Charges have been filed against a Navy nuclear engineer and his wife for allegedly attempting to share submarine secrets with a foreign power.
According to court documents, a Navy nuclear engineer and his wife have been charged with regularly attempting to convey information about US nuclear submarines to a foreign government through an alleged espionage scheme found by the FBI.
According to authorities, Jonathan Toebbe, who possesses a top-secret clearance, “has passed and continues to pass Restricted Data as defined by the Atomic Energy Act… to a foreign government… with the knowing assistance of his spouse, Diana Toebbe,” according to a criminal complaint filed in West Virginia and unsealed Sunday.
According to court records, an FBI official received a package from the foreign country in December 2020 containing US Navy documents, a letter, and directions on how to conduct encrypted communications with the individual offering the information.
“I apologize for the terrible translation into your language,” said the message enclosed with the parcel. Kindly submit this letter to the military intelligence agency in your country. I believe this knowledge will be extremely beneficial to your country. This is not an elaborate fabrication.”
FBI operatives then pretended to be foreign government spies and began communicating with the individual via email, suggesting a meeting, but the individual declined, stating that they were endangering their lives by providing the information to the foreign government.
According to court documents, Toebbe engaged in an email exchange about a year ago in which he reportedly discussed espionage tradecraft and payments with someone he believed to be a foreign spy but was actually an undercover FBI agent.
“Your deliberate plans demonstrate that you are not a novice,” the FBI stated to Toebbe. “This is a partnership that necessitates mutual comfort.”
The emails indicate that Toebbe was initially skeptical of the undercover agent but eventually came to believe him, in part because of the money he was paid and because the FBI arranged for Toebbe to be “signalled” from the country’s embassy in Washington over Memorial Day weekend. The documents do not detail how the FBI arranged for such a signal.
Toebbe allegedly requested $100,000 in cryptocurrencies, stating, “I recognize that this is a hefty request.” Please keep in mind that I am risking my life for your benefit and have already taken the first step. Please assist me in truly trusting you.”
According to the criminal documents, the undercover FBI agent convinced Toebbe to conduct a “dead drop” of material in late June in West Virginia’s Jefferson County after Toebbe got around $10,000 in cryptocurrencies.
The FBI then recovered Toebbe’s package and discovered a 16-gigabyte data card within. The card was “wrapped in plastic and sandwiched between two slices of bread on half of a peanut butter sandwich,” officials stated. A small bag contained the half sandwich.”
Authorities reported that another $20,000 payment was made, and the dead drops began, with data cards concealed in Band-Aid wrappers and chewing gum packages.
According to the court document, his wife, Diana Toebbe, looked to be “serving as a lookout” when he dropped off the material.
Toebbe offered a decryption key to access the contents of one of the data cards after receiving $70,000 in cryptocurrency, officials claimed.
Toebbe and his wife were charged with conspiracy to disseminate restricted information and communicating restricted information. The couple was detained on Saturday in West Virginia and are scheduled to appear in court for the first time on Tuesday.
According to court documents, the material Toebbe passed up includes facts about the design, operation, and performance of Virginia-class nuclear submarine reactors. According to court documents, Virginia-class submarines are equipped with cruise missiles and integrate “the latest in stealth, intelligence gathering, and weapon system technology.” Each is estimated to cost around $3 billion to construct.
According to court documents, Toebbe worked on nuclear propulsion for submarines while on active service in the Navy until 2017, a technology that the US just agreed to sell to Australia. Previously, the US shared the technology exclusively with Britain, which was also a partner in the pact with Australia. The pact effectively ended an Australian-French trade deal, sparking a diplomatic spat between Washington and Paris.
Attorney General Merrick Garland stated that the accusations include “a plan to disclose to a foreign nation secrets relevant to the design of our nuclear submarines.”
The court documents do not identify the foreign country that Toebbe allegedly believed was purchasing the secrets, nor do they explain how the FBI acquired the package Toebbe initially sent to the foreign country in December 2020, but the filing notes the package’s postmark was several months earlier — April 1, 2020.
Toebbe, 42, has been employed by the Navy since 2012. He and his 45-year-old wife live in Annapolis, Maryland, where she teaches high school humanities. They were apprehended following the suspected placement of another data card at a hidden dead-drop location. According to officials, their residence was searched following their detention by FBI agents and Navy investigators.
Toebbe allegedly delivered thousands of pages of documents in total, and officials believe that his espionage ambitions have been growing for years.
“The information was gathered gradually and carefully over several years in the course of my job to avoid drawing attention and smuggled past security checkpoints a few pages at a time,” Toebbe allegedly wrote to the foreign country, adding that he no longer had access to classified data but could answer any technical questions the foreign country might have.
He also allegedly wrote that he hoped that if he was ever discovered, the foreign government would be able to extract him and his family, adding “we have passports and cash set aside for this purpose.”