ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — A Navy nuclear engineer and his wife are set to appear in federal court in West Virginia on Tuesday to face accusations that they tried to sell military secrets to a foreign government.
Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, both of Annapolis, were arrested over the weekend on a federal complaint charging them with conspiracy to communicate restricted data and communication of restricted data in violation of the Atomic Energy Act.READ MORE: 7 Shot, Including 5 Teenagers, In West Baltimore Friday Night
The couple were taken into custody Saturday in West Virginia where authorities say Jonathan Toebbe dropped off a memory card containing sensitive data for someone he thought was a foreign agent but was actually an undercover agent.
Toebbe, 42, a nuclear engineer employed by the Department of the Navy, has spent more than a year trying to slip restricted data on U.S. nuclear submarine design to a foreign power, with his wife’s help, according to a copy of the complaint.
“The information he was trying to convey was very, very important, and, if gotten into the wrong hands, would have been very damaging to the United States,” said Michael Greenberger with the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security.
No comment from the Navy on Toebbe’s arrest was immediately available Sunday, the Associated Press reports.
The complaint alleges the efforts began in April 2020 when a representative for an undisclosed foreign country received a package containing Navy documents, a letter expressing a desire to sell confidential information and contact instructions.
“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,” the sender, known as “Alice,” wrote in part.
The package and its contents were handed over to the FBI in December, at which point an undercover agent posing as the foreign government’s representative responded to the sender through an encrypted email.
“The husband calls himself an amateur,” Greenberger said. “But he was pretty sophisticated with what he was doing.”
It wasn’t until February that the pair made contact with each other. From there, they traded a series of emails over the next several weeks in an effort to establish trust and come to an agreement over payment and delivery methods.READ MORE: ‘We Want To Prevent This From Happening Again’ Witnesses Describe Deadly Collision Between Fire Truck And Dirt Bike Rider In Baltimore As Advocates Call For Solutions
The email dialogue culminated on Memorial Day Weekend with the FBI placing a signal for “Alice” at a location associated with the foreign government. Days later, the undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to “Alice” as a show of good faith.
Afterward, the pair arranged what would become the first in a series of “dead drops,” which involve leaving something hidden in a public location for another person who stops by and collects it after the fact.
The first dead drop was made June 26 in Jefferson County, West Virginia. Authorities later recovered a memory card with sensitive data that had been placed inside a peanut butter sandwich, and “Alice” was paid $20,000.
The cloak-and-dagger routine continued with a July 31 dead drop in Pennsylvania with a memory card stored in a bandage and another Aug. 28 in Virginia with Virginia-class submarine schematics stored on a memory card hidden in a pack of gum.
“I have considered the possible need to leave on short notice,” read a message left on the memory card at the Aug. 28 drop. “Should that ever become necessary, I will be forever grateful for your help extracting me and my family.”
On multiple occasions, the complaint states, Dianna Toebbe was seen with or near her husband at the drop-off sites, apparently acting as a lookout.
According to the complaint, Toebbe was seeking a total of $5 million for dozens of deliveries.
Neighbors was surprised by the scene they saw at the Toebbes’ Annapolis area home over the weekend.
“Saturday afternoon, streets were blocked with cars–FBI coming in and out,” neighbor Jennifer McCormick said. “It’s like a movie.”
Diana Toebbe, 45, is listed as a teacher at The Key School, a prestigious private school located in Annapolis. In a statement Sunday, the school said she has been suspended indefinitely pending the outcome of the investigation.MORE NEWS: 'It's Ridiculous': Drivers React To Increase In Gas Prices
“Key School is shocked and appalled to learn of the charges filed against faculty member Diana Toebbe and Johnathan Toebbe,” Head of School Matthew Nespole said. “Key School had no prior knowledge of their alleged criminal activities, nor is the School connected to the investigation in any way. Key School supports the administration of justice by the FBI and NCIS, and will cooperate with the investigation if requested through our school’s legal counsel to do so.”