Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Maryland nuclear engineer and spouse arrested on espionage-related charges (justice.gov)
301 points by hhs 54 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 356 comments

>On June 8, 2021, the undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Jonathan Toebbe as “good faith” payment. ... After retrieving the SD card, the undercover agent sent Jonathan Toebbe a $20,000 cryptocurrency payment. In return, Jonathan Toebbe emailed the undercover agent a decryption key for the SD Card. A review of the SD card revealed that it contained Restricted Data related to submarine nuclear reactors.

Forgive my ignorance here, but this actually made me curious. At this point, he's been given $30k almost entirely out of good faith. What legal trouble - if any - would be be in if he gave them the key, and when they decrypted it they found hours and hours of porn or some other junk? As though he wasn't interested in giving them documents, but rather bilking some foreign country out of cash.

The initial package with the "teaser" documents alone would probably be a lot of trouble given the claim that it already had restricted documents.

And probably a bunch of extra violations around military or clearance holder rules, depending on what specifically applies to him. Presumably doing things that make you an extortion target for a foreign power is not well-regarded for such personnel.

And there's always tax fraud.

Tax fraud would only apply if he failed to disclose the income.

Sure, but I'd bet on someone working with sensitive stuff not randomly admitting to getting $30k in Monero they can't really explain a source for.

Monero catching strays here

How do you disclose income from crimes?

You include it on your tax return.


> Income from illegal activities, such as money from dealing illegal drugs, must be included in your income on Schedule 1 (Form 1040), line 8, or on Schedule C (Form 1040) if from your self-employment activity.

You're theoretically safe from them disclosing this to other law enforcement agencies. (I wouldn't want to test that, though.)


> If you tell the IRS you made $1 million from stealing money or dealing drugs, does the agency tip off the cops?

> Legally, it can't, unless a law-enforcement agency gets a court order granting it access to a specific taxpayer's return. The IRS isn't supposed to proactively alert other agencies about misdeeds unless terrorism is involved. In that case, it still needs a court order to disclose anything, but the IRS can initiate the legal process on its own.

To get around this restriction, IRS special agents work on task forces w/DEA, FBI or Homeland Security (aka Customs) so they can request the records directly.

See my comment about the Chicago Outfit in this thread. They figured out the best way if you have a lot of illegal income.

If the IRS asked for records or sources of the income, I would guess you can legally not answer those requests by pleading the 5th. Of course that would be a big red flag...

No, the IRS actually defends people if their tax information is used against them to prevent people from pleading the 5th.

In theory. In actuality I think you could make a reasonable argument that the suspicion of parallel construction means that you may plead the 5th.

Where do dispensaries put their revenue? Selling weed is illegal federally but legal on the state level

IRS is federal isn’t it? Does that mean they would consider weed sales illegal?

> they would consider weed sales illegal?

Weed is illegal under US law. Nothing meaningful about the federal prohibition on weed has changed for decades.

AFAICT all dispensaries are admitting federal crimes when they file federal tax returns. I believe the statute of limitations on controlled substances violations is 5 years, meaning dispensers are theoretically always under threat that the next administration will bring down the hammer and prosecute them for sales occurring today.

The IRS doesn't care if your income is legal or not, they just care if it is reported truthfully and the taxes owed on is are paid.

The Chicago Outfit figured this out after Capone's conviction. What you do is fill out a tax return and pay the tax owed, without a signature, without any form of identification. Failure to file when taxes are paid is a misdemeanor; the maximum penalty, 365 days in jail (minus 55 days for good time=310 days, minus 3 months halfway house). So it's not the end of the world. Failure to file when taxes are owed is a felony and a whole other matter entirely: five years (or is it 10? I don't remember and I'm too lazy to look it up)in federal prison.

You are dreaming if you think a tax return which shows both illegal income and personal identifying information won't be shared with other enforcement agencies. Even the Post Office reports suspicious mail. Ditto FedEx and the "American kilo" (two pounds instead of 2.2). Even Amtrak alerts the DEA of suitcases containing legally-purchased California weed when the train will leave the State.

> How do you disclose income from crimes?

You report the amount as "other income", I believe. You don't have to say that it is from crimes.

I don't do crypto currency and have been wondering whether you are supposed to report it and pay tax on it when you receive it, or only when you sell it. Before you sell it, maybe it is an unrealized gain, which is currently not taxed.

It is an unrealized gain if you bought it and it appreciates. If you receive it in exchange for services, it is income. This is the same for non-crypto:

1. You buy an artwork by a famous artist for $10k and it appreciates to $20k. This is an unrealized gain and you are not taxed until you sell it. Note that trading one crypto for another is effectively a sale of the first crypto and a purchase of the second, such that you pay gain depending on the value of the second crypto at the time of the trade.

2. Someone gives you a $10k artwork as partial payment for some work you do, eg web design. This is income and taxed as if they paid you $10k. Mining crypto is also income I believe.

3. Someone gifts you an artwork worth $10k. You don’t pay tax.


I would think the best way to characterize this transaction is that it is income, although it’s certainly unusual enough that I won’t say I’m certain.

Not tax advice / speak to your own accountant.

In point 1, why does trading of crypto incur a taxable event? If I buy a Picasso for $20 million and then later trade it to a friend for a Van Gogh which is worth $40 million, is that taxable?

Yes it most certainly is.

In this scenario, what is the taxable base ?

You would need a valuation for the painting you disposed of. The fact that you never actually received USD is irrelevant.

I had this problem in 2018 - I bought BTC in 2017 before the boom, exchanged a bunch for ETH at the peak of 2018, and then rode the ETH all the way back down. I had to pay a bunch of taxes on the BTC gains I “realised” even though I didn’t get any actual cash out. I had to pick a price settle for BTC/USD on the day I bought ETH.

Same in French law if you move a company abroad: You need a valuation on the day of departure, and are taxed on it, even if you don’t realize the gains.

If you receive it as income then it's taxable at that point at $ value. If you later sell or trade it you realize capital gains (or losses) and that is a further taxable event.

If he doesnt give them data, there is no crime?

42 U.S.C. § 2274(a) Attempting or conspiring to do so is enough (IANAL).


Or declare crypto accounts on the new 2020 1040.

He allegedly initiated the whole thing, which is presumably a crime on its own.

He allegedly sent a package to a foreign government offering to sell them classified info, and the foreign government gave that package to the FBI.

EDIT: Also the initial package contained classified info, which doesn't help.

Suppose I tell you - give me $50,000 and I will assassinate the president. If i never had intention of doing so, and just meant to keep the money, i dont know what crime this would be.

If you wanted to sue me foe fraud, you would be admitting to hiring an assasin

This is called conspiracy. [1] How intentional, motivated, and opportunistic you were, and what actions you actually undertook all add up to the offense you committed.

