FBI Arrests Navy Nuclear Engineer, Wife Accused of Selling Submarine Secrets

October 10, 2021 7:41 PM - Updated: October 11, 2021 9:41 PM
USS Vermont (SSN 792) makes her way up the Thames River and past the City of New London as she returns home after conducting routine operations to Submarine Base New London on Wednesday, February 3, 2021, while a brief snow squall passes through the Groton New London area. The nineteenth and newest Virginia-class submarine she is the third U.S. Navy ship to be named for the Green Mountain State. (U.S. Navy Photo by John Narewski/Released)

An Annapolis, Md., couple with U.S. Navy ties were arrested Saturday and charged with espionage-related charges after passing classified documents to FBI agents posing as members of an unspecified country, according to unsealed court documents.

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe were both charged with one count each of conspiracy to communicate restricted data and communication of restricted data in violation of federal law.

Over the course of approximately eight months, Jonathan Toebbe communicated with the FBI agents who were posing as representatives of the unspecified country and passed classified documents via small SD memory cards, according to charging documents. Toebbe would use dead drop locations arranged by the FBI, which included him hiding an SD card in a peanut butter sandwich, a BandAid wrapper and a pack of gum.

Jonathan Toebbe is an employee of the Department of the Navy, serving as a nuclear engineer with the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, while his wife is a teacher at the Key School in Annapolis, according to her LinkedIn.

Toebbe’s security clearance allowed him access to restricted data, according to the charging documents.

On April 1, 2020, Jonathan Toebbe sent a package to the unspecified country in an attempt to begin a relationship where Toebbe would provide documents in exchange for money.

Documents on the SD cards included schematic designs for the Virginia-class submarine, according to the charging documents. The submarines are currently in service and are expected to be used through 2060.

“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,” Toebbe wrote to the undercover agent, according to the documents. “I no longer have access to classified data so unfortunately cannot help you obtain other files.”

The FBI’s attache in the unspecified nation obtained the package sent to the country in December 2020. The package contained U.S. Navy documents, instructions and an SD card with more documents and instructions for using an encrypted communication platform to respond, according to the charging documents.

Toebbe requested that the unspecified country’s representatives use dead drops near Baltimore, Md., indicating his unease about not being able to set up the locations himself.

“I am sorry to be so stubborn and untrusting, but I can not agree to go to a location of your choosing,” Toebbe wrote, according to the charging documents. “I must consider the possibility that I am communicating with an adversary who has intercepted my first message and is attempting to expose me.”

Toebbe eventually agreed to what he thought were representatives of the unspecified country setting up the dead drop locations after they signaled him over Memorial Day in Washington, D.C.

He also initially requested $100,000 for the first set of documents, which the FBI paid over the course of several drops, according to the charging documents.

The FBI paid Toebbe in smaller increments, in total paying $100,000 by Aug. 28, 2021.

Toebbe requested $100,000 for each of the 49 remaining packages, which would be a total of $5 million. His reasoning is that U.S. security forces had limited budgets and could afford to pay $10-20,000 but not $100,000.

“They may offer it, but they will not deliver such a large amount,” Toebbe wrote, according to the charging documents. “New reports confirm this is a common tactic used by U.S. security forces to expose agents. Please do not be offended by this, but your generosity so far also matches exactly an adversaries [sic] likely play to entrap me.”

In the same email, Toebbe referenced the only other person who knew about the arrangement, which was someone he could trust. The FBI believed that is Diana Toebbe.

FBI agents also observed Diana Toebbe acting as a lookout when Jonathan Toebbe would make his drops.

One of the first drops was in Jefferson County, W.Va., which is the drop that the FBI referenced when writing the charges for Toebbe and his wife. Toebbe and his wife will appear at the U.S. District Court in Martinsburg, West Va. on Tuesday.

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
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