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Navy engineer, wife charged in espionage case once taught in Colorado

Jonathan Toebbe accused of trying to sell nuclear submarine secrets
jonathan toebbe engineer navy secrets
Posted at 3:52 PM, Oct 11, 2021

DENVER – A Navy nuclear engineer and his wife, who were arrested this weekend by federal and Navy agents and accused of espionage and working to sell information about nuclear submarine designs to a foreign agent, both previously taught in the Denver metro and have other links to the area.

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, of Annapolis, Maryland, were arrested Saturday in Jefferson County, West Virginia, and charged with federal counts of conspiracy to communicate restricted data and communication of restricted data, according to federal court documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.

The U.S. Department of Justice alleges Jonathan Toebbe, who works for the Department of the Navy’s Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and had an active national security clearance, sent a sample of the so-called “Restricted Data” regarding nuclear submarines to a foreign government and then communicated for months with an FBI agent posing as a foreign buyer to set up a deal to sell secret information on submarine nuclear reactors.

He was discharged from active duty in the Navy in September 2017 after completing his required active service, the federal complaint says, and he renewed his top-secret clearance in late March 2020, just days before he is accused of sending the package to the unidentified foreign government. The FBI obtained the package in December 2020.

Both Jonathan and Diana Toebbe worked in the science department at the high school level at Kent Denver School, according to Lisa Mortell at the school. Mortell said Jonathan Toebbe worked at the school from 2005 to 2008 and Diana worked there from 2005 to 2012.

“They left Kent Denver in good standing to pursue other opportunities,” Mortell said in an email.

Jonathan Toebbe also earned a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the Colorado School of Mines in May 2012, according to school spokesperson Emilie Rusch. He enrolled at the school in the fall of 2008. The ties to Colorado were also shown on their LinkedIn profiles.

According to the federal criminal complaint, Jonathan Toebbe and the undercover agent whom he was communicating talked for months before Toebbe agreed to sell the classified information on naval nuclear propulsion, military design elements and characteristics for submarine nuclear reactors.

On June 8, the agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to him, and on June 26, the Toebbes went to West Virginia for a dead drop of the information. According to the DOJ, Jonathan Toebbe put classified information on the submarine nuclear reactors onto an SD card, put it in a peanut butter sandwich, and dropped it. Diana Toebbe acted as a lookout, according to the FBI.

He then received another $20,000 in cryptocurrency from the undercover agent, and sent back a decryption key for the card, according to the DOJ. Another dead drop involving an SD card inside a Band-Aid was set up at the end of July in Pennsylvania. On Aug. 28, he made another SD card dead drop inside a package of gum in eastern Virginia, which federal agents say also contained restricted data about submarine nuclear reactors, according to the federal complaint.

The Toebbes were arrested Oct. 9 after placing another SD card at a dead drop in West Virginia, according to the DOJ.

In a letter to the undercover agent, Jonathan Toebbe said “there is only one other person I know is aware of our special relationship, and I trust that person absolutely.” He also told the agent in August he could not acquire more documents than the ones he already had but that he was still offering to help what he believed to be a foreign government’s “technical experts.”

“One day, when it is safe, perhaps two old friends will have a chance to stumble into each other at a café, share a bottle of wine and laugh over stories of their shared exploits,” he wrote in that letter, according to the complaint. “A fine thought, but I agree that our mutual need for security may make that impossible. Whether we meet or no [sic], I will always remember your bravery in serving your country and your commitment to helping me.”

On Monday, prosecutors asked a judge in a detention memo to keep Jonathan Toebbe in custody as the case progresses, saying he is a flight risk and could obstruct justice, The Associated Press reported.

The Toebbes made their initial appearances in court in West Virginia Tuesday, where the government asked for the two to be remanded to custody pending their trials.

According to a letter obtained ABC News, the private school in Maryland at which Diana Toebbe worked put her on an indefinite suspension, saying it is “shocked and appalled” to learn of the charges she faces.

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The mug shots for Jonathan Toebbe and Diana Toebbe.