Federal court sentences nuclear engineer Johnatan Toebbe and his wife Diana Toebbe for a plot to sell secrets about nuclear submarines to a foreign government — reportedly Brazil.

Diana (L) and Johnatan (R) Toebbe divided all the data into 51
Diana (L) and Johnatan (R) Toebbe divided all the data into 51 "packages" of information, and sought $100,000 for each. (AP Archive)

A US Navy nuclear engineer and his wife have been sentenced to long prison terms for plotting to sell submarine secrets to a foreign country.

Jonathan Toebbe, 44, and his wife, Diana Toebbe, 46, pleaded guilty in February to conspiring to sell information related to naval nuclear propulsion systems.

Jonathan Toebbe was sentenced to 19 years and three months in prison while his wife, Diana Toebbe, 46, received a prison term of 21 years and eight months, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.

According to court documents, Diana Toebbe acted as a lookout while her husband delivered highly classified information on nuclear submarine technology to the foreign buyer in a series of "dead drops" in the region around their Annapolis, Maryland, home.

The foreign buyer was not identified by the US authorities but The New York Times, citing people briefed on the investigation, said the country was Brazil.

A teacher at a private school, Diana Toebbe initially pleaded innocent to the charge of conspiracy to communicate restricted data.

But she changed her plea after her husband pleaded guilty and in doing so admitted that his wife took part in the plot.

Jonathan Toebbe was a nuclear engineer for the US Navy dealing with nuclear submarine propulsion systems when the two were arrested on October 9, 2021, after he hid a small SD card carrying US secrets at a dead drop location in West Virginia.

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'Betraying American people'

Court documents described a tantalising, spy-novel-like plot in which they traveled hundreds of miles to secretly hand over information, took payments in cryptocurrency, and followed signals made from an embassy building in Washington.

In one message, Toebbe indicated that he had been considering his actions for several years and was happy to work with "a reliable professional partner."

He also wrote that he had divided all the data he had collected into 51 "packages" of information, and sought $100,000 for each.

But the FBI was following the plot, after having been alerted to it by the target nation in December 2020, though that was nearly nine months after the Toebbes first mailed their offer to the country's military intelligence.

"The Toebbes betrayed the American people and put our national security at significant risk when they selfishly attempted to sell highly sensitive information related to nuclear-powered warships for their own financial benefit," Brice Miller, a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said in a statement.

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Source: AFP