Wife of Navy submarine spy suspect is ‘danger’ to national security and must stay in jail pending trial, judge says

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe face potential life sentences if convicted on espionage-related charges

Alex Woodward
New York
Thursday 21 October 2021 23:50
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Navy engineer accused of passing nuclear submarine secrets in peanut butter sandwich

A Maryland teacher will remain in jail pending trial after her husband allegedly sold US Navy submarine plans to what he believed was a foreign government as part of a year-long FBI sting.

A federal judge in West Virginia has determined that Diana Toebbe could be a flight risk, and that the potential life sentence and gravity of the espionage charges against her and her husband Jonathan Toebbe demonstrate that she is “a danger to every community and to our national security by clear and convincing evidence,” according to the detention order issued on 21 October.

The couple pleaded not guilty in US District Court on 20 October to charges of conspiracy to communicate restricted data and communication of restricted data. Mr Toebbe waived his right to a detention hearing and will remain incarcerated until a trial begins.

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe were arrested on 9 October, the culmination of an alleged scheme in which Mr Toebbe negotiated the trade of closely held Virginia-class nuclear submarine secrets with a foreign power for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency, according to the US Department of Justice.

In December 2020, the FBI reportedly obtained a package intercepted by authorities but intended for another country containing operational manuals and other information – all marked “CONFIDENTIAL” – as well as instructions to communicate with the sender, in what appeared to be an attempt to establish a covert relationship, according to an affidavit filed on 8 October.

The FBI then allegedly posed as foreign officials to trade encrypted messages with the sender – alleged to be Mr Toebbe, a former naval engineer – using code names.

They negotiated dead-drop locations to hand over memory cards with reams of data in exchange for $100,000 in US dollars in the Monero cryptocurrency. Top-secret plans were reportedly stuffed inside a peanut butter sandwich, a Band-Aid and a chewing gum package.

At a detention hearing for Ms Toebbe on 20 October, prosecutors interviewed an FBI agent and presented photographs and videos taken by the FBI reportedly documenting the couple during dead drops.

The FBI said a search of the couple’s home in Annapolis turned up shredded documents, a crypto wallet, more than $11,300 in cash, passports and a “go bag” with a computer and latex gloves.

Defence for Mrs Toebbe argued, and the FBI confirmed, that none of the messages obtained by federal law enforcement during the sting involved her computer. The FBI also does not have recordings of conversations between the couple, according to testimony on 20 October.

According to the federal complaint, Mr Toebbe said in encrypted messages with a person he believed was a foreign agent that he “considered the possible need to leave on short notice” and would be “forever grateful for your help extracting me and my family,” which prosecutors have argued could make them a flight risk.

Messages shown in court showed that Mrs Toebbe told her husband last year that they “need to be actively making plans to leave the country.”

Magistrate Judge Robert Trumble determined on Thursday that the defence “presented no evidence or testimony but argued that electronic monitoring, a third-party custodian, and no computer or internet access would suffice to prevent” her from fleeing.

“The court is unconvinced,” the judge’s order says. “No bond conditions can be set to reasonably ensure the appearance of [Mrs Toebbe] and the safety of the community.”

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