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Wife of Nuclear Engineer Pleads Guilty in Plot to Sell US Navy Secrets

guilty pled selling US Navy nuclear secrets

Published Feb 18, 2022 7:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

Four days after her husband pleaded guilty to one count of espionage for attempting to sell details from the Navy's latest generation of attack submarines, the Virginia-class, to an unspecified “foreign nation,” his wife has now also pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to communicate Restricted Data related to the design of nuclear-powered warships. The FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service are investigating the case, but it appears to have brought to an end an embarrassment for the U.S. Navy.

In October 2021, the FBI arrested Diana Toebbe, age 46 of Annapolis, Maryland, along with her husband Jonathan Toebbe, a nuclear engineer and an employee of the Department of the Navy working at the Washington Navy Yard on the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, also known as Naval Reactors. The arrests came after six months of communication between the engineer and an undercover FBI agent posing as a representative of a foreign government. 

According to the court documents, Jonathan Toebbe in April 2021 sent a package to a foreign government containing a sample of Restricted Data and instructions for establishing a covert relationship to purchase additional confidential information. Restricted Data is a term that encompasses the design, manufacture, or utilization of atomic weapons, or production of Special Nuclear Material, or use of SNM in the production of energy, including naval reactors. He began corresponding via encrypted email with the undercover agent leading to an agreement to sell information about the Navy’s nuclear propulsion systems for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.

Dianna Toebbe, who had been a school teacher and a Maryland housewife, reportedly assisted her husband including acting as a lookout in June, and again in August and October when he made drops of the top-secret materials at designated locations. FBI agents retrieved the data, which was placed on SD chips and reportedly hidden in a peanut butter sandwich, a package of gum, and a Band-Aid wrapper. Analysis of the SD cards confirmed that he was passing secret information and in exchange received $100,000 in cryptocurrency. 

Jonathan Tobbee had initially pleaded not guilty to the charges and repeatedly said his wife was not involved. When he pleaded guilty on Monday, he however admitted that she had been involved in providing him assistance as a lookout and in preparing for the information drops.

Diana Toebbe pleaded guilty to one count of the indictment charging her with conspiracy to communicate Restricted Data which carries a maximum penalty of up to life in prison, a fine up to $100,000, and a term of supervised release not more than five years. According to her plea agreement, she will serve a sentence of not more than 36 months of imprisonment in federal prison. A federal district court judge will determine the actual sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Details about how the FBI was able to intercept the contacts have not been released. The Navy continues to also investigate its security to determine how an employee was able to walk out of the Washington Navy Yard with such critical data and how a suburban engineer was able to attempt to contact a foreign government to sell some of the Navy’s most prized information.