WASHINGTON — Sentencing involving a Maryland man and his wife in a nuclear espionage incident in West Virginia happened Wednesday. The couple was tried in connection to charges of conspiracy to communicate Restricted Data related to the design of nuclear-powered warships.
Jonathan Toebbe, 44, of Annapolis, was sentenced to 19 years and 4 months of incarceration and fined $45,700. His wife, Diana Toebbe, 46, was sentenced to 21 years and 10 months of incarceration and fined $50,000.
The Toebbes plead guilty to the conspiracy in August 2022.
“If not for the remarkable efforts of FBI agents, the sensitive data stolen by Mr. Toebbe could have ended up in the hands of an adversary of the United States and put the safety of our military and our nation at risk. The FBI keeps American citizens safe from enemies both foreign and domestic and this case is an excellent reminder of their important work.”U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II
“The Toebbes were willing to compromise the security of the nation by selling information related to naval nuclear propulsion systems. They are now being held accountable for their actions. The FBI and our federal partners have an unwavering commitment to protect U.S. secrets and will continue to aggressively investigate and expose espionage activities conducted on U.S. soil.”FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall.
At the time of Jonathan Toebbe’s arrest he was an employee of the Department of the Navy and served as a nuclear engineer. He was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, also known as Naval Reactors, according to court documents.
He had an active national security clearance through the Department of Defense, giving him access to “Restricted Data” within the meaning of the Atomic Energy Act. His clearance offered ample opportunity to engage with the sensitive designs, manufacturing and utilization of atomic weapons. This included production of Special Nuclear Material (SNM), or use of SNM in the production of energy – such as naval reactors. Jonathan’s work with the Navy gave him access to information concerning naval nuclear propulsion.
According to court documents, Jonathan Toebbe sent a package with a return address from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to a foreign government. It contained a sample of Restricted Data and provided instructions to communicate under a covert relationship to purchase additional top level data.
Toebbe, and the foreign government official began corresponding via encrypted email, but Toebbe was actually communicating with an undercover FBI agent.
Correspondence continued for several months, which led to an agreement to sell Restricted Data in exchange for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.
The undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Jonathan Toebbe as a “good faith” payment on June 8, 2021. Then, on June 26, Toebbe made a dead drop of an SD card, concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich, and contained sensitive military design elements about submarine nuclear reactors, at a pre-arranged location.
The undercover agent sent Jonathan Toebbe a $20,000 cryptocurrency payment, after retrieving the SD card, and then Toebbe sent the agent a decryption key for the SD Card. A review of the SD card by authorities revealed that it contained Restricted Data related to submarine nuclear reactors.
Another SD card dead drop was made on Aug. 28, in eastern Virginia. The card was hidden in a chewing gum package.
The process of payment continued for the sensitive submarine nuclear reactor information with $70,000 in cryptocurrency to Toebbe, and the decryption key was revealed to FBI agents.
Jonathan Toebbe and his wife were arrested by FBI agents on Oct. 9, after he placed yet another SD card at a pre-arranged “dead drop” at a second location in West Virginia.
The FBI and NCIS continue to investigate the case.
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 prosecuted the case.