FBI arrests nuclear engineer and wife on charges of espionage

Monday, October 11, 2021

In the United States on Saturday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) arrested a couple in West Virginia. Court documents released Sunday allege they tried to sell classified data to a foreign nation.

The Maryland couple, former U.S. Navy nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe and his wife Diana Toebbe, were both arrested and charged with violating the Atomic Energy Act. Mr. Toebbe worked on naval nuclear reactors and acoustic quieting. Ms. Toebbe is a teacher at the private Key School in their neighborhood in Annapolis, now on indefinite suspension according to the school.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Image: United States Department of Justice.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in regards to the case, "The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation." The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) alleges the couple tried to sell this information to a foreign agent who was actually an FBI undercover agent.

Documents filed in federal court allege Mr. Toebbe arranged to sell restricted information to a foreign power identified only as "COUNTRY1" over several months via encrypted messages, and that he arranged "drops" of these data on SD cards in various locations in exchange for payments in cryptocurrency.

At the first of the drops in West Virginia, the DOJ alleges Mr. Toebbe hid an SD card in a peanut butter sandwich while Ms. Toebbe acted as a lookout. At the second of these in eastern Virginia, the DOJ charges that an SD card was placed in a chewing gum package. Federal officers arrested the couple at the third drop site, in West Virginia, on Saturday.

Both Mr. and Ms. Toebbe are set to appear in federal court tomorrow in Martinsburg, West Virginia.