Jonathan Toebbe, 44, and his wife, Diana Toebbe, 46, of Annapolis, Maryland, pled guilty in August to conspiring to sell information related to naval nuclear propulsion systems to a foreign country
Toebbe, a US Navy nuclear engineer with top-secret clearance, was sentenced to 19 years and three months in prison while Diana received a prison term of 21 years and eight months
Jonathan Toebbe was accused of depositing memory cards containing government secrets, concealing them in objects such as a chewing gum wrapper, a Band-Aid wrapper and a peanut butter sandwich
The Toebbes who have two children had been detained since their arrest in October 2021
According to court docs stated that Diana Toebbe acted as a lookout while her husband delivered highly classified information on nuclear submarine technology
Jonathan was alleged to have been concealing memory cards in a chewing gum wrapper, a Band-Aid wrapper and a peanut butter sandwich
The foreign buyer was not identified by the US authorities but media reports allege the ‘buying country’ was Brazil
A US Navy nuclear engineer and his wife have been sentenced to long prison terms for espionage – plotting to sell submarine secrets to a foreign country – often hidden in chewing gum wrappers to peanut butter sandwiches.
Jonathan Toebbe, 44, of Annapolis Maryland and his wife, Diana Toebbe, 46, who were arrested last year October, pled guilty in August, 2022, to conspiring to sell information related to naval nuclear propulsion systems. the couple were sentenced Wednesday for conspiracy to communicate Restricted Data related to the design of nuclear-powered warships.
Jonathan was sentenced to 19 years and three months in prison while Diana received a prison term of 21 years and eight months.
According to court documents, Diana acted as a lookout while her husband delivered highly-classified information on nuclear submarine technology to the foreign buyer in a series of ‘dead drops’ in the region around their Annapolis, Maryland, home in 2020.
It began when the FBI attaché in the unnamed country was tipped off to the scheme. In a sting operation Toebbe then sold several tranches of classified material to an FBI undercover operative over the course several months.
During the couple’s trial which began in Martinsburg, Virginia, last year October, Jonathan Toebbe was accused of depositing memory cards containing government secrets, concealing them in objects such as a chewing gum wrapper, a Band-Aid wrapper and a peanut butter sandwich.
The foreign buyer was not identified by the US authorities but The New York Times, citing people briefed on the investigation, said the country was Brazil.
Diane Toebbe, a teacher at a private school, initially pled innocent to the charge of conspiracy to communicate restricted data. However, she later changed her plea after her husband pled guilty and in so doing, admitted that his wife played a role in the plot.
Jonathan was a nuclear engineer for the US Navy dealing with nuclear submarine propulsion systems when the two were arrested on October 9, 2021 after he hid a small SD card carrying US secrets at a dead drop location in West Virginia.
Court documents described the clandestine plot including, traveling hundreds of miles to secretly hand over information, payments made in cryptocurrency, signals made from an embassy building in Washington.
In one message, Jonathan indicated he had been considering his actions for several years and was happy to work with ‘a reliable professional partner.’
He also wrote he had divided all the data he had collected into 51 ‘packages’ of information, and sought $100,000 for each.
One memory card 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.’
Many of the emails that were exchanged between Jonathan and the representative of the foreign country were transcribed in the court documents. He used two pseudonyms: Alice Hill and Bob Burns.
The messages suggest he was offering the classified information to a power that already has nuclear submarines.
He states in one message that the information ‘reflects decades of U.S. Navy ‘lessons learned’ that will help keep your sailors safe.’
The FBI claims is the only place where Toebbe could have obtained the classified information on US nuclear subs was the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory lab,. Toebbe had worked on naval nuclear propulsion since 2012, including a 15-month tenure in the office of the chief of naval operations.
Only six countries currently operate nuclear-powered submarines – China, France, India, Russia, the UK and the US. The US and UK are set to provide Australia with the technology to deploy nuclear-powered submarines, as part of the first initiative under the new trilateral security partnership AUKUS.
Prior to the new deal, which ignited a diplomatic row between Washington and Paris, the US had only shared the technology of its submarines with Britain. Each of these underwater craft costs an estimated $3billion to build.
The country the Jonathan were allegedly trying to sell the nuclear secrets to is not clear and neither are their motivations.
However, court documents suggest it was most likely an ally or neutral government because it cooperated with the FBI during the sting operation to expose him.
The unidentified foreign government sat on the documents before turning them over to the US in December 2020, after the election. The FBI then conducted a sting operation to catch the Toebbes attempting to spill more government secrets
But the FBI was following the plot, after having been alerted to it by the target nation in December 2020, though that was nearly nine months after the Toebbes first mailed their offer to the country’s military intelligence.
‘The Toebbes betrayed the American people and put our national security at significant risk when they selfishly attempted to sell highly sensitive information related to nuclear-powered warships for their own financial benefit,’ Brice Miller, a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said in a statement.
The couple were arrested last October after prosecutors said he had repeatedly sold information about the submarines to someone he thought was a representative of a foreign government but who was actually an undercover FBI agent.
Toebbe acknowledged during the plea hearing to conspiring to pass classified information to a foreign government, causing ‘injury to the United States.’
Jonathan Toebbe, who as part of his job had a top-secret security clearance, agreed as part of the plea deal to help federal officials with locating all classified information in his possession, as well as the roughly $100,000 in cryptocurrency that was paid to him.
The Toebbes had discussed fleeing abroad, and mentioned practicing their foreign language skills in texts obtained by investigators. They speak French, further fueling speculation that they’d tried to sell the secrets to the European nation.
FBI agents who searched the couple’s Annapolis, Maryland, home found a trash bag of shredded documents, thousands of dollars in cash, valid children´s passports and a ‘go-bag’ containing a USB flash drive and latex gloves.
Diana Toebbe said her husband only wanted to flee the country because she hated Donald Trump, a court has been told.
Lawyers for Diana Toebbe, 45, claim she only wanted to exit the US because of her disdain for the former president, and not because she was worried about getting caught for allegedly trying to sell the classified information.
They made the claim in court papers filed Wednesday, complete with an exchange of messages said to have taken place between Toebbe and her husband Jonathan in March 2019.
Those texts also allegedly saw Diana Toebbe discuss fleeing to France. The country they tried to sell the secrets to has never been mentioned, and is said to be a US ally, although officials have hinted that France was not the country targeted.
Diana begins: ‘We need to get out.’ Jonathan appears bored with her statement, answering: ‘*sigh* where? To do what?’
His wife then says: ‘To anywhere. To do something else. To teach in international schools. To take Macron up on his offer to harbor scientific refugees.’
In an apparent attempt to calm Diana, Jonathan says: ‘Biden/Warren will curb stomp Trump/Pence.’
But Diana was undeterred, and replied: ‘WE NEED TO GET OUT. Hilary (sic) was going to curb stomp trump. I’m done.’
Jonathan touted then then-unpublished Mueller Report into alleged collusion between Team Trump and Russia, which ended up posing no threat to Trump’s presidency.
Diana a humanities teacher and Jonathan a nuclear engineer with top-secret security clearance, are both transplants from California who settled in the Washington D.C. area since 2012 where Jonathan has worked for the Navy since 2012 in the Washington D.C. area.
The Toebbes who have two children had been detained since their arrest in October 2021, because they were accused of “an offense for which the maximum sentence is life imprisonment,” according to prosecutors who said that there was a “serious risk defendant will flee,” and posed a “serious risk obstruction of justice.”