Maryland Couple Pleads Not Guilty to Espionage-Related Charges

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe pleaded not guilty in federal court on Wednesday to charges related to espionage. The couple is accused of violating the Atomic Energy Act by selling restricted data concerning the design of nuclear-powered warships to an individual they believed to be a representative of a foreign power. U.S. District Magistrate Judge Robert Trumble ordered Toebbe to remain in jail until trial.

Diana Toebbe also pleaded not guilty in a separate federal court hearing. Her attorney argued that the FBI had no evidence that she knew what Jonathan Toebbe was doing. Prosecutors argued that she should remain in custody because she poses a flight risk and may know the location of missing secret documents. Magistrate Judge Trumble did not rule as to whether Diana Toebbe could be released on bail. The trial is tentatively set to start on December 14.

The couple was arrested on October 9, 2021 when, according to the FBI, Jonathan Toebbe left a digital memory card with sensitive secrets in a location he believed a foreign contact would retrieve it. Jonathan Toebbe worked as an engineer on the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program. He is accused of mailing a package of classified information to representatives of a foreign country in April 2020 and offering more secrets in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.

The FBI contacted Toebbe in December 2020, pretending to be a representative from that same foreign country. Thereafter, Toebbe allegedly left hidden memory cards containing data related to submarine nuclear reactors in half a peanut butter sandwich, a chewing gum package, and a sealed Band-Aid wrapper between June and October of 2021. The FBI alleges that during some drops, Diana Toebbe stood nearby as a lookout. The complaint also states that during at least one drop, the couple appeared to be conducting surveillance detection routes.

Court documents include excerpts from letters Toebbe allegedly left on the memory cards. In one, regarding the use of drop locations, the writer states, “If we are to continue using this method of exchange long term, it is very important that I have as much flexibility in timing my deliveries as possible. I would like to create a natural legend for my interest in visiting a particular place in the future – reading articles about ten fun things to do in Baltimore this month and ‘stumbling’ across a beautiful hike close to home, for example.”

Another letter mentioned that the classified information was gathered “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.” FBI Agent Peter Olinits testified at Wednesday’s hearing that Toebbe also wrote that if the first country he reached out to did not respond, he would move on to another country. 

During Diana Toebbe’s hearing, Olinits testified that the FBI has not recovered the $100,000 in cryptocurrency that it gave the Toebbes during the sting. It has also not recovered 50 packets of restricted data that Jonathan Toebbe allegedly offered for $5 million.

Additional Reading

Maryland man accused of spying pleads not guilty, will remain in jail until trial, NBC News (October 20, 2021)

The FBI is still looking for a trove of nuclear sub secrets in an espionage case, NPR (October 20, 2021)

Maryland Nuclear Engineer and Spouse Arrested on Espionage-Related Charges, The United States Department of Justice (October 10, 2021)

Criminal Complaint, United States of America v. Jonathan Toebbe and Diana Toebbe (October 8, 2021)

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