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Nuclear engineer, wife used Pittsburgh address to commit espionage, FBI says

WEST VIRGINIA — Like a scene right out of a spy movie, two Maryland residents were arrested in West Virginia after federal authorities said they used a Pittsburgh address, among other concealed methods, to commit espionage by selling restricted data to an undercover FBI agent.

Jonathan, 42, and Diana Toebbe, 45, both of Annapolis, Maryland, were arrested in Jefferson County, West Virginia, by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) on Saturday and charged with violations of the Atomic Energy Act.

“The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The work of the FBI, Department of Justice prosecutors, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Department of Energy was critical in thwarting the plot charged in the complaint and taking this first step in bringing the perpetrators to justice.”

The FBI agent posed as a representative of a foreign country and for almost a year, purchased information known as “Restricted Data” concerning the design of nuclear-powered warships from the Toebbes, who worked as a nuclear engineer at the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, where he had access to the restricted data, including information related to sensitive military design elements, operating parameters and performance characteristics of the reactors for nuclear-powered warships.

According to officials, the investigation began in April 2020 after Jonathan Toebbe sent a package to a foreign government, listing a return address in Pittsburgh, containing a sample of the Restricted Data and instructions to purchase additional secrets. The FBI set up a sting, and corresponded for several months before providing $100,000 in cryptocurrency for the secrets, which were left in encrypted SD cards at pre-arranged “dead drops” in West Virginia and Virginia, inside a half a peanut butter sandwich or chewing gum packages.

Officials said that during the drops Diana Toebbe acted as a lookout.

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe each made brief appearances in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Magistrate Judge Robert Trumble ordered them to remain detained pending a detention hearing on Friday at which more extensive arguments are expected to be made.

The Toebbes will have their initial appearances on Tuesday, Oct. 12 in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia. A judge said Tuesday that each could face life in prison if convicted.