A U.S. Navy nuclear engineer and his wife are facing a potential maximum penalty of life in prison after they were accused of selling nuclear secrets to an unknown foreign power.
“Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, of Annapolis, were arrested Saturday in Jefferson County, West Virginia, on espionage-related charges,” reported Fox News. “Federal prosecutors say they should remain in custody pending their trials as they face a potential maximum penalty of life in prison and are at ‘serious risk’ of fleeing.”
The couple is being charged with violating the Atomic Energy Act (AEA). In 1946, the AEA established the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to promote the “utilization of atomic energy for peaceful purposes to the maximum extent consistent with the common defense and security and with the health and safety of the public.”
As Fox News explained, the AEA “restricts the disclosure of information related to atomic weapons or nuclear materials.”
“Unfortunately there always will be people willing to compromise our nation’s security for personal gain. It’s treasonous, it’s rare, but such individuals are traitors and should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” former acting United States Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly told Fox News. “Our nuclear submarine force provides a significant military capability for the United States. It is a capability our adversaries both covet and fear. Information related to it must be protected — and for the most part, it is.”
As the Baltimore Sun reported, a criminal complaint was unsealed on Sunday in U.S. District Court in West Virginia which alleges that Jonathan Toebbe “reached out to an unidentified foreign country in the spring of last year offering to sell secrets but the package was obtained by the FBI, which began communicating with him in December.”
“Jonathan Toebbe allegedly communicated with undercover agents via secure channels, received secret signals and left memory cards with sensitive information embedded in a peanut butter sandwich and a Band-Aid wrapper at prearranged locations, according to the complaint. His wife was observed assisting with the drops, the FBI says,” the Baltimore Sun added.
Diana Toebbe — a teacher at the private Key School in Annapolis — is also being accused of “acting as a lookout” for her husband. She has now been indefinitely suspended from her job.
“Although most spy cases don’t involve peanut butter and Band-Aids, the facts alleged follow a familiar pattern: Insider within the U.S. government approaches a foreign power to sell U.S. secrets for money, is compromised despite their best efforts at tradecraft, and — to their surprise — is subsequently arrested,” David Laufman, a former senior Justice Department official, told the Washington Post.
Prosecutors in the case also claim that Jonathan Toebbe informed his contact that he may be required to leave the country urgently.
“Should that ever become necessary, I will be forever grateful for your help extracting me and my family,” said Toebbe, according to documents. “I surmise the first step would be unannounced travel to a safe third country with plans to meet your colleagues. We have passports and cash set aside for this purpose.”
Both are scheduled for an initial appearance on Tuesday.
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