Jonathan Toebbe and his wife, Diana, were arrested earlier this week for trying to sell military secrets to a foreign country. The Annapolis, Maryland couple was picked up by the FBI after hiding the secrets in a peanut butter sandwich and leaving it at a dead drop.
According to documents, the couple believed they were talking to a undisclosed foreign country, called “country1” but it was actually an undercover FBI agent who had been investigating Toebbe and his wife for months.
The FBI first became aware of the couple and their spy games back in December 2020, when Jonathan Toebbe allegedly sent a package containing restricted navy documents to country1. It is unclear how the FBI intercepted this package, but when they opened it they found a letter addressed to the foreign country.
In the letter, Toebbe expressed his desire to start a friendship with this country and was willing to share more secrets in exchange for money. He left detailed instructions on how to safely get back to him if the country was interested.
“I apologize for this poor translation into your language. Please forward this letter to your military intelligence agency. I believe this information will be of great value to your nation. This is not a hoax,” wrote Toebbe in his letter.
Jonathan Toebbe is a Navy nuclear engineer who had access to information about U.S. military submarines. The couple is accused of violating the Atomic Energy Act which prohibits the sharing of restricted data.
Both husband and wife have been charged with one count of conspiracy to communicate restricted data and communication of restricted data in violation of federal law.
An FBI agent went undercover and pretended to be a representative from that foreign country. Over a series of months, the agent was able to get Toebbe to share more secrets and the Annapolis man hid them in some pretty strange items.
The submarine secrets were placed on SD cards and hid in a Band Aid wrapper, a gum wrapper, and most recently, a peanut butter sandwich. FBI agents picked up Jonathan and Diana Toebbe in West Virginia when they tried to drop off the sandwich. Diana was acting as a look out for her husband.
In exchange for the secrets, the Toebbes were paid thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency. This most recent drop cost the U.S. government $20,000. FBI agents also sent money randomly to the couple, which helped to establish trust.
Jonathan Toebbe said, “I hope your experts are very happy with the sample provided and I understand the importance of a small exchange to grow our trust,” during his last exchange with “country1.” This latest SD card contained information about the U.S. military’s Virginia-class submarine reactors.
These new submarines are described as “cruise missile fast-attack submarines, which incorporate the latest in stealth, intelligence gathering, and weapons systems technology,” according to the Justice Department.
Jonathan Toebbe had worked for the U.S. Navy since 2012, and held top-secret clearance with the government. He was skilled in nuclear propulsion and worked in a lab in Philadelphia, Pa., which specialized in nuclear power.
During the eight months that he was selling secrets to “country1” he told the FBI agent that “This information was slowly and carefully collected over several years in the normal course of my job to avoid attracting attention and smuggled past security checkpoints a few pages at a time,” Toebbe said, according to documents. “I no longer have access to classified data so unfortunately cannot help you obtain other files.”
Diana was a teacher at Key School in Annapolis and the school sent out a letter to parents and staff following the arrest of the couple. The letter told the community that the school was not connected to the crimes that the Toebbes committed and that the school district would be cooperating with the FBI.
The couple is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday. It is unclear if they will be providing their own lawyers.