Couple in Submarine Spy Case Stewed Over Money and Politics

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Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, charged with trying to merchantability classified atomic secrets to a overseas power, struggled with finances, household and the authorities of America.

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe person  been charged with trying to merchantability   immoderate   of America’s astir   intimately  guarded atomic  submarine secrets to a overseas   powerfulness  for an archetypal   outgo   of $100,000 successful  cryptocurrency.
Credit...U.S. Navy, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Oct. 19, 2021Updated 7:27 p.m. ET

In 2010, aft Jonathan and Diana Toebbe mislaid their location successful suburban Denver successful the aftermath of the recession, Mr. Toebbe began repeatedly telling friends helium needed to “provide for his family.”

A talented postgraduate pupil with a Ph.D. task that would person taken him to a vocation moving with America’s arsenal of atomic bombs, Mr. Toebbe switched his absorption to enactment related to atomic submarine propulsion, past abandoned his doctoral studies to articulation the Navy. It was, a person said, a determination based connected the request to marque much wealth quickly.

Eight years later, arsenic a precocious schoolhouse teacher successful Annapolis, Md., Ms. Toebbe spent an full advisory play helping a pupil enactment connected a paper. When the doorbell rang and the pupil apologized for taking up truthful overmuch time, Ms. Toebbe mentioned her emotion of teaching and, arsenic she often did, her Ph.D.

Then, with a definite bitterness creeping into her tone, she said, “I’m not doing this for the money.”

For the past decade, the Toebbes, according to friends, colleagues, students and nationalist documents, person faced an array of stresses: worries astir money, anxieties implicit raising 2 children, a feeling of being undervalued, choler astir American politics.

Then, starting past year, prosecutors say, the Toebbes took a fateful step: They tried to merchantability immoderate of America’s astir intimately guarded atomic submarine secrets to a overseas powerfulness for an archetypal outgo of $100,000 successful cryptocurrency, starring to their apprehension this period connected espionage charges.

The authorities has yet to accidental what it believes motivated the Toebbes, though investigators deliberation wealth whitethorn person been a large factor, according to radical briefed connected the case. Interviews with existent and erstwhile friends and colleagues bash not suggest immoderate singular reason.

The Toebbes had lately seemed to beryllium acold much financially unchangeable than they had been a decennary ago, earning determination successful the vicinity of $200,000 a twelvemonth betwixt them and surviving successful their ain location successful a middle-class vicinity successful Annapolis.

On Tuesday, a expansive assemblage successful Elkins, W.Va., indicted the mates connected 1 number of conspiracy to pass restricted information and 2 counts of connection of restricted data.

They are scheduled to look connected Wednesday successful a West Virginia national court, to beryllium arraigned connected the charges and wherever they volition person an accidental to situation the government’s petition to person them held without bail.

None of the Toebbes’ friends oregon colleagues accidental they thought the mates would 1 time beryllium accused of betraying their country. Yet galore talked astir captious moments successful the lives of Jon, 42, and Diana, 45, erstwhile they were disappointed by careers, household and their country.


Credit...Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

This nonfiction is based connected astir 2 twelve interviews with radical who knew the Toebbes. Most would not hold to beryllium quoted, citing the classified quality of Mr. Toebbe’s work, the ongoing transgression probe oregon requests from Ms. Toebbe’s employer, the Key School, not to talk to journalists.

Investigators from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service are inactive examining however Mr. Toebbe, who continued to enactment for the Navy arsenic a civilian aft leaving the progressive work successful 2017, could person smuggled retired classified worldly and enactment it connected machine representation cards — a feat that has puzzled existent and erstwhile officers. A bid of thefts of subject secrets successful caller years has tightened security: External drives and cards cannot beryllium placed successful subject computers, and photocopiers and printers way who uses them, and for what purpose.

Some students, parents and erstwhile colleagues said that Ms. Toebbe became overtly governmental successful her classroom, angered by the Trump presidency and what it seemed to amusement astir America.

“It conscionable seems truthful retired of character,” Janet Monge, who arsenic a curator astatine the University of Pennsylvania Penn Museum worked with Ms. Toebbe during her postgraduate research, said successful an email exchange. “Not precise world and thoughtful astatine all.”

In 2005, the couple, who had joined successful Georgia 2 years before, moved to Colorado, aft Ms. Toebbe finished her Ph.D. successful anthropology astatine Emory University. Both took jobs astatine the backstage Kent Denver School.

Two years later, Mr. Toebbe started his ain Ph.D. programme astatine the Colorado School of Mines. The atomic physics programme determination is funded successful bully measurement by authorities grants. It funnels galore of its students to jobs astatine the nationalist labs, for enactment connected atomic weapons, oregon to naval reactors, wherever they tin enactment connected the adjacent generations of atomic submarines oregon craft carriers.

Mr. Toebbe’s archetypal project, involving enactment related to atomic fusion astatine the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, would person taken him to a vocation successful California, moving astatine the laboratory and connected atomic weapons. Colleagues retrieve him arsenic a diligent pupil and a beardown presenter who could convey analyzable ideas to an audience.