A random person saying they'll assassinate the president probably won't be a serious threat, but if you have military clearance, access to secrets, show intent to trade those secrets, and initiate communications with foreign powers then that's more than enough to prosecute. Saying you were "just joking" to scam some money isn't much of a defense.


Well, if anyone desired they could arrest you both for conspiracy, since ‘I was just joking’ is a pretty hard defense to prove. If you had a bunch of documents showing you were actually not intending to do it and just scamming, and they were all solidly timestamped maybe. If you had an independent co-conspirator who could attest, also maybe.

I believe that generally folks don’t do this type of thing often because the type of person that would pay you $50k in this situation might also be very prone to just murder you if they thought you were playing with them hah

Either way, no fun for anyone.

Except for narcotics conspiracies (Title 21), plain old Title 18 conspiracies require an act "in furtherance" of the conspiracy by ONE of the conspirators. Buying a map of the area around the bank your team plans to rob is sufficient.

(A drug conspiracy requires no "act in furtherance.")

So if you are "just joking" with your team and one of them takes your joke seriously and purchases bank robbery supplies or puts an SD card into a sandwich you are liable.

Wouldn’t receiving payment count?

"If you had a bunch of documents showing you were actually not intending to do it and just scamming, and they were all solidly timestamped maybe."

I think the most solid proof thats its not a geuine conspiracy would be

A) if you lied to the person giving you the money, about owning a gun or something else relevant, showing your intentions weren't genuine

B) showing the conspiracy is not credible, i.e. you are conspiring ro use a sniper rifle but you don't k ow how to shoot.

A transaction where you lied about your side of the deal is still fraud, and yes that can still be charged by the state independently.

Also conspiracy doesn't require you to be proficient at executing your plan but rather the intention and motivation and opportunity to do so. You can still shoot a gun and cause harm even if you don't know how to shoot, and there's no way to really prove you don't either.

This is why it is so hard to catch arsonists. You pay in advance and if they don't torch the building, a conviction is very difficult.

Well if they don't torch any buildings, they're not arsonists. They might be guilty of conspiracy or fraud or something though.

This would be illegal. You have credibly expressed an intention to murder someone. However, if during your trial you could somehow prove that you had planned not to actually harm anyone, that would certainly reduce the severity of the crime.

Expressing a credible threat of violence is a crime in most countries, I believe.

"credibly expressed an intention"

'Credible' is a key word though, a random joe who doesn't own a gun is not credible to assasinate a President.

If you are the FBI, like in this case, admitting your part would not be much of a hurdle - unless you crossed over into entrapment territory, and even then the agent wouldn't go to prison for entrapment.

> Suppose I tell you - give me $50,000 and I will assassinate the president.

There is a specific law for exactly that, however, making threats against the president. And those threats do not actually have to be communicated to the president in order for them to be illegal.

I don't know how things works in USA, but it definitely a fraud i.e. in Russia.

Not an expert, but I think different rules apply to holders of security clearances.

It's all in good faith, and you can't trust criminals because, well, criminals lol.

That said, on the other hand, if someone wants repeat business they will do what you pay them for. It's why ransomware works - if a ransomware guy doesn't unlock things after being paid, nobody will pay ransomware guys.

TL;DR like most business, it's based on trust.

Anyway, anyone want to buy some secret documents? Just send me 50K worth of bitcoin, you can trust me.

If they turned him over to the FBI, I think it's safe to say that whatever government he contacted already had those documents.

Only $30k for secret military information? The couple were really desperate.

He split the data into 50 packets. He was asking for $100k per packet, or $5mil. They nabbed him after the first packet.

Where are you getting this information?


At an old job we used to get regular talks given by the FBI about espionage cases. A common theme was just how cheaply most sell themselves for. Motivations tend to be as much titillation (playing spy) and revenge (passed over for promotion, for example) as it is for pure money.

Or just political beliefs/idealism. Some people thought for instance that being the sole possessor of atomic weapons was too much power for any country, even the US. I believe I read something that gave the impression that certain secrets were given to the Soviets, not for money, out of narcissism, or love of Communism, but just the belief that a balance of power was better for the world.

Huh. That kind of makes sense. The thought of a single country being able to nuke anyone it disagrees with basically without consequence is pretty terrifying.

Or, as the saying goes "absolute power corrupts absolutely".

It kinda makes sense, because MAD has kept people from nuking freely. But there were a few close calls.

That said, if e.g. only the US had nukes after WW2, they would be the world's dictator. I mean they already are very influential everywhere, but they don't have absolute power at least. Still wouldn't want to be at war with them though.

"the earlier development of the Soviet bomb may have had one significant benefit to the world, a balance of power; the author is convinced that this prevented the United States from using their bomb on North Korea"

The other side of the coin was the Rosenbergs were blamed for casualties in the Korean war.

Please share where if you recall.

IIRC it was indicated as the motivation behind convicted spy Christopher John Boyce in the movie The Falcon and the Snowman.


Well, this is who I was thinking of. Apparently the motivation is disputed though.


"In her 2020 book, Atomic Spy: The Dark Lives of Klaus Fuchs, Nancy Thorndike Greenspan concluded that "Fuchs sought 'the betterment of mankind' [when sharing secrets with the Soviets] ... because "his goal became to balance world power and to prevent nuclear blackmail" according to a New York Times review by the conservative historian Ronald Radosh. Radosh wrote that "this was a post facto justification. The reason Fuchs spied was simply that he was a Communist and a true believer in Stalin and the Soviet Union"."

not surprising, politicians hand out million dollar contracts for pennies on the dollar

Not reporting a 30k lump sum from a foreign agency, or even from a domestic one, would alone be enough for them to loose their security clearances. Then there is failure to report communications with a foreign agency. Once they travel to hand over physical object, even if blank, then there is probably enough for a conspiracy charge.

That concept would make for excellent espionage comedy story bait.

It’s pretty close to the plot of “Burn After Reading.”

Two people have access to (what they believe to be) state secrets and try to sell them to a foreign government, but are unknowingly dealing with a US agent the whole time

I just watched it recently and I made similar connection. I naturally hope the connection is in my head only. Plus, in this case, it would appear the couple was already a part of IC. Does someone remember of the top of their head percent of US population engaged in it? Past 10% leaks like that are practically guaranteed.

10 Ways To Lose Your Freedom

I don’t think it would be “legal trouble” he would have to worry about if he lied to and stole from foreign agents attempting to buy state secrets.

I am sure there would be some rules saying you have to tell the FBI or some other dept if you get contact from someone who wants these secrets.

His chain of command and the OSI (military equivalent of the FBI)

NCIS is the equivalent here, not AF OSI.

