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Husband and wife nuclear warship ‘spy’ team get 20 years each

A woman and her husband, who both copped to trying to sell nuclear warship secrets to a foreign government, have been sentenced to prison, with each set to spend around two decades behind bars.

US Navy nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe and his wife Diana Toebbe were sentenced to 232 months (19 years, four months) and 262 months (21 years, 10 months), respectively, on charges that they worked together to hand numerous physical and electronic documents, including schematics for the advanced Virginia-class nuclear submarine, to an agent of a foreign government.

It isn’t immediately clear why Diana Toebbe, who only appears to have acted as a lookout and confidant, received a longer sentence.

Jonathan Toebbe’s job in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program gave him access to a lot of sensitive material deemed “restricted data” through the Atomic Energy Act. Such information included “design, manufacture or utilization of atomic weapons, or production of Special Nuclear Material (SNM), or use of SNM in the production of energy,” the Department of Justice said. 

But Toebbe never spoke to a spy – when the unnamed foreign government received an initial teaser package of documents from the engineer, it handed them right over to a local FBI attaché. 

Toebbe then spent the better part of two years attending to dead drops and being convinced by the Feds that they were, in fact, the foreign government Toebbe had reached out to – quite convincingly at that.

The spy who fooled me

Toebbe was contacted by the FBI, which told him they were interested in the documents he had to share. 

Untrusting at first, Toebbe was convinced that the FBI were foreign agents when they managed to slip a visual signal into the window of a building controlled by the unnamed foreign government he believed he was speaking to. The FBI didn’t say whether the foreign country was in on the visual signal ruse, but the plan worked and Toebbe started cooperating. 

He even presented a menu of sorts for his foreign handlers to peruse, listing a series of documents he was in possession of from his time in the Navy (Toebbe worked as a nuclear engineer for the Navy and was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, also known as Naval Reactors, according to court docs). 

The FBI then paid Toebbe $10,000 in Monero cryptocurrency as a sign of good faith. Two additional dead drops were made, totalling an additional $90,000. It was at that point the FBI was granted a warrant [PDF] that resulted in the arrest of both Jonathan and Diana Toebbe. 

Both suspects pleaded guilty in August.

The seriousness of the case, said US Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Cindy Chung, can’t be overstated. Toebbe “put the security of our country at risk for financial gain,” Chung said, betraying and endangering the lives of his Department of the Navy colleagues. ®