Navy engineer & wife pleaded guilty to selling nuclear propulsion secrets

A Maryland woman and her husband pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to communicate Restricted Data related to the design of nuclear-powered warships.

Diana Toebbe, 46, of Annapolis, was arrested on Oct. 9, 2021, for knowingly and voluntarily joining a conspiracy with her husband, Jonathan Toebbe, to communicate Restricted Data to a foreign nation, an espionage-related offense.

“Among the secrets the U.S. government most zealously protects are those related to the design of its nuclear-powered warships. The defendant was entrusted with some of those secrets and instead of guarding them, he betrayed the trust placed in him and conspired to sell them to another country for personal profit,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

During the course of the conspiracy, Diana Toebbe served as a lookout while her husband serviced 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” 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 his top secret information 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, Dianna Toebbe acted as a lookout while 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 Diana Toebbe and her husband on Oct. 9, after she acted as a lookout while Jonathan Toebbe placed yet another SD card at a pre-arranged “dead drop” at a second location in West Virginia.

Diana Toebbe pleaded guilty to count one of the indictment charging her with conspiracy to communicate Restricted Data which carries a maximum statutory penalty of up to life in prison, a fine up to $100,000, and term of supervised release not more than five years.

Pursuant to her plea agreement, Diana Toebbe will serve a sentence of not more than 36 months of imprisonment in federal prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

“There’s a message here for anyone who would sell out America’s secrets,” said Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler, Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “The FBI and its partners will use all our investigative techniques to bring you to justice.”

“The FBI is relentless in its efforts to uncover those who seek to do our nation harm by targeting our most valuable secrets,” said Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall of the FBI’s Pittsburgh Field Office. “This case is an example of the hard work and diligence of the FBI and our federal partners to neutralize and hold accountable those people who threaten our national security.”

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