The initial package probably violated the law by itself.

If he didn't transmit sensitive information, I don't see how he could be convicted of doing so. Maybe some other lesser charge of some kind? (The idea of prosecuting such a person for fraud is hilarious but seems unlikely).

I'm sure he wouldn't have a security clearance ever again.

Attempt is a crime. So is conspiracy. His wife was in on it.

But there are two questions: how did the FBI find out about it? Was Toebbe targeted by an informant?

Secondly, which country was he offering the secrets to? This makes a big difference. "Enemy" or ally? Maybe he felt sorry for the way France was effed over by AUKUS and wanted to make amends.

Looks like there was no informant. He contacted the French Embassy on his own and after that, the French government cooperated with the FBI.

Prediction: he'll take a plea. In mitigation, France is an ally. Aggravation: these are nuclear secrets. France will not come to his aid, as Israel did for Pollard for many years, unsuccessfully. Fortunately, there was no real harm. 20 years unless he gets a particularly harsh judge. Worst case: 40.

If he's willing to sell the information to France, France would rightly be concerned that he'd be willing to also sell the information to countries France isn't friendly with.

Even if France didn't care about the information being shared elsewhere, they would still likely care about potentially breaching the classified information treaty they signed with the USA back in 1977[1]. When France received the information, they may have assumed it was a test from the USA to see if France was still upholding their treaty obligations to report unauthorised distribution of US classified information?

[1] https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%201114/v...

> This makes a big difference. "Enemy" or ally?

Makes a big difference to what, are you suggesting?

In the law? How does Russia vs France make a difference? we have declared war against neither. Sharing national security secrets with either is a crime in fact.

How it looks in the news and to the social media mob? Sure.

Don't you need standing in order to bring fraud charges? If so, you would have to be admitting that you solicited someone for government secrets, which is very illegal.

The state always has standing to prosecute crimes, regardless of whether the victim wants them to or not.

I mean, I guess it's not illegal if you were the FBI, which is what happened here? But yes, it seems a stretch.

This sounds increasingly like a Coen brothers movie though, yeah.

The complaint was filed by FBI Special Agent Justin Van Tromp. That definitely sounds like a character in a Coen brothers movie.

Something I've always wondered is, why are they all special agents? Is there some place they put all the ordinary agents? Are they the ones that just spend their whole careers in cubicles?

> Something I've always wondered is, why are they all special agents?

Because that's the job title?

> Is there some place they put all the ordinary agents?

Training. That is, the lowest rank on the FBI agent career path is apparently “New Agent Trainee” and the next step up is “Special Agent”.

FBI, DEA, ATF, Secret Service: they are all "special agents."

Ok, moving on...you know what the French call (or called) their nuclear deterrent? "Force de Frappe"!

In Lake Wobegon FBI, all the agents are special.

They'd probably nab him for bullshit and then make him waste at least 30k defending himself in court. Three letter agencies didn't get their reputation for being vengeful jerks from nowhere.

There's nothing vengeful in bringing a mole to justice.

You're not wrong but just going by TLA press releases it's pretty impossible to tell genuine moles from people getting railroaded because the TLAs are allergic to being wrong.

What about getting assasinated? Surely that’s a motivation to deliver?

I'm pretty sure that fits the definition of fraud.

they couldn't be charged for fraud. illegal activities don't get legal protection. this is why you can't e.g. sue your drug dealer for breach of contract because he didn't deliver those kilos of cocaine he promised.

they could get them on tax evasion, though, assuming they didn't report their ill-gotten gains (which you can do without incriminating yourself, amazingly.)

In CA at least there are legal penalties for selling fake illegal drugs so some illegal activities get legal protection.


I don't think that protects the buyers of the fake illegal drugs, it just allows prosecutors to charge dealers of fake illegal drugs as if they were the real deal.

Under the Analog Act, fake drugs are considered as illegal as what they're represented to be (even if it's just baby powder.) I assume CA's law is the state counterpart of that Federal statute.

Most American States have laws against selling ersatz narcotics.

Generally just the notion of doing this qualifies as a conspiracy against the United States. It’s one of the core statutes that Federal Prosecutors abuse to ensnare defendants.

Then it's mail and wire fraud.

I mean, if it hadn't been a honeypot, he might have got killed for pulling a stunt like that.

I’d imagine foreign governments have more clever ways of getting info, like paying our research university professors to just go work for them.

They plant grad students on their research teams.


all key research is open and googleable. There is no need to do that.

No it isn't. Many schools do DARPA work on their own or in partnership with commercial operations. These frequently involve data with restricted access (not classified but still sensitive) and there are active espionage efforts to retrieve that information by taking advantage of lax academic security.

I’m not sure what secret information the US thinks it has about nuclear science that you can’t just buy from Russia, India or China if you are a nation state.

Though maybe not for $30,000, so if anything this article is more of an advertisement than a warning to others, isn’t it? Though often these kind of information spreads are more about public agencies showing the politicians that they aren’t a waste of money. Because what if that hadn’t been a honey pot, but ISIS or whatever!!! Best keep spending those surveillance billions.

Or pair them off with someone who will pass everything up to the mothership.

If he is dealing with a government agent and receiving money then he has to report it at his work.

Even if he 'knows' it's an undercover US department.

So, they would and should still throw the book at him.

He'd be secretly dealing in 'data', fake or not, and money related to his classified job. Not hard to see that's very illegal. He would be leaking info as well just talking to them. They might collate speech structure that links him to other non classified/leaked projects. Or know where he lives or work hours.

> If he is dealing with a government agent and receiving money then he has to report it at his work.

Has to, or get fired, and probably never have a security clearance again. But is it a criminal matter? No idea. (This hypothetical is probably not the most important part of this story, obviously, but it does seem to have captured our interest)

Lets take his job out of it- suppose it was all a lie, and he actually works as a cleaner? I cannot aee what law he wouod be breaking

I’m no lawyer but I do recall an episode of Cops waaaay back where a guy got busted for selling “weed” except it was actually oregano. He still got charged with something. But I can’t remember what.

All American States punish the sale of ersatz narcotics, under special statutes.

That makes sense. I was sort of thinking there’s likely something similar with regard to selling national secrets.

Thanks for pointing this out, i didnt know that, and it's really weired.

Did he end up doing hard thyme?

Don't know, but perhaps he was trying to fennel money?

I think it all stems from a misunderstanding between buyer and seller.

Mail fraud. Wire fraud. Attempt. Conspiracy.

Are they actually applicable?

Conspiracy requires intent, which has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt. Good luck convincing a jury that cleaner had intent to sell gov. secrets, and it wasnt a joke.

