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Couple of “Amateur Spies” Accused of Trying to Sell US Nuclear Secrets to Foreign Government

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe seemed to lead a very normal life: professional, comfortable, and not ostentatious.

His red brick home in posh Annapolis, Maryland – a seaside town of Romanesque churches and fine art facades – was home to the normal disorder of a house with two children and two pit bulls, Sasha and Franklin, whose names are stamped on the welcome mat.

The neighborhood, with cypress-lined streets and a park with oyster shells scattered on the lawns, is typical with pleasant houses and neat patios. The United States Naval Academy is nearby, as is a yacht harbor.

Nevertheless, the peace of the place was broken on October 9, when federal agents arrived at the Toebbe family home. The couple had been chased some 600 kilometers from their home to Jefferson County, West Virginia.

There, Mr. Toebbe, 42, and his wife, 45, were trying to commit the crime of treason, according to the US government.

The US Constitution defines treason as specific acts related to “making war against (the United States) or joining its enemies, giving them help and protection.”

The Maryland couple is charged with attempting to sell military secrets to a foreign government, for which she could face life in prison if convicted.

On Wednesday, a US judge ordered Jonathan’s imprisonment while awaiting trial. His wife, Diana, requested provisional release and awaits the judge’s response.

The extraordinary case of National security has raised questions about motivations of the seemingly unpretentious couple and who, apparently, was willing to risk everything believing that she could succeed as “Superspy”.

The espionage attempts began in April 2020 when, according to the Justice Department, Jonathan, who worked as engineer in the US Navy, contacted a foreign government official.

Toebbe mailed the contact a package with a note offering to provide information about nuclear submarines.

As an expert with security clearance from the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Toebbe claimed to have access to information on nuclear propulsion systems used in submarines.

However, the man did not count on officials working for the foreign government cooperated with US investigators, and after giving notice, together they set a trap for him.

Although the country is unknown, it can be concluded that it is an ally such as France, and not Russia or China.

After the package was shipped, the FBI intervened in the scheme. Several of his agents posed as foreign officials and contacted Toebbe saying they were interested in what he had to offer.

Thus began the path of failures of the couple. Toebbe left classified files – just a few pages at a time so as not to be discovered – on memory cards that he located in secret places known as “dead drops” (clandestine mailboxes), while his wife acted as a sentry, according to US government accusations.

The propulsion technology, which the couple was trying to sell, is one of the military secrets guarded with more suspicion by the American government. It is even the center of an agreement that United States and United Kingdom recently signed with Australia.

“I was very careful to gather the files I possessed slowly and naturally in the routine of my work, so that no one would suspect my plan,” Toebbe wrote in a note to his alleged conspirator.

According to the research, the clumsy efforts to deliver the material they included hiding a memory card in half a peanut butter sandwich, or in a pack of gum, or even under a band-aid in a cooler bag.

For the card he handed out on the peanut butter sandwich, Toebbe received $ 20,000 dollars in cryptocurrencies.

The man, who rarely expressed fear, even seemed to be fond of his alleged accomplices.

This was evidenced in a note in which he called them friends: “One day, when it is safe, perhaps two old friends will have the opportunity to bump into each other in a cafe, share a bottle of wine, and laugh at each other’s stories. their shared exploits ”.

A mysterious man

After the couple’s arrest, everything in the Toebbe house is just as they left it: the ceiling fan keeps spinning in the basement and an unfinished knitting project and a sock are visible on the table in the living room. .

The neighbors are shocked. They say that although the couple was not particularly sociable, they were not reserved either.

Mr. Toebbe in a West Virginia federal court

Reuters
Mr. Toebbe in a West Virginia federal court

Toebbe was interested in medieval weapons and was active in a historical fencing society. She, for her part, was a doctor from Emory University, in Atlanta, and taught at a private school.

If going unnoticed is a desirable trait for a spy, she didn’t fit the profile: She had bright purple hair that made her easily recognizable, a neighbor commented. “She was supposed to be a spy and not stand out.”

Why did they do it?

For David Charney, a psychiatrist from Alexandria, Virginia, who has spent decades studying espionage cases, it has characteristics in common with others.

“Often times, individuals are filled with conflicting drives,” Charney said. Many are driven by the desire for money or perhaps the thirst for revenge. Others, however normal they may seem, are actually extraordinary individuals with a great secret.

Officials who work for the intelligence services and who study the psychology of treason have come up with an acronym to describe such motives: MICE (Money, Ideology, Commitment, Ego -money, ideology, commitment and ego-). According to officials, these are the reasons why people commit treason.

Government prosecutors indicated that Toebbe wanted money. According to an affidavit written by federal investigators, the man asked $ 100,000 dollars paid in cryptocurrency in exchange for their nuclear secrets.

In addition, there are indications that he and his wife may have been in financial trouble. A judge, Robert Trumble, reviewed their financial statements and said it was necessary to name public defenders.

This may show that no SWn richThey will not be able to afford their own lawyers, but they are not destitute either.

Mrs. Toebbe had some features that were difficult to overlook, such as purple hair.

Reuters
Mrs. Toebbe had some features that were difficult to overlook, such as purple hair.

However, money seems to be only part of the story, according to Charney.

“You look at your life and you see those pictures of a nice house, and you say ‘wow, that’s not so bad.’ But it doesn’t matter what you think. If they feel that they are not up to par, that can corrode them ”, he explained.

Veteran spies also wonder how Toebbe could have thought his tricks would work. The techniques were unsophisticated and raise the larger question of why a clerk, without training in the field, would undertake such a risky operation.

“He is an amateur spy”says Jack Devine, a former senior CIA operations officer. “I had no training. They watch a couple of TV shows and they don’t have any appreciation for what it takes. “

“If you rely on spy movies for your prowess, you better be really good or be lucky,” Devine said.

As far as is known, Toebbe, it was neither.


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