A Navy nuclear engineer and his wife, accused of attempting to pass Navy secrets to a foreign government, pleaded not guilty Wednesday on national security charges.
Jonathan and Diana Toebbe entered their pleas in a West Virginia federal courtroom.
Both were indicted by a grand jury Tuesday on national security charges. They were charged with one count each of “Conspiracy to Communicate Restricted Data” and two counts of “Communication of Restricted Data,” the Justice Department announced in a news release on Tuesday.
The couple was arrested on Oct. 9 in West Virginia following a sting operation carried out by undercover FBI agents.
An unsealed criminal complaint alleges that Jonathan Toebbe contacted a foreign nation in April 2020 to sell U.S. Navy submarine secrets. The FBI, however, obtained Toebbe’s documents and began communicating with him undercover in December.
The Toebbes hid data cards in items such as a peanut butter sandwich, a Band-Aid wrapper, and a chewing gum package, so the information could be picked up by who they believed was a foreign spy operative, authorities said.
Diana Toebbe is accused of “acting as a lookout” as her husband dropped off the material.
“Although most spy cases don’t involve peanut butter and Band-Aids, the facts alleged follow a familiar pattern: Insider within the U.S. government approaches a foreign power to sell U.S. secrets for money, is compromised despite their best efforts at tradecraft, and — to their surprise — is subsequently arrested,” David Laufman, a former senior Justice Department official, told the Washington Post earlier this month.
Prosecutors allege that Jonathan Toebbe also told his contact person that he might need to leave the country on short notice.
“Should that ever become necessary, I will be forever grateful for your help extracting me and my family,” the document quoted him as writing. “I surmise the first step would be unannounced travel to a safe third country with plans to meet your colleagues. We have passports and cash set aside for this purpose.”
“Unfortunately there always will be people willing to compromise our nation’s security for personal gain. It’s treasonous, it’s rare, but such individuals are traitors and should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” former acting United States Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly told Fox News last week
Judge Robert W. Trumble said he knew it was anti-climactic, but that he would issue a written ruling in the matter.
The government says the FBI paid the Toebbes $100,000 in cryptocurrency, specifically in ‘Monero,’ and that money remains missing.
The government also says they have not yet located some 50 packets of classified information Mr. Toebbe said he had taken from the Navy, which would equal about 5,000 pages of restricted data about the US Virginia Class nuclear submarines.
Diana Toebbe, through different representation, fought detention, with her lawyers suggesting she knew very little or nothing about what her husband stealing classified info from the navy and attempting to sell it to a foreign country.
“Our nuclear submarine force provides a significant military capability for the United States. It is a capability our adversaries both covet and fear. Information related to it must be protected – and for the most part, it is,” he added.
Government prosecutors put an FBI counterintelligence agent in the witness stand and they went through each of the “dead drops” where Jonathan Toebbe “serviced” a dead drop while his wife seemed to act as lookout.
The FBI was present for each occasion and the prosecution provided the court still pictures and video of the Toebbes at four different locations over the past few months, dropping SD cards hidden in various methods, such as a peanut butter sandwich, a gum wrapper and a sealed bandaid.
The Toebbe’s appeared separately, both clad in orange prison jumpsuits and shackled also with different defense lawyers.
The prosecution also said the two communicated over encrypted apps such as signal and had discussed fleeing the country.
The FBI agent said upon raiding the Toebbes Annapolis residence agents found a “Go bag” with a Mac computer an SD drive and latex gloves, a crypto wallet and $11,300 in cash.
Diana Toebbe’s defense attorney Edward McMahon said his client only wants to go home and care for her two children.
“They have no evidence that she knew what her husband was up to,” said Mr. McMahon, arguing that Judge Trumble could release her with an ankle monitor and that her 80 year old father could act as a third party custodian.
Government prosecutors say she is a flight risk and might be able to get her hands on the missing $100,000 and 5,000 pages of classified nuclear sub info and sell it to another country.
Court documents in the case show that Mr. Toebbe told someone he thought was a representative of a foreign country that, “there is only one other person aware,” of his actions, and that he trusted that person, “completely.”
The government argues that person has to be his wife, who accompanied him to three of the dead drops.
Fox News also examined the Toebbes’ social media accounts earlier this month and found Diana Toebbe’s accounts featured repeated posts supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, including a profile picture reading, “Black Lives Matter,” and followed various “resistance” accounts in protest of former President Donald Trump.
Diana Toebbe is a teacher at the private Key School in Annapolis, Maryland, which indefinitely suspended her after her arrest.
One neighbor of the couple in Annapolis described them as quiet, according to a recent interview with Fox News.
“They didn’t talk to anybody, even on the block,” neighbor Jennifer McCormick said. “We’ve lived here over 20 years. They moved here in 2014 and been up and down this block so many times. And we would see them and never even say, hi, don’t even like catch your eye.”