Wife of Maryland Nuclear Engineer Pleads Guilty to Espionage-Related Offense
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Pennsylvania
WASHINGTON – A Maryland woman pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to communicate Restricted Data related to the design of nuclear-powered warships. Her husband pleaded guilty to the same offense on Monday, Feb. 14.
Diana Toebbe, 46, of Annapolis, Maryland, 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. 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 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.
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.
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 are prosecuting the case.
Updated February 18, 2022