Navy engineer & wife tried to sell America’s nuclear submarine secrets

A U.S. Navy nuclear engineer and his wife have been charged for trying to sell secret information about nuclear submarines to an undercover FBI agent who posed as an operative for a foreign country.

The Justice Department said on Sunday that Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, both of Annapolis, Maryland, were arrested by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) in Jefferson County, West Virginia, on Saturday, Oct. 9. They will have their initial appearances on Tuesday, Oct. 12, in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

For almost a year, Jonathan Toebbe, 42, aided by his wife, Diana, 45, sold information known as Restricted Data concerning the design of nuclear-powered warships to a person they believed was a representative of a foreign power but was actually an undercover FBI agent.

Jonathan Toebbe and Diana Toebbe have been charged with espionage for trying to sell secret information about nuclear submarines to an undercover FBI agent who posed as an operative for a foreign country.

The married couple have been charged in a criminal complaint alleging violations of the Atomic Energy Act and upon conviction they may be punished by imprisonment for life, a fine of up to $100,000 or both.

“The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The work of the FBI, Department of Justice prosecutors, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Department of Energy was critical in thwarting the plot charged in the complaint and taking this first step in bringing the perpetrators to justice.”

Jonathan Toebbe is an employee of the Department of the Navy who served as a nuclear engineer and was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, also known as Naval Reactors.

He held an active national security clearance through the U.S. Department of Defense, giving him access to Restricted Data.

Toebbe worked with and had access to information concerning naval nuclear propulsion including information related to military sensitive design elements, operating parameters and performance characteristics of the reactors for nuclear powered warships.

The complaint affidavit alleges that on April 1, 2020, Jonathan Toebbe sent a package to a foreign government, listing a return address in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, containing a sample of Restricted Data and instructions for establishing a covert relationship to purchase more secret information.

The foreign government that Toebbe approached turned his letter over to the FBI.

The affidavit also alleges that, thereafter, Toebbe began corresponding via encrypted email with an individual whom he believed to be a representative of the foreign government. The individual was really an undercover FBI agent.

Jonathan Toebbe continued this correspondence for several months, which led to an agreement to sell Restricted Data in exchange for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.

On June 8, 2021, the undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Jonathan Toebbe as “good faith” payment. Shortly afterwards, on June 26, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe traveled to a location in West Virginia.

There, with Diana Toebbe acting as a lookout, Jonathan Toebbe placed an SD card concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich at a pre-arranged “dead drop” location.

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.

On Aug. 28, Jonathan Toebbe made another “dead drop” of an SD card in eastern Virginia, this time concealing the card in a chewing gum package. After making a payment to Toebbe of $70,000 in cryptocurrency, the FBI received a decryption key for the card.

It, too, contained Restricted Data related to submarine nuclear reactors.

The FBI arrested Jonathan and Diana Toebbe on Oct. 9, after he placed yet another SD card at a pre-arranged “dead drop” at a second location in West Virginia.

A former lieutenant in the Navy, Jonathan Toebbe had been awarded the Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal before separating from the military on Dec. 19, 2020.

Diana Toebbe is a humanities teacher at Key School, a private K-12 school in Annapolis, Maryland, that said she had been suspended indefinitely.

The Toebbes live in Annapolis and have two children.

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