A US Navy nuclear engineer has been arrested and charged with attempting to sell classified information about nuclear submarines to a foreign power. The FBI arrested Jonathan Toebbe and his wife Diane after a year of overseeing exchanges which Toebbe believed were being made with the foreign government he had reached out to with his initial espionage offer. The FBI has not released information regarding which government that was and whether or not there was any non-financial motive for Toebbe.
Navy engineer arrested after espionage attempts
The charges against Toebbe allege that he reached out to a contact who he believed represented a foreign power on his own initiative and offered to deliver sensitive documents.
His initial messages emphasized that his offer was not a hoax and that he had information of military value to offer to the unspecified foreign power.
He was in fact communicating with the FBI, which agreed to pay him as the relationship got underway. Diane Toebbe allegedly acted as a lookout for her husband and was aware of his activities.
The information Toebbe delivered in a series of dead-drop exchanges over the course of a year related primarily to Virginia-class submarines and offered detailed schematics and data.
The Toebbes were apparently very anxious to avoid detection and Jonathan assured the contact that he was doing everything he could to ensure that no one suspected him of espionage.
He claimed to be using the training he had been given on spotting espionage to avoid presenting warning signs to colleagues. Unfortunately for the Toebbes, none of this mattered as they were in fact communicating with the FBI from the beginning.
Unclear who he thought he was working for
Toebbe appeared to be trying to build a rapport with his supposed foreign contact, even speculating about meeting in the future after escaping from the United States with his family should it become necessary.
No one will be helping Toebbe now of course, given that the FBI intercepted his initial offer to betray military secrets. This raises questions about which foreign power he believed he was serving.
That government has not been named and it is unlikely to be specified in the future if the US government is keeping it a secret now, meaning that we can only speculate about which it was.
The usual suspects include China, Russia, and Israel. The United Kingdom, Australia, and other Anglosphere nations are ruled out because Toebbe apologized to his contact for his flawed translations. NATO allies in general can likely be ruled out as having little need for this kind of espionage in the US.
Beyond this it is hard to say. Toebbe has no readily apparent family or ethnic ties to any foreign power and in politics he and his wife appear to be unremarkable liberals with no great vendetta against the status quo.
China, Russia, and Israel all have no shortage of assets in the United States and Toebbe might have simply been aware that they would not pass up an opportunity to acquire some classified information. Unfortunately for Toebbe, he never even managed to get himself into contact with them.