Alleged Spies Hired Babysitter, Drove to 'Dead Drop' Location

'Doesn't seem possible,' says a former student of Diana Toebbe, accused with husband Jonathan
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 12, 2021 12:30 PM CDT
Spies in the Suburbs? Annapolis Case a Stunner
The alleged den of spies: The residence of Jonathan and Diana Toebbe in Annapolis, Md.   (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

Spies? Them? That seems to be the general reaction from those who know Jonathan and Diana Toebbe of Annapolis, Maryland, the very model of a suburban couple with two kids. Jonathan is, or was, a nuclear engineer for the Navy, Diana is a teacher, and both are currently incarcerated and accused of trying to pass secrets to a foreign government. Prosecutors say Jonathan obtained the info about the US nuclear sub program at his job, and Diana not only knew but sometimes served as his lookout at what they thought were "dead drop" locations. Both face life in prison if convicted. Details:

  • Mundane: A New York Times story has some amazing alleged details. In July, Diana Toebbe posted a request on Facebook for a babysitter. But this was no ordinary date for the couple: The FBI says they traveled to Pennsylvania that very day to drop off a memory card concealed in a Band-Aid. Their "foreign" contact was actually an FBI informant. At other drops, the data was stashed in a peanut butter sandwich and a gum wrapper, says the FBI.
  • In court: The couple appeared in court Tuesday in West Virginia (site of one of the dead drops and their arrest) for separate hearings that lasted just a few minutes. Neither had to enter a plea. More light on the case might be shed at detention hearings scheduled for Friday, per the AP.

  • Questions: Still unclear is why the couple allegedly turned to espionage; authorities have found no money trouble, for instance, though the couple did allegedly ask to be paid in a cryptocurrency called Monero. Another mystery: Which country did they think they were communicating with? The best guess is that it's an ally because the nation appears to have helped the US in the investigation. A clue? Diana had reportedly talked seriously about moving to Australia when Donald Trump was in office.
  • A pattern: "Although most spy cases don’t involve peanut butter and Band-Aids, the facts alleged follow a familiar pattern: Insider within the US government approaches a foreign power to sell US 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, tells the Washington Post. It appears that Jonathan Toebbe did indeed reach out to the unnamed foreign government initially, but his message was passed along to the FBI, who then took over the communications.
  • Rookie mistake: Though they protested the plan at first, the Toebbes ultimately let their contact pick the spots for the drop offs, per the FBI affidavit. Experts say that's a big mistake in the spy world. "It was somewhat surprising that someone who has studied submarine warfare follows the FBI's direction to surface for these supposedly clandestine drop offs," Michael Atkinson, a former inspector general for the intelligence community, tells the Times.
  • Stunned: Diana Toebbe, who has a doctorate in anthropology and is known for her love of knitting, taught English at the Key School in Annapolis. Her arrest has bamboozled colleagues and former students. "I spent so many hours with her in the computer lab and in class with her," 2019 graduate Craig Martien tells the Baltimore Sun. "I can’t imagine she was a different person. That doesn’t seem possible." Diana Toebbe is 45 and her husband 42. The ages of their children have not been specified.
(More spying stories.)

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