US Navy nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe and wife charged with trying to 'sell submarine secrets' face life in prison
A MARYLAND couple accused of trying to sell US Navy secrets to a foreign power in exchange for cryptocurrency appeared in court today to face federal charges.
Jonathan Toebbe, a former Navy nuclear engineer, and his wife Diana donned orange jumpsuits as they stood before a judge in the Martinsburg, West Virginia, federal court on Tuesday.
The couple could face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of espionage-related charges.
During the preliminary hearing, they spoke only briefly to answer US Magistrate Judge Robert Trumble's questions, indicating they understood their rights.
Prosecutors claim Toebbe traded top-secret information for $70,000 in Bitcoin with someone whom he believed was a foreign power representative – but was actually an undercover FBI agent.
The 42-year-old and his wife, 45, were arrested in Jefferson County, West Virginia, on Saturday after he placed a removable memory card at a prearranged "dead drop", the Justice Department said.
The criminal complaint detailing the charges explains Toebbe's alleged mission to sell the secrets to a foreign power.
The scheme began back in April 2020, the FBI said, when Toebbe sent a package of Navy documents to a foreign government.
He is said to have written that he was interested in selling manuals, performance reports and other sensitive information regarding Virginia-class nuclear sub reactors.
Authorities said Toebbe also provided instructions for how to conduct the covert relationship, with a letter that said: "I apologize for this poor translation into your language.
'NOT A HOAX'
"Please forward this letter to your military intelligence agency. I believe this information will be of great value to your nation. This is not a hoax."
The unidentified foreign government sat on the explosive info until December last year, when they are reported to have turned them over to US authorities.
According to the criminal complaint, Toebbe hid encrypted memory cards in a peanut butter sandwich, a chewing gum packet and a band-aid wrapper.
The 42-year-old had worked for the US government since 2012, boasting a top-secret security clearance and specializing in naval nuclear propulsion.
The FBI said he was also assigned to a government-owned lab in Pittsburgh that works on nuclear power for the US Navy.
New details about Diana emerged on Monday when an examination of her social media pages showed she is a fierce progressive and Black Lives Matter supporter.
Among the findings are a profile picture that reads "Black Lives Matter" and a post celebrating Black Out Tuesday last year, when social media users protested racism by posting a black square and taking a break from posting for a day.
Diana's Twitter account also allegedly follows several anti-Trump accounts such as the "Rogue NASA" account, which claims to be "the unofficial ‘Resistance’ team of NASA."
Moreover, days after the inauguration of Donald Trump as president in 2017, Diana retweeted an image that read:
"To the rest of the world, due to an insufficient amount of moral courage, America is temporarily out of order. We hope to restore service as quickly as possible.
"In the meantime, we in the resistance movement join hands with those around the world who realize we are one people. May the forces of good be with us. #TheResistance."
Diana's alleged Facebook account included various posts supporting 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as well as the LGBTQ community, including one photo of the transgender flag.
She also posted a meme in October 2016, which read: "Women can stop Trump."
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