Jonathan and Diana Toebbe espionage charges navy
© AP Photo/Jack Sauer, File;
(L) The USS Virginia (R) Accused spies Jonathan and Diana Toebbe
A Navy nuclear engineer with access to military secrets has been charged with trying to pass information about the design of American nuclear-powered submarines to someone he thought was a representative of a foreign government but who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent, the Justice Department said Sunday.

In a criminal complaint detailing espionage-related charges against Jonathan Toebbe, the government said he sold information for nearly the past year to a contact he believed represented a foreign power. That country was not named in the court documents.

Toebbe, 42, was arrested in West Virginia on Saturday along with his wife, Diana, 45, after he had placed a removable memory card at a prearranged "dead drop" in the state, according to the Justice Department. They're scheduled to have an initial appearance in federal court Tuesday in Martinsburg.


In the couple's Hillsmere neighborhood in Annapolis, there is a child's bike and a Black Lives Matter sign out front. In the back and sides, there are tall weeds.

Neighbors say unlike most here the couple didn't keep up their property and weren't friendly.

"They were very quiet. They kept to themselves, for the most part, you'd see them once in a while outside but not that often," says a neighbor who doesn't want to be identified.

Diana Toebbe is a teacher at the nearby Key School. The head of the school sent a letter to student homes, saying he's shocked by the charges.
Like all of you, we were shocked and appalled to learn of their arrest and the charges filed against them," Matthew Nespole wrote. "In the strongest terms possible, we condemn their alleged behavior. It goes against the values we stand for as a school and the example we must set for our students. Diana Toebbe has been suspended from Key School indefinitely pending the outcome of the investigation."
The Key School in Annapolis, Maryland (7News)
© 7News
The Key School in Annapolis, Maryland
It wasn't immediately clear whether the Toebbes have lawyers. The Navy declined to comment Sunday.

The FBI says the scheme began in April 2020, when Jonathan Toebbe sent a package of Navy documents to a foreign government and wrote that he was interested in selling operations manuals, performance reports, and other sensitive information to that country.

Authorities say he also provided instructions for how to conduct the furtive relationship, with a letter that said: "I apologize for this poor translation into your language. Please forward this letter to your military intelligence agency. I believe this information will be of great value to your nation. This is not a hoax."

That package, which had a return address in Pittsburgh, was obtained by the FBI last December through its legal attache office in the unspecified foreign country. The court documents don't explain how the FBI came to receive the package or from whom.

In any event, the FBI used Toebbe's outreach as the launching pad for a months-long undercover operation in which an agent posing as a representative of a foreign contact made contact with Toebbe and agreed to pay thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency for the information that Toebbe was offering.

After weeks of back and forth over email, the undercover agent in June sent Toebbe about $10,000 in cryptocurrency, describing it as a sign of good faith and trust, the FBI says.

Weeks later, federal agents watched as the Toebbes arrived at an agreed-upon location in West Virginia for the exchange, with Diana Toebbe appearing to serve as a lookout for her husband during a dead-drop operation for which the FBI paid $20,000.

The FBI recovered a blue memory card wrapped in plastic and placed between two slices of bread on a half of a peanut butter sandwich, court documents say. The records on the memory card included design elements and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors.

The Justice Department describes those submarines as "cruise missile fast-attack submarines, which incorporate the latest in stealth, intelligence gathering, and weapons systems technology."

The memory card also included a typed message that said, in part: "I hope your experts are very happy with the sample provided and I understand the importance of a small exchange to grow our trust."

The FBI conducted similar dead-drop exchanges over the next several months, including one in August in eastern Virginia for which Toebbe was paid roughly $70,000. In that instance, prosecutors say, he concealed in a chewing gum package a memory card that contained schematic designs for the Virginia-class submarine.

The complaint alleges violations of the Atomic Energy Act, which restricts the disclosure of information related to atomic weapons or nuclear materials.

The Toebbes are expected to have their initial court appearances Tuesday in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

Read the charges here.

Jonathan Toebbe has worked for the U.S. government since 2012, holding a top-secret security clearance and specializing in naval nuclear propulsion, the FBI says. He has also been assigned to a government-owned laboratory in the Pittsburgh area that officials say works on nuclear power for the U.S. Navy.

No one answered at the Toebbe residence on Sunday afternoon in a waterside Annapolis community by the South River. An outside light was on above the door of their home, and a dog barked inside.

John Cooley, who lives across the street from the Toebbes, said he counted more than 30 FBI agents on his block on Saturday from about 2:30 p.m. until after dark. He said agents went inside the home.

Key School letter
The Head of School at Key School in Annapolis issued the following letter to the community:

Dear Key School Community,

On October 9, Key School was informed that Upper School faculty member Diana Toebbe and her husband, Jonathan Toebbe, an employee of the Department of the Navy assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, were arrested and charged with a criminal complaint of violations of the Atomic Energy Act. The complaint alleged that they sold information concerning the design of nuclear-powered warships to a person they believed was a representative of a foreign power. In actuality, that person was an undercover FBI agent.

To be clear, Key School is in no way connected to the investigation nor any personal criminal activity involving the Toebbes. Like all of you, we were shocked and appalled to learn of their arrest and the charges filed against them. In the strongest terms possible, we condemn their alleged behavior. It goes against the values we stand for as a school and the example we must set for our students. Diana Toebbe has been suspended from Key School indefinitely pending the outcome of the investigation.

Key School fully supports the administration of justice by the FBI and NCIS and will cooperate with the investigation if requested through our school's legal counsel to do so.

Our top priority during this time is our students, and in particular, our Upper School students. We have been, and will continue to work on plans that minimize disruptions to academic programming and other activities Diana Toebbe was involved with.

We are also working on plans that will provide emotional support to our Upper School students. Our initial step will be a meeting with the Upper School student body that I will facilitate on Tuesday morning. If your student is experiencing any emotional trauma as a result of this news, our school counselors Jennifer Ford (Middle and Upper School students) and Erin Weiss (First and Lower School students) are available, and welcome outreach from you. Jennifer will be directly involved in formulating short-term and long-term emotional support plans for our students.

We understand that many of you will have questions about the events that have transpired. Like you, we are still gathering information and processing the alleged crimes committed by the Toebbes. This is a challenging time for our community, including the Toebbes' minor children. Please keep them in your thoughts. Be assured that as more information becomes available, we will keep you apprised.

In the interest of the School and our students, we ask that any media inquires you may receive be directed to Kate Austin, Key School's Director of Communication (kaustin@keyschool.org).

Regards,

Matthew Nespole

Head of School
Via The Associated Press