Fraud, entering into a contract without intent to fullfill it? I don't think it works if the obligations would be illegal

I had each of them as a teacher in Denver when they taught there. Mr. Toebbe would tell me to stop “spinning my wheels” and try harder. I guess trying harder means selling nuclear secrets!

This reminds me of a chemistry professor I had in undergrad in his 50's who repeatedly made vague remarks regarding his prior career in military intelligence (when students showed up late to class, he'd sometimes talk about the days when "Uncle Sam" would wake him up at 2AM to get on plane to an unknown destination.) It always struck me because I came from a military community and many of my teachers had served at one point or another, but nobody bragged about it like this guy did.

A couple years after I left school, he was arrested for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in various microscopes and other lab equipment and selling it all online. It was so bizarre seeing his mugshot on the front page of the local paper.

At least he didn't end up producing meth to pay for his medical bills, lol

This couple just wrecked their lives and you have a story to tell. But regardless of their curent reputation, he may have meant what he said and wanted to genuinely help you but in the wrong way.

They wrecked their lives in the course of a crime, as criminals do when they get caught.

Yes but these prople weren’t really career criminals, they had respectable jobs and good lives. They got tempted with easy money and blew it all away

They actively sought it out, it's not like a foreign power spent years trying to convince them.

That makes them even worse.

Not just their lives, they have children who are still minors.

Ouch, I did not know about that. This makes their situation radically worse. I almost feel bad for their mistake, greed got the best of them. Hope many will think twice before going for easy money. It’s not that easy after all

So did the Rosenbergs.

If you had just worked a bit harder, you too could be under federal indictment

You know… It’s advice without context like this that isn’t helpful! Sometimes being under federal indictment is just as much luck and circumstance as it is hard work!

Wait for the jury trial because prosecutors lie and "national security" is the thing that gets lied about the most.

EDIT: The other thing to watch out for is an FBI sting where they convince a guy to do something he would never have otherwise done. It seems like every publicly touted victory from them ends up that way once the truth comes out.

I dunno, putting an SD card in a peanut butter sandwich for a dead drop seems pretty deliberate

You wanna wait to see additional context. Sometimes allegations are completely made up, sometimes there's an alternative explanation that isn't obvious.

They made multiple drops, one for $30,000, another for $70,000, following months of correspondence. There's plenty of context if you read the link -- unless you are for some reason accusing the FBI of wholesale fabrication of a story leading to the arrest of two relatively unimportant scientists.

What are some recent examples where they falsely accuse someone of espionage?

I don't know off the top of my head for a very recent one, but the case of Wen-Ho Lee in 1999 comes to mind.


How about falsely accused of terrorism?

The Liberty City 7 A. Daoud Michigan Militia Assassination

und und und

Oh, and of course, US v. Reynolds, in which the state secrets privilege was invented, from whole cloth, based on fraudulent and perjurious claims of the US Government.


It looks like Toebbe had no contact with an informant. He offered information to the French Embassy and the French government turned this over to the FBI. So there will be no entrapment defense.

But otherwise you are correct, more than one of these sensational cases were hatched by commission-earning FBI informants: the Liberty City 7 (a few acquitted and the others out now), the mentally ill 17-year old who was convinced to blow up a saloon near Wrigley Field (A.Daoud); the Michigan militia plan to kill the governor of that State, many many others.

SD cards in sandwiches at dead drops? Is this reality or a Grisham novel?

If someone in 2021 is asking you to transfer secret information in an SD card, run. They are either a scammer or a cop. The only reason to do something like this is to get physical evidence, photographs documenting you handing over the information. Physical dead drops of encrypted information isn't a thing anymore. Real spies use dropbox, tor, rapidshare, or a thousand other ways to securely move digital files without physically meeting.

Encrypt it into a truecrypt container. AES-blowfish plus whatever other layers you think you need. Toss in some random junk to pad the size. Then rar-encrypt it again, splitting it into a couple 200mb volumes. Label it as some sort of porn and upload it to a filesharing service via Tor. If this is real spy stuff information then the recipient won't care about jumping through a few hoops to download the material. If it is the police then they will balk at the effort because it will be complicated to explain these steps court. The police will insist on an SD card in a sandwich.

It wasn't so long ago that Anna Chapman was posing as a real estate agent and meeting with her connections while showing houses in Forest Hills, NY. That ruse worked for years, btw, despite other parts of their operation performing terribly.

It's also not so long ago when both China ('10-'12) and Iran ('19) nabbed entire spy rings operating in their countries wholesale because the supposedly secure channel established by the CIA was obviously and blatantly phoning home.

Old school spycraft still has its place. I think the real lesson is that being a spy probably isn't worth it because the odds are that your handlers are shit, don't care about the risk they expose you to and will get you killed.

"Real spies use Dropbox" would be an excellent marketing slogan thing for Dropbox.

Like the first comment said, how do they trust each other? How did the buyer make sure you are not sending him a porn movie? I think the engineer knows all about that, but meeting is inevitable.

>> how do they trust each other?

They don't. The Russian agent places no value on the money. If it doesn't result in any useful information then it is a minor business loss. The American agent has accepted money from the Russian. He is already on the hook for espionage charges. He only continues the relationship to keep the Russian happy, to keep the money coming but also to keep the Russian from informing the FBI. The business deal becomes a continuing blackmail operation. Nobody trusts anyone.

They don't. The Russian agent places no value on the money.

Historically, the USSR was really cheap about paying spies in the US. Maybe the GRU is paying better.

They are cheap because they need to keep the target hungry.

Well, maybe it's a really good porn movie. Could be worth it

A good Pinboard thread on the highlights of the indictment, which is really something.


My favorite detail: the first SD card the guy delivered, he hid in half a peanut butter sandwich.

The lady is a teacher at my kid’s school. Woke up this morning to a very unexpected email from the head of school.

Get your kids out of that school asap. 4 years ago our daughter was the target of a sexual predator in the schools leadership team. The individual still works at the school.

The school has a long history of these issues. It is rotten to the core.

That’s disconcerting. We’ve had a great experience so far, but I’d you wouldn’t mind getting in touch (my email is in my bio) I’d appreciate it.

I’m aware of that. Tragic but happened decades ago. And the unfortunate subtext of it all is that blurring the line between adults and teenagers was an aspect of the sexual Revolution at the time.

The contents of his messages make it clear he was very excited to play secret agent. Can't imagine how they must have felt at that third drop when the FBI busted them.

Sub secrets.

He (and his wife) will be old and grey, before they’ll be able to walk more than 100 yards, in a straight line.

Sub secrets are the most sensitive secrets we have (probably on par with the names of highly-placed assets). There will be no leniency.

The foreign country probably knew they’d be up shit’s creek, if they got caught.

