Maryland Nuclear Engineer and Wife Sentenced for Espionage-Related Offenses
A Maryland man and his wife were sentenced today for conspiracy to communicate Restricted Data related to the design of nuclear-powered warships.
Jonathan Toebbe, 44, of Annapolis, was sentenced today to 232 months, over 19 years, of incarceration. His wife, Diana Toebbe, 46, was sentenced to 262 months, more than 21 years, of incarceration. The Toebbes pleaded guilty to the conspiracy in August 2022.
“The Toebbes conspired to sell restricted defense information that would place the lives of our men and women in uniform and the security of the United States at risk,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “The Department of Justice remains committed to protecting U.S. defense technology.”
“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 William J. Ihlenfeld II for the Northern District of West Virginia. “The FBI keeps American citizens safe from enemies both foreign and domestic and this case is an excellent reminder of their important work.”
“These actions are a betrayal of trust, not only to the U.S. Government, but also to the American people,” said Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “All U.S. Government employees swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and with that oath comes the obligation to protect sensitive information. Those entrusted with such grave responsibility must be held accountable if they violate their oath and betray their country. The investigation which led to today’s sentencing is a reminder that the FBI and our partners will continue to doggedly pursue those who betray their sworn oath and those who aid them.”
“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 Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall of the FBI Pittsburgh Field Office. “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.”
“Naval nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe was entrusted with our nation’s critical secrets and, along with his wife Diana Toebbe, put the security of our country at risk for financial gain,” said U.S. Attorney Cindy Chung for the Western District of Pennsylvania. “Their serious criminal conduct betrayed and endangered the Department of the Navy’s loyal and selfless service members. The seriousness of the offense in this case cannot be overstated.”
“The Toebbes betrayed the American people and put our national security at significant risk when they selfishly attempted to sell highly sensitive information related to nuclear-powered warships for their own financial benefit,” said Special Agent in Charge Brice Miller of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) Office of Special Projects. “As the law enforcement arm of the Department of the Navy responsible for preventing terrorism, reducing crime, and protecting secrets, NCIS remains committed to protecting vital information and technology that ensures the superiority of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.”
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, 2021, 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, 2021 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 for the Northern District of West Virginia and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Lieber Smolar for the Western District of Pennsylvania prosecuted the case.