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No Bail for Couple Charged in Nuclear-Sub Espionage Case

Virginia
USS Virginia (USN file image)

Published Oct 21, 2021 11:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

A U.S. Navy engineer and his wife will remain in jail pending trial on charges of espionage, a federal judge ruled Thursday. 

Jonathan Toebbe, an employee of the U.S. Navy's Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, stands accused of trying to sell engineering data on the Virginia-class nuclear submarine to a foreign government. In a sting operation, an FBI undercover agent made arrangements with Toebbe for three separate "dead drop" transfers of data cards, each allegedly containing documents and diagrams related to the Virginia program. Jonathan's wife, Diana Toebbe, is accused of standing lookout duty during these clandestine meetings. 

Jonathan Toebbe has not applied to the court for release, but Diana, a schoolteacher at a high-end private school in Annapolis, asked to be released on bail pending her trial so that she could care for the couple's children. Prosecutors asked the court to keep her in custody, asserting that a series of earlier text messages she exchanged with her husband showed an interest in leaving the country. The judge agreed, and he denied Diana Toebbe's request. 

The FBI may have brought the Toebbes into custody, but the agency has not yet finished its search. The undercover agents involved in the sting operation gave Jonathan Toebbe $100,000 in cryptocurrency in exchange for his nuclear secrets. That money has not been found - yet another reason to keep both of the Toebbes in custody, prosecutors argued.

In addition, the investigators have not managed to recover the thousands of pages of documents about the Virginia program that Jonathan Toebbe allegedly claimed to have in his possession. 

The Virginia-class submarine is the U.S. Navy's most modern attack sub, capable of ultra-quiet operation, high speed and long deployments. The nuclear reactor technology at its heart is one of the nation's most closely-guarded secrets. Disclosing so-called "restricted data" about a military nuclear program is a serious felony, and if convicted, the defendants could face decades in prison (or life). Both have pleaded not guilty.