Diana Toebbe and Jonathan Toebbe are a husband and wife who are facing espionage-related charges after authorities say they stole nuclear-powered submarine secrets to sell to a foreign power. Jonathan Toebbe is a nuclear engineer for the U.S. Department of Navy and his wife is a teacher at a private school in Maryland. They were charged with violations of the Atomic Energy Act on October 9, 2021, federal prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said the Toebbes thought they were communicating with a representative of the unnamed foreign country, but really they were talking to an undercover FBI agent. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement, “The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation. 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 reached out to the foreign government in April 2020 in an attempt to begin a covert relationship to sell the restricted information, but the country reported the contact to the FBI, federal prosecutors said. The Toebbes received a $10,000 payment in cryptocurrency from the undercover agent as part of the investigation and made multiple “dead drops” to hand over the top-secret documents related to nuclear-powered warships, according to the criminal complaint.
Jonathan Toebbe, 42, and Diana Toebbe, 45, who live in Annapolis, Maryland, were taken into custody in West Virginia on October 9 and remain detained pending their first hearing in federal court on Tuesday, October 12. The charges they face carry a maximum sentence of life in prison or death, federal authorities said. It was not immediately clear if Jonathan and Diana Toebbe have hired an attorney who could comment on their behalf.
Here’s what you need to know about Diana Toebbe and Jonathan Toebbe:
1. Jonathan Toebbe Concealed SD Cards in a Peanut Butter Sandwich & a Chewing Gum Container to Pass Them Off to the Undercover FBI Agents, Federal Prosecutors Say
The Department of Justice said in a press release Jonathan Toebbe and Diana Toebbe, “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. In actuality, that person was an undercover FBI agent.” According to prosecutors, the Toebbes were arrested on October 9 in Jefferson County, West Virginia, by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).
According to prosecutors, Jonathan Toebbe first reached out to a foreign government, which is not named in the complaint on April 1, 2021, sending a package with a return address in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The package contained, “a sample of Restricted Data and instructions for establishing a covert relationship to purchase additional Restricted Data,” prosecutors said. ” 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.”
Jonathan Toebbe received $10,000 in cryptocurrency from the undercover agent on June 8, 2021, as “good faith,” prosecutors said, and on June 26, he and his wife went to West Virginia. Prosecutors said Diana Toebbe acted as the lookout while Jonathan Toebbe “placed an SD card concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich at a pre-arranged ‘dead drop’ location.”
Prosecutors added, “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.” Jonathan Toebbe then concealed an SD card in a chewing gum package and made a “dead drop” to the undercover agent in eastern Virginia on August 28, prosecutors said.
“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,” prosecutors said. The full criminal complaint can be read here. Prosecutors did not say if they believe they know a motive in the case.
2. Jonathan Toebbe Is a Former Science Teacher Who Has Worked as a Nuclear Engineer on Naval Reactors Since 2012
Jonathan Toebbe is a former naval officer and had a top-secret security clearance, according to court documents. He works for the Department of Navy as a nuclear engineer and was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, known as Naval Reactors, the DOJ said in its press release. “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 DOJ said.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Toebbe attended Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, graduating in 2011 with degrees in physics and mathematics. He then earned a master of science degree in physics from Emory in 2004 and a master of science in nuclear engineering at the Colorado School of Mines in 2012. He was a graduate fellow in the Nuclear Energy University Partnerships, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, from 2010 to 2012 whiles studying there.
Toebbe has previously worked as an adjunct professor and laboratory instructor at Georgia State University Perimeter College, as a physical science teacher in Cobb County, Georgia, and as a physics teacher at Kent Denver School in Englewood, Colorado. He has worked for the Navy since 2012 in the Washington D.C. area.
According to his LinkedIn profile, while working in Naval Reactors, Toebbe, “Oversees performance of core physics testing aboard new construction and operating submarines and aircraft carriers. Coordinates with government contractors, shipyard personnel, and ship’s force to ensure reactor safety, performance, and on-time delivery.” He said he is the, “Technical lead for COLUMBIA-class submarine nuclear design. Manages multi-million dollar technical work program to ensure on-time, on-budget delivery of design products necessary to validate reactor safety and performance.” Toebbe added he is a “Fleet support engineer for core physics. Subject matter expert working in multi-disciplinary team to respond to time-critical, technical challenges faced by ships deployed globally.”