Sub secrets are the most sensitive secrets we have

Source? I can't imagine what kind of secrets an opponent could want about a sub. I can see how operational data about the disposition of the fleet is useful, but the subs themselves? Subs have a ball of Pu powering a steam turbine that runs propulsion and onboard electronics. Some of them have strategic missiles for killing cities, some of them have torpedoes for killing ships and other subs.

Not asking for any secret data, obviously. Just wondering what kind of secret data is even useful to an adversary.

I suspect a large portion of it is how to make those components sufficiently silent to be useful on a military submarine, where sonar is your enemy's primary way of finding you.

how to build a nuclear reactor is relatively well-known. but, how do you make a silent nuclear reactor? that's really only useful for a submarine. it wouldn't surprise me if existing commercial reactor designs would need to be completely redesigned for submarine use.

for an example of how much research goes into making subs silent, there is a very deep lake in Idaho the US Navy has used for acoustic testing since World War 2 [0]

the navy also has almost 70 years [1] of operational experience with nuclear reactors on subs. I imagine there's a enormous pile of "minor" things they've figured out as they chase down every last source of uncontrolled noise on the boat.

0: https://jalopnik.com/the-navys-most-vital-and-secretive-subm...

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Nautilus_(SSN-571)

And a silent nuclear submarine can run without needing to resurface for far longer than a conventional diesel sub. This is why AUKUS was such a big deal. With diesel subs, Australia could venture out into the South China Sea for 11 days. Once they have nuclear submarines they can remain there for 77. With diesel subs they couldn't reach the East China Sea, but with nuclear subs they can stay there for up to 73 days.


It would have been nice from Australia to realise that from the start and not start a procurement program for a diesel-electric sub, and pick the diesel-electric version of a nuclear sub to boot.

Diesel-electric sub have advantage if you want sub to do costs protection. They are more silent and can remain in position for a long time as they don't need to move to cool their reactor. It means they can stay in pockets of silence longer if they need to(sub exploit variation of pressure, salt density and temperature underwater to find place where their sound waves diffuse poorly).

Honestly Australia doesn't need nuclear sub. The only things they can do that diesel-electric sub couldn't is offensive missions in water further for the Australian costs. That might be useful if Australia decides to go fight in an hypothetical war against China but that would mostly serve the interest of the USA.

Diesel-electric was probably a better choice because Australia would have been able to service them. As is, they will be bound to the USA.

> need to move to cool their reactor

why do you think nuclear subs have to be moving to cool the reactor?

They can pump water but it's noisy and when they don't move all the warm water they generate stay above them and they become easy to spot from the surface. Meanwhile a diesel-electric sub can just stay on batteries and is then close to entierely silent.

Capabilities, technologies.

It's like asking why rocket engines are under ITAR. Rockets are just ICBMs without a warhead.

Knowing a technologies capabilities means you can focus on defeating the exact specs of the tech.

For example, F-22s purposely fly around with pods that deteriorate its stealth capabilities so nobody, not even allies, knows exactly how a F-22 looks like on radar/can study it closely.

So during wartime they’d jettison these?


The number of nations with nuclear submarines is so small it’s clearly one of the strongest strategic advantages a nation state can have.

An example of how seriously the US takes this kind of thing look back to history. After Walker leaked secrets the US started getting even more protective of its submarine programs. The combination of power, propulsion, stealth, and attack capabilities make them the pinnacle of deployable mobile power. A carrier group can start a war, a single submarine can finish one with 24x12 100kt warheads.

The density of sensitive information relating to submarines is very very high.

Naval reactors tend to use HEU.

AIUI the mostly tightly held secrets are around the acoustics - acoustic signature, propeller design, that sort of thing. A sub relies on being hidden to carry out its mission, so anything that helps an opponent to find your subs has to be well guarded.

Interesting. I would have assumed a totally sealed Pu module, since it's a nice steady source of heat that lasts 80 years and as long the container doesn't rupture it's pretty safe. As opposed to HEU which AFAIK always requires moving parts to slow or stop the neutron cascade.

If you're talking about a Pu238 natural decay type device, like RTGs use, then at the level of power output you'd need to be able to supply propulsion the fact that you can't control the reaction rate would be a distinct negative, not a positive.

Naval reactors are basically a miniaturised version of a power station reactor. Some of the latest HEU ones are designed for the fuel to last for the life of the boat.

A few weeks ago when the US/Australian sub deal was announced it was notable(outside of the diplomatic snafu) because it was only the second country the US has ever shared its propulsion technology with[1]. The only other country at that point was the UK. Also see Q3 here: "Why is the technology so closely guarded?"[2]. Basically putting nuclear reactors on submarines and having those submarines remain silent is very hard to do.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/09/15/us-will-s...

[2] https://defense360.csis.org/what-is-the-importance-of-the-au...

The Smarter Every Day channel on Youtube did a series onboard a sub, and a couple of specifics that I remember being censored from the videos were 1) Performance characteristics of the sub (ie, how fast it could dive, how deep) and 2) How it detected other submarines.

a link for the curious: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLjHf9jaFs8XWoGULb2HQR...

two security-related things that stuck with me were:

a) there is a door that leads to the reactor compartment, and that entire section of the ship is off-limits to him. he had a thorough background check before going, and someone from the Navy reviewed all his footage before he could publish it. but despite all that, he's not allowed to even be in the part of the ship where the reactor is. excellent defense-in-depth (pun not intended).

b) when discussing sonar, the XO was sitting right there along with the sonarman, to make sure nothing classified was recorded. there were a few times where the XO said "nope nope nope, can't talk about that". the most interesting one to me was, IIRC, a question about the active sonar system being relatively high frequency sound, and if they used any lower frequencies...they cut immediately after that.

My dad had a security clearance and spent most of his career working on navy projects ... Asking what he did at work during dinner would sometimes be interrupted by "I can't talk about that". It became normal for this phrase to cause a change of subject in our house.

My fluid mechanics prof told us a story about another prof who got in trouble for publishing the yield of the early A-bombs. He got off because he showed how the yield could be calculated from just the public films of the explosions.

or how Kodak found out about nukes before the public and had to keep that secret.

Subs are a big deal, when it comes to deterrence (M.A.D.). If a nation is wiped out by a first strike, the subs can pop up, six months later, and take out the attacker.

If a nation knows too much about the subs of the other nation, then it's quite possible that they may consider a first strike.

It's a horrible thought, but people can be really barking mad.

The Virginia-class sub is a fast attack sub; not a boomer, but the tech used between them is very similar.

I'm actually surprised that people don't know why subs are such a big deal, but I guess shouldn't be. The Cold War was really bad (my father was in the CIA). People, these days, may not know what it was like. I grew up in the Cold War. the current couple of generations have had the luxury of not growing up in that, but we may be bringing the band back together for a reunion tour.

