But it was an undercover FBI agent.
On October 10, the United States Department of Justice shared a press release about a Maryland nuclear engineer and his wife arrested on espionage-related charges.
A day earlier, the couple from the U.S. state of Maryland was arrested by the FBI in West Virginia, an approximate 2-hour car drive from their home.
They will make first appearances in court on October 12. Presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty, the couple has been charged “in a criminal complaint alleging violations of the Atomic Energy Act” for transmitting information about the design of nuclear submarines to a foreign nation.
The defendant served as a nuclear engineer for the Navy, one of the military branches of the U.S. Department of Defense.
On April 1, 2020, he allegedly sent a sample of restricted data to a foreign government along with instructions to make contact. The statement doesn’t say what the foreign country is.
He then started communicating via encrypted email with what he believed was a representative of that foreign power. Except that it was an undercover FBI agent.
$100k in cryptocurrency for SD cards hidden in peanut butter sandwich and chewing gum package
And almost a year later, in June 2021, the FBI agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency as “good faith” payment. The couple then traveled to a prearranged dead drop location in West Virginia to deliver some secret information in an “SD card concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich”.
The nuclear engineer received another payment, of $20,000 in cryptocurrency before sending the decryption key for the SD Card. It contained restricted data related to submarine nuclear reactors.
In the end of August, for $70,000, the alleged spy delivered another card with similar information, this time in eastern Virginia, and this time concealed in a chewing gum package.
But for the third delivery, on October 9, the FBI arrested the couple.
If the foreign power has not been revealed, the United States is extremely cautious of sharing such sensitive information, even via a partnership with allies. It only shared nuclear technology once, with the United Kingdom so far, but have recently agreed to extend this agreement with Australia for the AUKUS deal.