Jonathan and Dianna Tobbe, a nuclear engineer and his wife, have been sent to two decades in prison for conspiring to sell secrets about US nuclear warships in exchange for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency. Jonathan, 44, has been sentenced to 17 years in prison while his wife Diana Tobbe has been sentenced to 21 years in jail. Diana got four years extra for breaking jail rules and showing no contrition for her crimes. 

Who are Jonathan and Dianna Tobbe? 

Jonathan Tobbe was a nuclear engineer who worked on submarine nuclear propulsion as well as secret technology devised to reduce the noise and vibration of submarines. Dianna Tobbe taught kindergarten at a private school in Annapolis, Maryland. The couple has two children and have been described as a regular middle-aged married pair living in a suburban home with two pitbulls. 

What did they do? 

Jonathan Toebbe sold information about nuclear submarines to what he thought was a representative of foreign country but was actually an FBI agent. His wife, Dianna, worked lookout. The secrets would be hidden away in mundane daily-use things such as a pack of chewing gum or in a peanut butter sandwich.

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Jonathan and Dianna coordinated drop-offs of encrypted SD cards containing classified information about nuclear submarines, specifically Virginia-class vessels. According to the original complaint against them, the content they were dropping off contained “military sensitive design elements, operating parameters and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors.”

Their neighbours describe the couple as “super standoffish”. “If you waved, there’d be no response. That was odd because she worked as a teacher down the street so was obviously interested in community and was active on the community’s Facebook page. Her online persona was very different from her interactions in person,” a neighbour told Guardian. 

How were they caught? 

The FBI hatched the scheme in April, 2020. This was when Jonathan Toebbe sent a package of navy documents to a foreign government and sought to sell operation manuals, performance reports and other sensitive information. FBI obtained the report through its legal attache office in an unspecified foreign country, triggering an investigation that lasted months.

An FBI agent posing as a foreign government’s representative got in touch with Toebbe and paid him in cryptocurrency for the information he was offering.