This is like saying you can’t see what the value of the internet is. If you can’t imagine _any_ reason why technical info on subs would be highly sensitive, you are going to need to read some books, because there’s literally thousands of reasons, and no one here, or any blog or article, is going to fill that gap.

Blind Mans Bluff is as good a place to start as any I guess.

Missile subs are probably the most dangerous weapon in the world. Each can carry 200 independently targetable nuclear warheads with a 4,000 mile range.

A lot of people here are assuming COUNTRY1 is an adversary. I'm going to guess India. It's plausible to think that India would love to be able to build nuclear submarines with equivalent technology to the Virginia-class. It isn't crazy to think they might be willing to pay money for secrets. But it's also equally plausible that they would immediately tell the US to avoid diplomatic complications if it was discovered. It's also easier to justify selling to a friendly country instead of an enemy. He and his wife might have thought, "It's not like India is going to use the information to attack the US. What's the harm?"

It would make some sense ( from his point of view). India have nuclear powered ballistic missile subs, but no attack ones, and if i recall correctly they're working with Naval Group on an indigenous nuclear attack sub design.

I would think France, who just got worked over by Australia and the US in the AUKUS deal.

India is a stretch. Having routinely dealt with Indian companies, there would be endless negotiations and squabbling over money. Endless.

France ?.. You can't be serious.

The first contact was in april 2020. It's either Russia or China.

Also this was supposedly restricted info. There is a whole hierarchy of secrets, like SBU, secret, top secret, super duper tippy top secret with access codes that are classified in their own right, etc. I don't know where "restricted" fits into this, or whether it just referred to an unspecified level.

Restricted is at the very bottom. Well, SBU is below that, but SBU is not classified.

Restricted Data and Formerly Restricted Data are classification markings that concern nuclear information. These are the only two classifications that are established by federal law, being defined by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. Nuclear information is not automatically declassified after 25 years. Documents with nuclear information covered under the Atomic Energy Act will be marked with a classification level (confidential, secret or top secret) and a restricted data or formerly restricted data marking. Nuclear information as specified in the act may inadvertently appear in unclassified documents and must be reclassified when discovered. Even documents created by private individuals have been seized for containing nuclear information and classified. Only the Department of Energy may declassify nuclear information. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classified_information_in_the_...


During and before World War II, the U.S. had a category of classified information called Restricted, which was below confidential. The U.S. no longer has a Restricted classification, but many other nations and NATO do. The U.S. treats Restricted information it receives from other governments as Confidential. The U.S. does use the term restricted data in a completely different way to refer to nuclear secrets, as described above.

I was watching a youtube video that how different densities of water caused by differing temperatures make sound waves to bend in water and under some circumstance it can render pockets of water invisible to sound waves there could be lot of know how on to induce that or how to find those pockets in deep sea etc.

I'm no expert, but I think the most likely is stealth technology. This could be profiles of components designed to reduce turbulence and thus reduce vibration, or structures that minimize reflection from sonar etc.

Since military tech is a cat and mouse game, having access to stealth tech could put you ahead of your competitors in the arms race, until they design another level of protection that makes current tech obsolete.

Not an expert but Smarter Everyday has a playlist on a Nuclear Submarine. He explains the complicated math involved in various operations of the Submarine. As few others have pointed out, it also involves keeping the sub silent.


Pretty much all data is useful in aggregate. Even how much power a sub can make can tell you something about it's speed or range

Material composition of whatever sonar absorbing paint they use to emulate it, the shape of the propeller to figure out it's sound signature, specs of the sonar system so opposing subs can evade it better, there's definitely good intel to be had.

Not an expert, but that's what comes to mind.

Purely an uneducated guess, but I would expect that any information pertaining to noise suppression or operational tactics would be useful for someone trying to track them.

Just the design of the screws alone is a highly guarded secret as are many other bits and pieces that could be used to create an acoustic footprint.

A sub that isn’t secret/stealth is basically just a peculiar boat.

Ahhh the classic "source" counter... Why so literal?

He is right. First hand knowledge.

The dinner menu. Much more complicated to keep a hundred people happy under their sea for 3 month with no access to fresh food, than keeping a nuclear reactor running.

> Not asking for any secret data, obviously. Just wondering what kind of secret data is even useful to an adversary.

I don't know either. And if Russians wanted it, they wouldn't have had an interest in a wayward scientist — that would be just too American style.

Rather, I'd say they would've gone after a person who could've given it to them on a golden platter, rather than having to read through somebody amateurish spy scoop compilation. That would be more Russian.

They had few spooks, but they spared no expense, and went to any lengths in getting somebody high rank like Ames, or Hansen.

Now... https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jan/29/trump-russia...

Doesn't sound like they ever managed to get the data to the foreign country, from the complaint. It sounds like the package was intercepted, and then the FBI began acting the part of the foreign country. Maybe I misread?

It made it:

"On or about December 20, 2020, the FBI’s attaché (“LEGAT”) in COUNTRY1 obtained a package representatives from COUNTRY1 had received in April 2020 through a mail carrier from the U.S. by an unidentified subject in an attempt to establish a covert relationship."

My mistake, thanks. Missed that sentence.

it all depends on how many counts and other factors.

Don't know why this isn't treason. Feels like it should be...

Because it's not treason, it's (attempted) espionage. Don't worry, the US is plenty harsh on espionage.

I suspect part of that, depends on who the “foreign country” is. John Pollard[0] gave asset secrets (among other stuff) to Israel. He spent a loooooong time in the hoosegow.

John Walker[1] gave sub secrets to Russia, and didn’t get a treason charge (but he may have turned state’s evidence to reduce his charge). He did die “mysteriously,” a year before he was eligible for parole. He was about as bad as you can get.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Pollard

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Anthony_Walker

and today they arrested Jonathan Toebbe. If 3 is a pattern, stop giving Johns the secrets. :|

Lectroids. They're all Lectroids.

John Valuk is dead, he fell on his head.

Country was founded by a bunch of traitors covering their butts. Article III:

> Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

Yes, and no - I mean yes on the founders obviously, hah, but more specifically treason was so narrowly defined because historically it was used as a general catch call for anyone doing anything the government (Crown) didn’t like. And since it had such a harsh penalty (death), it was used as a weapon of terror a lot.

Clearly and narrowly defining it in the constitution was a step to stop the clear abuses they had witnessed.

Look around even in this thread with everyone talking Treason.

He actually congratulated the "foreign agent" on their "bravery in serving their country": https://www.twitter.com/Pinboard/status/1447318704601976832

Does nobody know the actual definition of treason in the US? Its incredibly narrow.

