BALTIMORE, Md. (WJZ) -- Days after the arrests of an Annapolis couple accused of trying to sell military secrets to a foreign intelligence agency, a defense expert is weighing in on the significance of the data at the center of the case.
Jonathan Toebbe, 42, a Navy nuclear engineer, and his wife, Diana, 45, are charged with conspiracy to communicate restricted data and communication of restricted data. Each of them could face life in prison if convicted of those charges.
The charges stem from what's described in a federal complaint as a plot to trade sensitive data on U.S. nuclear submarines to an unnamed foreign government in exchange for cryptocurrency.
David Luckey, a senior defense researcher for the RAND Corporation, told WJZ it's critical that information like this doesn't fall into the wrong hands because leaks can cause "exceptionally grave damage" to the country.
"We don't want [to give] our adversaries, or potential adversaries, information on how to defeat our technologies," Luckey said. "We also don't want our technologies to fall into the hands of our potential adversaries for them to defeat us."
According to charging documents, the plot began in April 2020 when Toebbe sent an unsolicited package containing sensitive data to a foreign intelligence agency. The package was later handed over to the FBI, which set up a sting operation using an undercover agent posing as a foreign intelligence officer.
Over several months, Toebbe arranged to deliver batches of data to his contact by hiding memory cards inside ordinary objects -- a sandwich, a pack of gum, a bandage -- and dropping them off at several ocations in Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, the documents state.
The data involved included sensitive design and schematic information on the Navy's Virginia-class, nuclear-powered attack submarines.
Federal surveillance teams monitoring the "dead drop" locations saw Toebbe making the drop-offs, at times accompanied by his wife who appeared to be acting as a lookout for her husband, according to the complaint.
Throughout the course of the sting, Toebbe was paid $100,000 in cryptocurrency, a fraction of the $5 million sum that court documents suggest he was seeking.
The investigation culminated in the couple's arrests Saturday in West Virginia.
News of the Toebbes' arrests stunned those who live in the couple's Annapolis neighborhood, which was swarming with federal agents over the weekend.
"Everybody felt bad because we knew they had kids," said neighbor Jennifer McCormick. "That was everybody's first concern."
Diana Toebbe, a teacher at the Key School, was suspended indefinitely from her job pending the outcome of the federal case.
The Toebbes are scheduled to appear in federal court on Friday for a detention hearing to determine whether they'll remain in custody while awaiting trial.
for more features.