Oct 10, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Navy nuclear engineer and wife charged for attempted espionage

Nuclear submarine
The USS Indiana, a nuclear-powered U.S. Navy Virginia-class fast-attack submarine, departs Port Canaveral in Florida in 2018. Photo: Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A Navy nuclear engineer and his spouse were arrested in West Virginia on Saturday after making several attempts to pass along secrets about U.S. nuclear submarines to a foreign country, the Department of Justice announced on Sunday.

Why it matters: Although their plans failed, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe violated the Atomic Energy Act by attempting to pass along restricted data to another country, per the criminal complaint.

The big picture: “The complaint charges a plot to transmit information relating to the design of our nuclear submarines to a foreign nation,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in the press release.

  • Though his job, Jonathan Toebbe had a high-level security clearance that gave him access to detailed information concerning the U.S. nuclear submarines' design and performance characteristics, per the press release.
  • In April 2020, Toebbe sent a package to an unnamed country with a sample of the restricted data and instructions for how to establish contact.
  • Toebbe then began a correspondence with someone he believed to be a representative of the foreign country, but in fact was an undercover FBI agent.
  • Between June 2021 and Oct. 9, Toebbe orchestrated several so-called "dead drops" of the restricted data about submarine nuclear reactors in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars worth of cryptocurrency.
  • His wife, Diana, accompanied him on these dead drops and acted as a lookout, per the criminal complaint.

What to watch: Both Toebbes are set to make their first court appearances this Tuesday.

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