Because there's clear definitions of various crimes.

I mean why not call it terrorism? Because terrorism is a blanket term that puts people outside of the normal legal system - e.g. 'outlaws' - and has them taken off to inhumane internment camps like Guantanamo Bay, where rule of law or the Geneva convention no longer apply. Apparently.

One day the US will / should be tried for war crimes, but since they have nukes and veto rights in the UN that's unlikely to happen. They've already indicated they would not hesitate to deploy troops to The Hague to extract any of their (former) leaders if they end up there.

It certainly seems like it meets the definition. However, it seems excessive to charge espionage as a capital crime.

Per Wikipedia:

> Treason is the crime of attacking a state authority to which one owes allegiance.[1] This typically includes acts such as participating in a war against one's native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state. A person who commits treason is known in law as a traitor.

Treason has a much narrower definition in US law.


I think the problem is that it needs to involve an enemy of the USA to be treason. Enemy as in declared enemy, not just hostile to.

Wikipedia is good for general knowlege. Legal charges are made with respect to a specific statute. In the U.S. treason will only ever be charged when we are at war.

There was a US Senator (John Breckinridge) who got expelled from the Senate for committing treason during the American Civil War. He did that by skipping out of the US Senate and joining the Confederate Army. He had quite a colorful career in the Confederacy while it lasted, fled to Europe after the war, and eventually returned to the US after the US gave a general amnesty to ex-Confederates in 1868. Wow.


i recently read "the bomb in my garden" by mahdi obeidi (sic) who was the head of the iraqi uranium enrichment effort under Saddam Hussein. they started out with nothing and had to do everything from scratch. they were able to spin their centrifuge up to 20k rpm or something like that before it flew apart. you need 50k to enrich uranium. spinning a tube at that speed requires sophisticated machinery and knowledge that can only be gained after decades of hard work. but Saddam insisted that enriched uranium be produced in only a few years in light of the situation with iran. and when he insisted something be done, people would do it or else be killed. and so this required the enrichment engineers to seek equipment and knowledge from more advanced states. its amazing how casual the process of getting these things was for them. at one point they gathered data from a book in the stacks of a college library, a book that was not meant to be lent out to anyone who wasnt willing to provide ID, by simply asking the librarian if she could hand over the book really quick just to be sure its the right book. a lot of the things that stand in the way of people trying to do these things arent super specific but are just things like having the ability to machine metal within a certain tolerance or produce bearings that are within a certain spec. but they they did get their hands on some very important design documents that allowed them to succeed in producing enriched uranium in a very short period of time. its a fantastic book.

Urenco played a role in that saga:


i love a good dutch comment

The unfortunate truth here is if you threaten engineers with untimely death, they will shorten the timeline without cutting scope or quality.

It's a Jira where tickets move by themselves and the right most column have two categories, done or death.

Don't forget that the Progressive Magazine published H-Bomb plans in 1975 after failed censorship efforts.

Query whether such would be the case today.

Legibility might improve if other guys and sentences than Saddam Hussein were allowed the use of capitalization.

The full criminal complaint is quite the read: https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1440946/downl...

I'm still reading, but it looks like the key point in gaining Toebbe's trust to do a physical dead drop was the FBI dropping some physical signal in a nation's embassy or other location associated with them:

>During the weekend of May 29-30, 2021, the FBI conducted an operation in the Washington, D.C. area that involved placing a signal at a location associated with COUNTRY 1 in an attempted effort to gain bona fides with “ALICE.”

This makes me wonder if, as some are speculating, COUNTRY 1 is some US ally. Maybe the US had some cooperation in the investigation. It also makes me wonder who they haven't caught, if anyone. Nuclear proliferation is a scary idea....

Matt Blaze explains why he thinks COUNTRY 1 is France[0].

Specifically, Russia and China are not likely to turn over the agent. We know from the correspondence that the suspects mentioned a poor translation, so you can surmise that it is not an English speaking country. We know that COUNTRY 1 has an Embassy in the US and a legal attache, so that rules out Iran or North Korea.

[0] https://twitter.com/mattblaze/status/1447367518012776454

This makes me wonder if, as some are speculating, COUNTRY 1 is some US ally. Maybe the US had some cooperation in the investigation. It also makes me wonder who they haven't caught, if anyone. Nuclear proliferation is a scary idea....

I don't think it even has to be an ally to get cooperation, I'm sure even Russia or China would be happy to cooperate on apprehending an amateur spy. They have their own spies to worry about.

To be honest, 90k$ seems too small to take such huge risks. Were they already in some kinds of debt? Maybe, that tipped the FBI to target them?

And as someone below mentioned he was selling these secrets to France, which has got to be somewhat like stealing a bicycle and then pawning it 6 blocks away.

What an incredibly risky and stupid move. I am so interested in the circumstances around this. Why did an (apparently) intelligent person do something so incredibly stupid?

> Why did an (apparently) intelligent person do something so incredibly stupid?

I suspect more information about the motives in this case will come to light, but two explanations come to mind: 1) People who are incredibly intelligent in one domain, are often not particularly intelligent in another. Especially with a highly specialized discipline like engineering, if you spend a lot of time developing your abilities in one area, it often comes at the expense of other areas. 2) People often make entirely rational decisions according to their circumstances, that may appear irrational to someone who can't see the whole picture. Perhaps there was some kind of duress or other factor that caused them to take a risk that seems stupid without being able to see the whole picture.

France and the United States have historically, and will likely continue to engage in industrial espionage against eachother.

It s probably not France, the dude translated ffs, I know we re slow but come on, we can read sub spec and traitor cover letters in English if we must.

It must be more exotic like Turkey or Iran no? And even then...

And I cant find a cause we d incarnate for an american traitor: their either want a lot of money, which we wouldnt provide when we already have nuclear subs and a mature military research industry, are very communists which we're not or very far right lunatics which we're not.

I think Israel is more likely (underdog in a sea of sharks for some), Iran (unfairly treated), Russia/China (will show those libtards) or an oil giant in the middle east (money) or maybe some south american thing.

I mean the guy is an idiot but France, I wouldnt betray any other country for it and Im French... what we dont do ourselves we dont deserve.

The guy is an idiot but I guess he knows something about nuclear submarines. If you're Turkey or Israel or Saudi you don't want nuclear subs, and he must have known that.

Nuclear subs don't make sense over diesel+AIP in the Med or the Persian Gulf or Red Sea - these seas are too narrow or too shallow, so nuke subs would be detected much sooner, cost much more, and be far larger. Having longer trips does not cover all these drawbacks for countries that must base in these areas. Nuclear subs are for blue-water navies, not green-water navies.