The Navy told the Baltimore Sun that Toebbe began his military career in 2012 in Denver, studying at the officer Training Command in Newport, Rhode Island. He was a nuclear engineering officer based in Virginia and Pittsburgh and left active duty in 2017 as a lieutenant. He was in the Navy Reserves until December 2020 as a human resources officer before retiring in December 2020, according to the Sun.
3. Diana Toebbe Has Been a Teacher at The Key School in Annapolis Since 2012 & Has a Ph.D in Anthropology From Emory University
Diana Toebbe has worked as a teacher in the Upper School at The Key School in Annapolis, Maryland, since August 2012, according to her LinkedIn profile. She was previously a teacher at the Kent Denver School from 2005 to 2012, she said on LinkedIn. She works as a humanities teacher, according to the Baltimore Sun.
The Key School issued a statement after Toebbe was arrested saying, “Key School is in no way connected to the investigation nor any personal criminal activity involving the Toebbes. Diana Toebbe has been suspended from Key School indefinitely pending the outcome of the investigation.” Head of School Matthew Nespole added in a statement that he and the administration were “shocked and appalled to learn of the charges.” Nespole said the school would be cooperating with the investigation.
Diana Toebbe received her undergraduate degree in anthropology from the University of California Santa Cruz in 1997. She then completed her doctorate in anthropology at Emory University in 2005. According to the Emory website, Toebbe wrote her dissertation on “Measurement of Inclusion Biases in Archaeological Skeletal Collections: A Case Study of Hasanlu.”
Diana Toebbe posted about politics on Facebook and Twitter, including posts and retweets supporting Democrats and opposing former President Donald Trump. She shared an image on Facebook of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg a day after her death in September 2020 with the quote, “Fight for the things you care about.”
She also shared her support for the Black Lives Mater movement on Facebook and changed her Facebook profile in October 2016 to outline her photo with the words, “Women can stop Trump.” She retweeted a post from France 4 Hillary in 2017 speaking out against Trump’s Muslim ban after the Quebec mosque attack.
4. Jonathan & Diana Toebbe Are Both California Natives & Have 2 Children
Jonathan and Diana Toebbe are both California natives. He is originally from Upland, California, according to his Facebook page. Diana Smay Toebbe is originally from San Diego, according to her Facebook profile. They have two young children, a son and a daughter, according to her Facebook page.
The Toebbes and their children live in a $430,000 split-level three-bedroom home in the Hillsmere Estates neighborhood of Annapolis, according to the Baltimore Sun. A neighbor told the Sun that 15 police vehicles and 25 officers and agents raided their home on Saturday and “ransacked” a vehicle parked there, taking the seats and the GPS system. The FBI agents talked to neighbors about the couple, the newspaper reports. A neighbor told the Sun the Toebbes and their kids kept to themselves.
The Toebbes took part in renaissance faires and dressed up together, according to photos on their social media pages. Diana Toebbe’s Instagram includes photos of family vacations, their kids and pets and one captioned “faire” from August 2019.
5. Prosecutors Are Seeking to Keep the Toebbes in Custody Pending Trial, Saying There’s a Risk They Will Try to Flee or Obstruct Justice & Are Facing Up to Life in Prison or the Death Penalty
Jonathan Toebbe and Diana Toebbe are both scheduled to make their first appearance in federal court before Magistrate Judge Robert W. Trumble in Martinsburg, West Virginia, on Tuesday, October 12, 2021. Prosecutors filed motions for detention for both Toebbes, asking a federal judge to hold them in custody until trial.
The October 11 filings in Northern District of West Virginia U.S. District Court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jarod Douglas says the couple is eligible for pretrial detention because they are accused of “an offense for which the maximum sentence is life imprisonment,” there is a “serious risk defendant will flee,” and a “serious risk obstruction of justice.” Prosecutors said they should be detained because there are no conditions of pretrial release that would “assure defendant’s appearance as required.” Douglas requested detention hearings for the Toebbes not more than three days after their initial appearances.
The Department of Justice said in its press release, “Trial Attorneys Matthew J. McKenzie and S. Derek Shugert of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jarod J. Douglas and Lara Omps-Botteicher of the Northern District of West Virginia, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Lieber Smolar for the Western District of Pennsylvania are prosecuting the case on behalf of the government. The FBI and the NCIS are investigating the case.”