Jonathan Toebbe, a Navy engineer, pleads guilty to one count of “Conspiracy to Communicate Restricted Data” after sneaking classified documents to federal agents acting as foreign spies.
Toebbe and his wife, Diana, were arrested in October 2021. At the time, details of the married couple’s offenses were not made public.
The engineer admitted guilt as part of a plea deal. According to court records, he is looking at about 12 to 17 years in prison, avoiding the possibility of a life sentence.
In the plea document, Toebbe’s lawyers and prosecutors concluded that the Navy engineer made four “dead drops” within June and October 2021. In three of those instances, his wife allegedly acted as a lookout.
What Is A “Dead Drop”?
A “dead drop” is a spy term describing the practice of leaving materials in a pre-arranged location for someone to pick up later; this is to avoid direct contact between the two parties.
According to the plea, on Toebbe’s first drop, he put “militarily sensitive design elements, operating parameters, and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors on an SD card, which was wrapped in plastic and concealed between two slices of bread on a half of a peanut butter sandwich.”
There was also a message encoded in the SD card: “I hope your experts are very happy with the sample provided… I want our relationship to be very successful for us both.”
On his second drop, he dead dropped a proposal of a plan for him to leak “51 packages over time in exchange for a total of $5 million paid in cryptocurrency.”
According to the plea document, “The message also included statements that the information ‘was slowly and carefully collected over several years and ‘smuggled past security checkpoints a few pages at a time’ and that one of the sets of information ‘reflects decades of US Navy’ lessons learned that will help keep your sailors safe.'”
In the next two dead drops, Toebbe hid SD cards in packets of chewing gum.
Which Country Did He Think He Was Spying For?
Officials have not revealed the country Toebbe thought he was spying for. The plea agreement describes the agents posing as spies for “COUNTRY1.”
Before doing these treasonous acts, Toebbe traveled to Washington, D.C., in May 2021 to view a “physical signal … that had been placed at a location associated with COUNTRY1.”
As part of the operation, investigators paid the engineer more than $100,000 in cryptocurrency, which Toebbe agreed to give back. Toebbe also agreed that agents could search his property and devices for more classified information.
The case for Toebbe’s wife, Diana, is ongoing. She faces charges of “Communication of restricted data — sabotage.”
The plea agreement made clear that Toebbe “had access to information concerning the Virginia-class submarine, including, but not limited to, information relating to militarily sensitive design elements, operating parameters, and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors.”
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