Iran/Russia/China are out for reasons pointed out elsewhere in the comments. UK wouldn't need translation (though the idea of 'translating' a spynote into Chav is IMHO incredibly amusing). South American governments obviously don't have money for this.

That leaves us with France or - more exotically - Spain/South Korea/Japan. The latter three don't have nuclear subs, but wouldn't be entirely mad to consider them. However, if the recipient has an existing industry, France is the only remaining logical contender.

It can't be Iran, since there's no embassy (or "building associated with Iran") in Washington DC for the FBI to signal from. It's not going to be Russia or China, because the FBI's story implies cooperation.

France has recently lost that Australian diesel submarine sale, in favour of American nuclear subs, and has made their displeasure very clear.

Perhaps he misread the situation and imagined France would be receptive given that fact.

This started in April of 2020 according to the FBI complaint.

If it was France, maybe he selected a an ally which isn't an adversary to the US but has been critical of the USA (in particular of the former administration)

I wonder if the government ever looks at the laughable compensation of its employees as a security risk. Every time I see salary numbers — even for very specialized and prestigious jobs — I’m shocked at how little they make.

I've often met people who seem to think that the answer for corruption is to pay people less, so that "greedy" people aren't drawn to important jobs. This moralistic viewpoint in which money and wealth are seen as sins is very dangerous. There are some countries, like Singapore, which pay key public positions generously to prevent corruption, and it works!

Little by SV standards, but pretty decent for the rest of the country. It’s easy to make 6 figures plus excellent benefits for a job that’s relatively low stress.

According to the indictment, he had a totally sane and realistic plan to do about 50 dead drops total for about $5M total

gov employees don't make much

>This information was slowly and carefully collected over several years in the normal course of my job to avoid attracting attention and smuggled past security checkpoints a few pages at a time. I no longer have access to classified data so unfortunately cannot help you obtain other files.

All that excitement that he felt over the years every time he extracted a few pages or pictures of secret documents thinking one day he will have enough. All the preparation for the exchange and the text that he left in all the drops makes me believe that he did this for the adrenaline and money. Also if the speculations are true and the COUTNRY 1 is France I think in his mind he thought that he was not doing harm to USA by selling it to Russia or China and also gets to play spy and get away with some money. I wish I can see his face when he gets arrested.

Wow, the feds payed him 10, then 20, then 70k during the course of their operation. I’d really like to know the full story of how this guy got to this point.

And he even said in his email that he assumed the feds would never pay as much as 100k so it had to be legit. I suppose the fbi can now recover the money and if they can’t they can just seize this guy’s property to make the government whole.

I doubt that getting the money back is very high on the feds priorities.

100k for an op isn't really that much. especially when it comes to subjects like this.

now, I'm not saying it was worth it... I dont have all the details.

I’m surprised you are being downvoted. I’ve seen events at my work that cost more than $100k. It’s literally nothing to large corporations and governments.

They will spend far more prosecuting him than 100K.

it's probably more about the last line of my comment.

it was too reasonable :-P

100k is probably significantly less than the salaries for all man hours involved in this operation.

He obviously doesn't know what the military is willing to pay for a hammer!

"he assumed the feds would never pay as much as 100k"

You can't think small with these things, if he had real ambition and vision, he could be running Goldman Sacks!

> if they can't

That is a bit interesting for scenarios like this, the gov may not be able to reclaim even the unspent crypto; well it's not that different from burying cash somewhere and not divulging after being caught.

If this guy was dumb enough to think he could get away with selling submarine secrets, I doubt he was smart enough to secure his private keys in an unseizable way, especially if the arrest was a surprise.

After you've been arrested, your crypto is no longer unseizable, unless you never want to leave prison again.

If you're ordered to turn the money over by the courts, they can hold you as long as you remain in contempt of court.

Rubber-hose decryption in general has a pretty solid track record.

Feeling compelled to comply with a court order and voluntarily relinquish your property is still very different from being seizable without your consent.

Especially with the nature of civil asset forfeiture, in which many people never recover their money or property even after proving their innocence, unseizable property has it's appeal.

> Feeling compelled to comply with a court order and voluntarily relinquish your property is still very different from being seizable without your consent.

The difference between theory and practice is that in theory, there isn't one. In practice, there is.

In Russia we call it thermorectal crypotoanalysis. "Thermo" refers to a soldering iron.

Should've added at least another 0 to make it worthwhile...

His goal was $100k a drop * 50 drops, so he ws planning for $5M. It's in the full indictment: https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1440946/downl...

I think there will be a plea deal

There's not going to be a plea deal. This is a national security issue, he is going to be convicted for the maximum penalty prosecutors can secure, regardless of how long it takes.

Plea deals for espionage cases are common. Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, Jonathan Pollard, and John Walker took plea deals.

They had information to trade. He has nothing. His only value is as a head on the wall.

>This is a national security issue

True, however, a trial may reveal methods* and create political embarrassment. A severe plea deal is therefore a possibility.

* It's quite possible this news story did not contain the entire truth. For example, it's not out of the realm of possibility the FBI knew before COUNTRY1 turned him in.

If the FBIs complaint is accurate this is a pretty simple matter

He was an amateur spy who was caught using good old police techniques. Whether they knew before shouldn't matter.

COUNTRY1 turned everything over and assisted the FBI in their investigation (signaling the suspect). I'm certain they'll send someone to testify in court if needed.

>Whether they knew before shouldn't matter.

But it does matter. The prosecution isn't just to get a conviction and enforce the law, it's intended to advance national security.

If embarrassing details come out and harm it, the prosecutors would rather not have a trial.

It's quite possible to imagine various embarrassing details that might come out and are compatible with the story as reported - from possible spying on COUNTRY1's embassy, to how exactly did this engineer smuggle these secret documents to his house.

The money is peanuts. You think the govt cares about $100k in crypto? The salaries of the FBI agents on this and the legal machine that's about to come down hard on these guys costs millions to maintain.

it is more than the $. the plea deal avoids the potentially lengthy and expensive trial.

There's no need for a plea deal here because the evidence is slam dunk.. the emails .. the dead drop... The government will take their plea and still send them to jail forever. My point is, if i was the justice dept I'd be happy to go to trial.

> if i was the justice dept I'd be happy to go to trial.

or the justice dept can accept the plea deal so they can quickly move to other cases.

This isn’t the type of case they are in a hurry to file in the back of a filing cabinet somewhere. This is the type of case they want to turn into a public flaying.

They’re going to hang him as high and hard as they can to make an example of him. If they could force CSPAN and CNN into the court room to watch you bet they would.

Plus that crypto was likely ceased in other operations... it is unlikely they fired up Coinbase and bought some with Tax Payer money

What if you take the money and don't give them any data? What is the crime?

Great lifehack

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact