A US nuclear engineer and his wife appeared in court on Tuesday, days after being arrested for trying to sell submarine secrets for $5 million, as speculation continued which country was the target buyer.
Jonathan Tobe and his wife Diana Tobe appear separately in federal court in West Virginia in orange prison attire. A judge ordered him to appoint public defenders, indicating that he did not have enough money to hire himself.
Both have been charged with conspiracy to hand over highly classified technology on the Navy’s most advanced nuclear-powered, cruise missile-launching submarines to an unidentified foreign power.
A criminal complaint unveiled on Sunday does not specify which country they sought to sell the information to, but does suggest it could be a US ally, revealing that the country had sued Toebs last December. Overture was reported to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
It also doesn’t serve any purpose for the couple.
Jonathan Tobe, 42, was a former Navy officer who specialized in nuclear propulsion of submarines.
After leaving the Navy he worked as a civilian contractor assigned to a research laboratory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that designs and develops nuclear power for the Navy.
Diane Tobe, 45, was meanwhile a teacher at Key School, a well-known private school in Annapolis, Maryland, where the couple had a home.
The complaint gave a tantalizing, spy-novel-like description of the case, including dead-drops, cryptocurrency payments, and signs from an embassy building in Washington.
After an initial goodwill payment, the FBI lured him over encrypted communications to give him an SD card filled with secret information on submarine technology.
The card was placed in a peanut butter sandwich and left at a location in West Virginia, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Annapolis.
The second dead drop, in July, involved hiding an SD card inside a wrapper containing a Band-Aid and dropping it in a plastic baggie at a site in south-central Pennsylvania.
In a message to the “buyers” – undercover FBI agents – Tobe indicated that he had been contemplating his actions for several years and was now happy to work with “a trusted professional partner.”
He also wrote that he had broken down all the data he collected into 51 “packages” of information. He wanted $100,000 each, to be distributed in batches over an undetermined time period.
In the third drop in August, Tobe left more submarine data and a note saying that if he got into trouble he hoped the foreign country would help “evacuate” him and his family.
“We have passports and cash set aside for this purpose,” Tobe wrote.
He expressed his gratitude for the “partnership”.
“One day, when it’s safe, maybe two old friends will have a chance to bump into each other in a cafe, share a bottle of wine, and laugh at the stories of their shared adventures,” he wrote.
The couple were arrested on Saturday and each charge could face a life sentence.
Experts speculate about the identity of the country that alerted the FBI about the data proposal in December, nearly nine months after Toebs first sent his proposal to the country’s military intelligence.
One of his communications indicated that English may not be the country’s native language, and others suggest that the country’s navy is familiar with nuclear propulsion technology.
In addition to the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and India operate nuclear-powered naval ships.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)