Federal prosecutors disclosed Wednesday that the government still cannot find most of the classified data they say was stolen by a Maryland couple trying to sell naval secrets to a foreign country.
The revelation came during a detention hearing for Diana Toebbe, who is charged, along with her husband Jonathan, in an elaborate scheme to sell nuclear submarine details.
As part of its case to keep the couple in jail, prosecutors disclosed that the FBI has not been able to access all of the couple’s encrypted email accounts, and still has not located all of the classified naval secrets it believes the couple possessed.
Special assistant US Attorney Jessica Smolar said 50 of the 51 packets of restricted data the couple held cannot be found, warning the information could cause extreme damage to the Navy if the information got out.
Jonathan and Diana Toebbe appeared separately, each wearing orange jail uniforms, masks, and shackles. Jonathan Toebbe waived his right to a detention hearing, but an FBI special agent revealed new details about the couples’ alleged scheme during a lengthy hearing for his wife. The judge has not yet ruled if Diana Toebbe will be released.
Several photographs and videos were presented in court that the special agent said showed the couple arriving at numerous so-called dead-drop locations throughout the summer of 2021 where they appeared to act as tourists before depositing SD cards filled with classified naval submarine secrets.
They showed “typical tradecraft of espionage subjects,” the special agent testified, describing how FBI surveillance captured the couple parking their BMW Mini Cooper one-and-a-half miles from the initial dead-drop location and then carefully making their way to the previously agreed-upon drop-off spot.
“Diana was right behind him within a meter away,” the agent testified. “Basically keeping a look-out to make sure no one was coming up on them during that operation.”
After Jonathan deposited the SD card, “Diana provided a very distinctive head nod as if they needed to get out of the area, and I observed that,” the agent said.
The couple is accused of acting together to coordinate three separate drop-offs of SD cards containing classified information about nuclear submarines, specifically the Virginia-class submarine. The FBI agent disclosed the depths to which the couple attempted to hide the SD cards at the dead-drop locations, saying one SD card was tucked into a saran-wrapped peanut butter sandwich, while others were hidden inside a packet of gum and a sealed Band-Aid wrapper.
During an anticipated fourth dead-drop on October 9 in West Virginia, the couple was arrested by the FBI.
At the court hearing Wednesday, the testifying special agent said Jonathan Toebbe was getting increasingly concerned about his family’s safety. During the third dead-drop on August 28, Jonathan Toebbe arrived alone while his wife stayed home recovering from ankle surgery.
“Jonathan was extremely nervous,” the agent testified. “More nervous than we’d seen him on the previous ones and just very cautious about what was going on around him….because Diana was not there to act as a lookout.”
Jonathan Toebbe allegedly left a letter with the SD card during that dead-drop which said in part, “I have considered the possible need to leave on short notice. Should that ever become necessary, I will be forever grateful for your help extracting me and my family…. We have passports and cash set aside for this purpose.”
On Tuesday, a grand jury indicted the couple, charging them each with one count of Conspiracy to Communicate Restricted Data and two counts of Communication of Restricted Data. The couple pleaded not guilty to all three counts.
If convicted on any of the three counts, the couple faces up to life in prison.
The couple was arrested October 9, and the initial criminal complaint described how the Toebbes tried to sell sensitive information about nuclear submarines to a foreign country in exchange for millions of dollars in cryptocurrency. The country, which has not been identified in court filings, notified the FBI, which launched a year-long sting operation. The testifying special agent noted that the FBI moved quickly after discovering the couple was trying to sell these secrets in December 2020 because they were concerned the couple might try to shop the information to multiple countries.
After their arrest, the FBI searched their home in Annapolis, Maryland, where they discovered $11,300 in cash — all one hundred-dollar bills wrapped in rubber-bands; a crypto wallet; passports for their two children; and a go-bag containing a laptop computer, a USB drive and latex gloves.
Prosecutors revealed Wednesday that the couple had requested expedited passport renewals since theirs had expired in February 2021; the request was still being processed at the time of the couple’s arrest.
The Justice Department had previously moved to keep the couple in jail, citing their potential flight risk and the severity of their alleged crimes. The Toebbes appeared Wednesday with their court-appointed lawyers. Magistrate Judge Robert Trumble said he will issue a written decision as to whether Diana Toebbe will be released pending trial.
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