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Maryland couple indicted on espionage-related charges

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe plead not guilty to indictment accusing them of attempting to pass nuclear submarine secrets to a foreign goverment.

MARTINSBURG, W. Va. (CN) — A federal grand jury in West Virginia on Tuesday returned a three-count indictment against Jonathan and Diana Toebbe for violations of the Atomic Energy Act. Specifically, the indictment charges the Toebbes with one count each of conspiracy to communicate restricted data, and two counts of communication of restricted data.

According to the indictment, Jonathan sent a letter from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in April 2020 to the military attaché of a foreign government identified only as “Country 1,” offering it details on how Virginia-class nuclear submarines are powered from classified documents he had access to as a nuclear engineer working at the Naval Yard in Washington, D.C.  In the letter, Toebbe, under the pseudonym “Alice," gave Country 1 a Dec. 31 deadline to respond.

After receiving a reply on Dec. 26, the indictment alleges Jonathan began communication with who he believed was a representative of Country 1, but instead was an undercover FBI agent, via encrypted email about providing information he had in exchange for payment in cryptocurrency.  After making an initial payment of $10,000, the FBI paid Jonathan another $90,000 in Monero after he made three “dead-drops” of information contained on an SD card in locations in Jefferson County West Virginia, south central Pennsylvania, and eastern Virginia.

The indictment alleges Diana served as a lookout for Jonathan in two of the dead-drops, and later a third on Oct. 9 again in Jefferson County where they were eventually arrested.

A preliminary hearing originally scheduled for Wednesday in Martinsburg turned into an arraignment where the Toebbes appeared separately and pleaded not guilty. Though he did not contest remaining incarcerated, Diana took the occasion to challenge the government’s motion she remain detained pending trial.

During the 2.5 hour hearing, FBI Special Agent Peter Olinits testified that actions taken by Diana such as dressing like a tourist in hiking gear, parking more than one mile away from the dead drops and using certain gestures are “typical tradecraft.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Smolar showed several clips of surveillance taken by the FBI of the Toebbes' actions during the dead drop.

Under cross examination by Edward MacMahon, Diana’s attorney, Olinits admitted that during the nearly two-year investigation the FBI never placed taps on the Toebbe’s phones, placed listening devices in their house, or attempted to have someone catch Jonathan leaving the Naval Yard with classified material.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Trumble did not immediately rule on the government’s motion. 

The Toebbes are scheduled for separate trials on the charges in December.  If convicted, they face up to life imprisonment.

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