Crime

Couple who plotted to sell US nuclear secrets hidden in peanut butter sandwich sentenced to prison

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Wednesday, November 9, US Navy engineer Jonathan Toebbe and his wife, Diana Toebbe, were sentenced to more than 19 and 22 years in prison, respectively. Earlier this year, they both pled guilty to conspiracy charges per the US Department of Justice (DOJ).

They were a seemingly idyllic couple from Annapolis, Maryland. Per the DOJ, Jonathan was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. Diana was a teacher at a private school.

The illusion was shattered when US District Court Judge Gina Groh determined the pair had inflicted “great danger” to national security. Groh called Jonathan Toebbe’s actions “greedy” and “self-serving,” which made active military personnel and American citizens vulnerable.

Privy of nuclear secrets, Toebbe used his clearance to send restricted information to an unnamed foreign government. He included contact information with the sample documentation. The intention was to build a relationship with the buyer to sell secrets for a high price tag.

It turns out that the foreign representative was an undercover FBI agent. The informant communicated with Jonathan Toebbe for several months before a deal was finalized. The restricted data would be purchased with cryptocurrency and delivered on a secure digital (SD) card.

In June 2021, a $10,000 good-faith payment was sent to Toebbe. The actual transfer took place at a pre-arranged location with the SD card hidden in half of a peanut butter sandwich. The SD card held military designs affiliated with nuclear reactors on submarines.

After this SD card was received, Jonathan was sent $20,000 in crypto in exchange for the card’s decryption key. Months later, Toebbe delivered another SD card concealed in a pack of chewing gum. This time, he was sent $70,000 in digital assets for similar information on this card and its decryption instructions.

In October 2021, the FBI arrested Jonathan and Diana Toebbe after another SD card was dropped off at a designated location in West Virginia. As for why he betrayed his country, Jonathan told The Washington Post he felt his family was under threat and that democracy was about to collapse. The Post also noted that the couple was trying to leave the country.

Diana received a longer sentence than her husband due to findings of obstruction of justice. She also sent him two letters from prison, one of which asked him to lie about her involvement. The authorities intercepted both letters.

As for her role in this case, Diana Toebbe claims she should have “followed her instinct” and encouraged Jonathan not to go through with his plans. She cited family problems for not doing so and added, “I felt like the country’s political situation was dire.”

Jonathan Toebbe’s public defender did not respond to a request for comments, and Diana’s attorney could not be reached.

Cover Image: Wusa9 via AP

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