Maryland Nuclear Engineer and Wife Arrested on Espionage-Related Charges

The couple was selling data to someone they thought was a representative of a foreign power but was actually an undercover FBI agent, authorities said


An Annapolis, Maryland couple was arrested Saturday by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) on espionage-related charges, federal authorities say.

According to a criminal complaint, nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe, who worked for the Navy, sold restricted information about the design of nuclear-powered warships. He did so with help from his wife, Diana, 45, according to the complaint.

Jonathan Toebbe placed restricted data in SD cards and hid them in half a peanut butter sandwich, in a sealed Band-Aid wrapper and in a chewing gum package, which he left at drop points in West Virginia, south-central Pennsylvania and eastern Virginia, according to the criminal complaint.

He was selling the data to a person he thought was a representative of a foreign power not identified in the documents, but was actually an undercover FBI agent, authorities said.

Jonathan Toebbe was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, also known as Naval Reactors, authorities said. He had top secret security clearance through the U.S. Department of Defense and an active Q clearance from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which gave him access to restricted data. A Q clearance from the DOE is required to access "Secret Restricted Data," according to the DOE's website.

The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation.

Attorney General Merrick Garland

On April 1, 2020, Jonathan Toebbe sent a package to a foreign government with a sample of restricted data and instructions on how to buy more, the complaint affidavit alleges. Authorities say he continued communicating for several months with someone he thought was with the foreign government.

The criminal complaint refers to the government Jonathan Toebbe believed he was communicating with only as COUNTRY1.

To gain his trust, the FBI conducted an operation in the Washington, D.C. area over this past Memorial Day weekend that involved placing a physical signal at a location associated with the foreign government, the complaint says.

Jonathan Toebbe later came to an agreement with the undercover agent to sell restricted data in exchange for thousands of dollars in the cryptocurrency Monero, the complaint says.

He allegedly made "dead drops," each about a month apart, of SD cards containing restricted data, the complaint says. The first happened June 26 in West Virginia, with Diana Toebbe allegedly acting as a lookout. Other SD cards were hidden inside a sealed Band-Aid wrapper July 31 and a chewing gum package Aug. 28, the complaint says.

The FBI arrested Jonathan and Diana Toebbe in Jefferson County, West Virginia, on Saturday after Jonathan Toebbe placed another SD card in a pre-arranged "dead drop" at another location in the state, authorities said in the criminal complaint.

"The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation," said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a release. "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 and Diana Toebbe are facing charges for alleged violations of the Atomic Energy Act. They are scheduled for initial appearances in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia, on Tuesday.

It wasn't immediately clear if they had an attorney.

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