wife of Maryland nuclear engineer pleads guilty to espionage offense | Takeover bid
A Maryland woman today pleaded guilty to conspiring to release restricted data related to the design of nuclear-powered warships. Her husband pleaded guilty to the same offense on Monday, February 14.
Diana Toebbe, 46, of Annapolis, was arrested on October 9, 2021 for knowingly and willingly joining a conspiracy with her husband, Jonathan Toebbe, to release restricted data to a foreign country. During the conspiracy, Diana Toebbe served as a lookout while her husband dealt with three “dead-drops”.
According to court documents, at the time of his arrest, Jonathan Toebbe was an employee of the Department of the Navy who served as a nuclear engineer and was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, also known as Naval Reactors. He held an active national security clearance through the Department of Defense, giving him access to “restricted data” as defined in the Atomic Energy Act. Restricted data relates to the design, manufacture or use of atomic weapons, or the production of special nuclear materials (SNM), or the use of SNM in the production of energy – such as naval reactors. Jonathan Toebbe has worked with and had access to information regarding naval nuclear propulsion, including information relating to sensitive military design elements, operating parameters, and performance characteristics of nuclear-powered warship reactors.
According to court documents, Jonathan Toebbe sent a package to a foreign government, indicating a return address in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, containing a sample of restricted data and instructions to establish a secret relationship to purchase additional restricted data. Jonathan Toebbe began corresponding via encrypted email with someone he believed to be a foreign government official. The individual was actually 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.
On June 8, 2021, the undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Jonathan Toebbe as a “good faith” payment. Shortly after, on June 26, Dianna Toebbe acted as a lookout while Jonathan Toebbe maintained a dead fall by placing an SD card, which was concealed in a half peanut butter sandwich and contained military design elements sensitive areas linked to underwater nuclear reactors, to a pre-site developed. After recovering the SD card, the undercover agent sent Jonathan Toebbe a payment of $20,000 in cryptocurrency. In return, Jonathan Toebbe emailed the undercover agent a decryption key for the SD card. An examination of the SD card revealed that it contained restricted data related to underwater nuclear reactors. On August 28, Jonathan Toebbe made another “dead drop” of an SD card in eastern Virginia, this time hiding the card in a packet of chewing gum. After making a payment to Jonathan Toebbe of $70,000 in cryptocurrency, the FBI received a decryption key for the card. It also contained limited data relating to underwater nuclear reactors. The FBI arrested Diana Toebbe and her husband on October 9, after she stood watch while Jonathan Toebbe placed another SD card in a pre-arranged “dead drop” at a second location in West Virginia.
Diana Toebbe has pleaded guilty to counting one of the indictments charging her with conspiracy to release restricted data, which carries a maximum statutory penalty of up to life in prison, a fine of up to up to $100,000 and probation for up to five years. Per her plea agreement, Diana Toebbe will serve up to 36 months in federal prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering US sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.
The FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service are investigating the case.
Trial Attorneys Matthew J. McKenzie and S. Derek Shugert of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Controls 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 is pursuing the case.