But the Ph.D. programme provided lone a $20,000 yearly stipend. Ms. Toebbe’s teaching wage was besides modest. In 2005, they purchased a recently constructed four-bedroom location for $268,500 successful the Denver suburb of Aurora, with 2 mortgages covering the full cost.

When the fiscal situation deed successful 2008, lodging prices dropped precipitously. By July 2010, the mates was down connected owe payments and the lender filed for foreclosure. The Toebbes were forced to merchantability astatine a important loss.

Around the aforesaid time, Mr. Toebbe began talking to friends astir his request to enactment his household and gain much money. While moving astatine the nationalist laboratory would yet pb to a better-paying vocation path, the subject offered a quicker wage increase. Mr. Toebbe swapped probe projects, taking a little promising enactment of study, but 1 that would instrumentality him to the East Coast. And successful July 2012, abandoning his Ph.D. and settling for a master’s degree, helium joined the Navy.


Credit...West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority, via Associated Press

In the summertime of 2012, they moved with their young children to Annapolis.

In the Navy, Mr. Toebbe, who reached the fertile of lieutenant, worked mostly successful the Washington area, chiefly connected naval reactors, but besides did a little circuit astatine the Pentagon. A cardinal question for prosecutors — and 1 being debated by Navy officials — is erstwhile Mr. Toebbe began collecting the accusation that prosecutors accidental helium yet tried to sell.

Court documents accidental Mr. Toebbe had carnal entree to that accusation erstwhile helium was assigned to the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, a government-owned probe halfway adjacent Pittsburgh. But Mr. Toebbe was assigned determination for lone 5 months successful 2014.

He remained connected progressive work until 2017, erstwhile helium joined the Navy Reserve. As a civilian, helium continued moving successful the Washington Navy Yard connected 1 of the astir important projects the Navy has, designing the reactors for the adjacent procreation of nuclear-powered, and nuclear-armed, submarines — the Columbia class. He earned $153,737 a year, according to U.S. authorities officials.

In Annapolis, Ms. Toebbe rapidly made herself astatine location teaching astatine the Key School, a small, wide backstage instauration built connected a erstwhile farm.


Credit...Brian Witte/Associated Press

Inside her schoolroom were agelong woody desks arranged to facilitate discussions, a mini-fridge stocked with Diet Cokes and a pillow country for students to relax.

Students called her by archetypal name, and she won implicit galore of them with her passionateness for past and willingness to constitute assemblage recommendations.

Students and colleagues described her arsenic confident, and galore mentioned the pridefulness she took successful her Ph.D. In her dissertation, she studied Bronze and Iron Age skeletal remains from Iran. Her professors said her enactment showed large promise, and respective expressed astonishment and disappointment that she had not pursued an world vocation astatine a university.


“She was a beauteous outspoken feminist,” said Garrett Karsten, 20, a inferior studying doctrine astatine Hamilton College successful New York. “She wasn’t acrophobic to marque her sentiment known. I deliberation immoderate kids had a occupation with that, but astir radical fundamentally agreed with her.”

She would sometimes kick astir her wage and the wage spread betwixt men and women, mentioning she could marque much wealth elsewhere, immoderate students said. (Former colleagues differed successful their estimates of however overmuch she earned, but astir said it was astir apt astir $60,000.)

After the 2016 predetermination of Donald J. Trump arsenic president, immoderate erstwhile colleagues and parents said, Ms. Toebbe’s governmental views came retired successful people discussions. Ms. Toebbe seemed “genuinely distraught,” Mr. Karsten said, adjacent talking astir leaving the United States.


Credit...West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority, via Associated Press

“I consciousness teachers would not usually accidental things astir packing up and moving,” helium said. “She seemed serious, alternatively than joking.”

Even earlier the pandemic, the Toebbes ne'er socialized overmuch with neighbors, and she had lone a fewer adjacent friends astatine the school, eschewing gatherings of teachers.

When the pandemic deed past twelvemonth and her schoolhouse went to distant learning, determination were indications that Ms. Toebbe was struggling. Some pupil emails went unanswered. Invitations to mean outside-of-class online debates — the benignant of enactment she erstwhile relished — were declined. The couple’s children, past 10 and 14, were perpetually fighting, according to Ms. Toebbe’s societal media posts.

As the pandemic went on, and the Key School began to bring instructors backmost into the classroom, Ms. Toebbe chose to proceed teaching remotely, astonishing her students.

It was conscionable a fewer weeks into the pandemic, successful April 2020, erstwhile prosecutors accidental the Toebbes sent a bundle to an arsenic yet unidentified country. In December, the Federal Bureau of Investigation obtained the bundle and then, the time aft Christmas, sent an encrypted connection to the Toebbes offering to bargain the information, communications that yet led to their arrest.

Julian E. Barnes reported from Washington, and JoAnna Daemmrich from Annapolis. Adam Goldman contributed reporting from Washington. Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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