Nuclear Engineer and his Wife Arrested on Charges of Espionage

The couple, formerly Denver school teachers in the mid-2000s, now face accusations of providing intel of designs for nuclear-fueled warships.


The innocent-looking couple are now facing the federal court in West Virginia for their illegal disclosure of military information.

Jasmin Parrado, Staff Writer

Saturday, October 9, former Navy lieutenant and nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe and his wife, Diana Toebbe, were apprehended by authorities following charges for alleged espionage against the United States armed forces. According to the Department of Justice, Toebbe took advantage of his granted clearance in national security to obtain sensitive data, and he disclosed information regarding details about warship designs to what he assumed were foreign powers. He had been doing it with the intent of prospering from the transaction of these confidential designs and details.


What Toebbe did not realize was that the foreign power he was selling the restricted information to turned out to be completely fake; it was not a foreign power making the supposed transaction, but rather, a group of FBI agents gone undercover to seek out and expose his criminal activities.


Since Toebbe’s resignation from the armed forces, he had already been under suspicion due to his behavior during a time period in which investigators discovered a package intended for a foreign representative, its contents containing restricted access data. What agents learned in wake of this investigation was that, at this time, Toebbe was coincidentally seeking out communication with a foreign individual after his departure from the Navy last year. Since then, his clandestine ventures have been observed through covert means throughout the months.


After constantly prompting a potential meeting with Toebbe, FBI agents were able to coax him into dropping off the assumedly restricted information at the border between Virginia and Maryland; that’s when they noticed his wife, Diana, had accompanied him and was actively surveying the vicinity while he performed the illicit “dead-drop” of data. This revealed her status as an accessory to her husband, further progressing the investigation to culminate in a seemingly random and surprising scenario—two supposedly dedicated American citizens that had even been schoolteachers in Denver, Colorado were willing to sell military-grade secrets for financial gain.


The restricted data from this dead-drop instance was packed in a plastic-wrapped SD card, stuffed within a peanut butter sandwich half; the couple was falsely paid thousands of dollars. But the Toebbes didn’t stop there—and neither did the FBI.


Over the next few months, more dead-drops were planned for large sums of money, and more SD cards were hidden in interesting locations such as band-aid wrappers and other food items; for $70,000, Toebbe went as far as to hide an  SD card with a Virginia-class submarine design within a package of chewing gum.


The shocking revelation has left residents of Annapolis, students and colleagues alike, in disbelief over the true nature of the couple; they did not remotely appear to have any underlying motives entailing the willful exploitation of classified data. Mr. Toebbe’s acquaintances from graduate school recalled him as an organized and dedicated man of his work, while Mrs. Toebbe’s former students from the Key School in Annapolis remembered her kindness and intelligence, describing her as having been an advocate for more liberal and reformative causes. Mrs. Toebbe’s social media accounts are plastered with photos of stovetop recipes, selfies, and her children—all in what would have appeared to be a genuine, innocent lifestyle from the perspective of a stranger.


The situation puzzles many—the motive, though entailing immense financial benefit, is still uncertain to most investigators; the Toebbes so nonchalantly fed their supposed conspirators information that could possibly endanger the lives of the very people they have taught and stood by for the majority of their lives, all to the point that their revealed desires feel like they have to be accompanied by more than just financial gain. This begs the question: was this their sole intention from the beginning? Did Jonathan Toebbe serve the armed forces primarily to obtain this classified information of nuclear propulsion mechanisms and designs, posing as the greatest level of contribution to the United States? Likewise, did Diana Toebbe teach students across the board in a simple façade of civilian grace and inspiration? As this case forces many to realize how intricately secretive the common citizen can be, the implications of this situation might prompt the country to view the very people within it with an air of distrust.


The drive of the Toebbes to pursue this extent of criminal activity is still not fully known; neither is the country that the couple mistakenly thought they were contacting. As they face the court and details are released surrounding their odd and surprising case, the answers will come in due time.