Annapolis Nuclear Engineer and Spouse Arrested for Espionage-Related Charges

    Jonathan Toebbe, a Navy nuclear engineer from Annapolis, and his wife, Diana, were arrested by federal agents in West Virginia on Saturday and charged with violations of the Atomic Energy Act.

    The couple are accused by federal prosecutors of selling restricted data about the design of nuclear-powered warships to a person they believed was a representative of a foreign government. In actuality, that person was an undercover FBI agent. The country the Toebbes were told they were dealing with is not named in court documents.

    They were arrested after attempting to pass information to the undercover agent for a third time, according to federal prosecutors.

    Jonathan Toebbe was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and held an active national security clearance, giving him access to information about the design, operation and performance of reactors for nuclear powered warships.

    The federal criminal complaint, which was unsealed Saturday, alleges that on April 1, 2020, Jonathan Toebbe sent a package, listing a return address in Pittsburgh, to a foreign government containing a sample of restricted information and instructions for establishing a covert relationship to purchase more. Thereafter, Toebbe used an encrypted email service to message the undercover agent, reaching an agreement to sell data in exchange for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.

    On June 8, the agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Jonathan Toebbe as “good faith” payment, according to prosecutors.

    On June 26, the couple traveled to West Virginia, where, with Diana Toebbe acting as a lookout, Jonathan Toebbe placed an SD memory card concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich at a pre-arranged “dead drop” location. After retrieving the memory 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 card, which contained restricted data related to submarine nuclear reactors, according to the complaint.

    Prosecutors say Jonathan Toebbe made another “dead drop” of an SD card in eastern Virginia on Aug. 28, in exchange for $70,000 in cryptocurrency, this time concealing the card in a chewing gum package.

    The FBI arrested Jonathan and Diana Toebbe on Saturday, during a pre-arranged “dead drop” at a second location in West Virginia, prosecutors said.

    The FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service are investigating the case.

    The Toebbes are scheduled to make an initial appearance in federal court on Tuesday.

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    Danielle E. Gaines
    Danielle Gaines covered government and politics for Maryland Matters for two years before moving into an editing position. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post ― as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at The Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.