Maryland nuclear engineer and his wife sentenced for espionage-related offenses

WASHINGTON – A Maryland man and his wife were sentenced Wednesday for 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 pleaded 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,” said U.S. Attorney Ihlenfeld. “The FBI keeps American citizens safe from enemies both foreign and domestic and this case is an excellent reminder of their important work.”

“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,” said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall. “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.”

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” within the meaning of the Atomic Energy Act. Restricted Data concerns design, manufacture or utilization of atomic weapons, or production of Special Nuclear Material (SNM), or use of SNM in the production of energy – such as naval reactors. Jonathan Toebbe worked with and had access to information concerning naval nuclear propulsion including information related to military sensitive design elements, operating parameters and performance characteristics of the reactors for nuclear powered warships.

According to court documents, Jonathan Toebbe sent a package to a foreign government, listing a return address in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, containing a sample of Restricted Data and instructions for establishing a covert relationship to purchase additional Restricted Data. Jonathan Toebbe began corresponding via encrypted email with an individual whom he believed to be a representative of the foreign government. The individual was really 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 “good faith” payment. Shortly afterwards, on June 26, Jonathan Toebbe serviced a dead drop by placing an SD card, which was concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich and contained military sensitive design elements relating to submarine nuclear reactors, at a pre-arranged location. After retrieving the SD 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 SD Card. A review of the SD card revealed that it contained Restricted Data related to submarine nuclear reactors. On Aug. 28, Jonathan Toebbe made another “dead drop” of an SD card in eastern Virginia, this time concealing the card in a chewing gum package. After making a payment to Jonathan Toebbe of $70,000 in cryptocurrency, the FBI received a decryption key for the card. It, too, contained Restricted Data related to submarine nuclear reactors. The FBI arrested Jonathan Toebbe and his wife 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 are investigating 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.

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