The Navy nuclear engineer and his wife accused of selling U.S. Navy submarine secrets to a foreign power could face a potential maximum penalty of life in prison.
Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, of Annapolis, were arrested Saturday in Jefferson County, West Virginia, on espionage-related charges. Federal prosecutors say they should remain in custody pending their trials as they face a potential maximum penalty of life in prison and are at “serious risk” of fleeing.
The couple is being charged with violating the Atomic Energy Act, which restricts the disclosure of information related to atomic weapons or nuclear materials.
“Unfortunately there always will be people willing to compromise our nation’s security for personal gain. It’s treasonous, it’s rare, but such individuals are traitors and should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” former acting United States Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly told Fox News.
“Our nuclear submarine force provides a significant military capability for the United States. It is a capability our adversaries both covet and fear. Information related to it must be protected – and for the most part, it is,” he added.
An unsealed criminal complaint alleges that Jonathan Toebbe contacted an unidentified foreign nation in April 2020 to sell U.S. Navy submarine secrets. The FBI, however, obtained Toebbe’s documents and began communicating with him undercover in December.
The Toebbes hid data cards in items such as a peanut butter sandwich, a Band-Aid wrapper, and a chewing gum package, so the information could be picked up by who they believed was a foreign spy operative, authorities say.
Diana Toebbe is accused of “acting as a lookout” as her husband dropped off the material.
“Although most spy cases don’t involve peanut butter and Band-Aids, the facts alleged follow a familiar pattern: Insider within the U.S. government approaches a foreign power to sell U.S. secrets for money, is compromised despite their best efforts at tradecraft, and — to their surprise — is subsequently arrested,” David Laufman, a former senior Justice Department official, told the Washington Post.