The wife of an American nuclear engineer pleaded guilty on Feb. 18 to plotting with her husband to pass on sensitive data to what the couple thought was a foreign official.
Diana Toebbe, 46, of Annapolis, Maryland, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to communicate restricted data in federal court in West Virginia.
According to court documents, Dianna Toebbe’s husband Jonathan Toebbe, a Navy nuclear engineer, in mid-2021 left behind a secure digital card containing restricted data including “militarily sensitive design elements” and performance details on submarine reactors at a dead drop in West Virginia.
Jonathan Toebbe, 43, soon proposed a plan, using a different dead drop in Pennsylvania, to provide 51 packages of information over time, in exchange for $5 million in cryptocurrency. On two other occasions, the nuclear engineer left information behind at prearranged locations, one time in Virginia and the other back in West Virginia.
Dianne Toebbe served as a lookout for her husband on all but one occasion and was aware of her husband’s operation.
A typed message on one of the cards said that “only one other person I know is aware of our special relationship, and I trust that person absolutely.” That referred to Dianne Toebbe, according to her plea agreement. Also on that card, Jonathan Toebbe stated that “we have cash and passports set aside” for the purpose of fleeing if the plot was discovered.
The couple believed they were giving information to a foreign official, but the alleged official was actually an undercover FBI agent.
File booking photographs show Dianna Toebbe (L) and her husband Jonathan Toebbe. (West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority via AP)
Charging documents say the FBI became involved after an FBI attache in a foreign country obtained a package that had been received in April 2020 by representatives in that country. The package was sent in an attempt to establish a covert connection and included documents from the U.S. Navy and instructions for how to proceed using encrypted messaging. The person who sent the package said he or she wanted to sell documents marked confidential, including technical details. A Navy expert confirmed that the documents in the package contained restricted data, or data concerning the design, manufacture, or utilization of atomic weapons or certain nuclear material.
The FBI started communicating with the person, who turned out to be Jonathan Toebbe, on Dec. 26, 2020.
The couple was arrested on Oct. 9, 2021, in West Virginia.
Both Jonathan Toebbe and his wife agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to communicate restricted information in plea deals that saw two counts of communication of restricted data dropped.
Under the plea agreement, Diana Toebbe will serve no more than three years in federal prison while Jonathan Toebbe will serve at least 151 months in federal prison. Neither have yet been sentenced.
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.