File this under “Bet they didn’t see that one coming.” According to reputable news outlets, as well as CNN, on Saturday October 2, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe were arrested in West Virginia by the FBI and the Navy Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). The result of a year-long investigation, the couple have been charged with attempting to sell “US nuclear secrets to another country.” They were requesting payment to be made in cryptocurrency.
How were they caught? The as-yet-unnamed country – which Jonathan had contacted in April 2020 to try and sell classified naval nuclear technology – turned him in to federal authorities. Thereafter an undercover FBI agent interacted with him, posing as a representative of that nation’s government.
While we may never know what country Jonathan had contacted, we do know it wasn’t China. When reached for a comment about this incident, the CCP spokesman said, “It wasn’t us. We already have all of America’s nuclear secrets.”
It is reported that while conducting the “dead drops” (the term used for passing along information in a way that avoids human contact and to not arouse suspicion) Jonathan would hide memory cards filled with the stolen information inside gum wrappers, empty band-aid containers, and even a half a peanut butter sandwich. Was he turned in because he didn’t cut the crust off in just the right way? Perhaps the intended recipient has a peanut allergy, as does what feels like three-quarters of American elementary school students.
The nation is now asking: who are Jonathan and Diana Toebbes? By all accounts, they were an average couple, just like Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Originally from California, they were residents of Annapolis, MD, had two children, and liked to vacation and participate in renaissance faires (Ren Faires) as a family. Jonathan is a former naval officer and had a top-secret security clearance. Since 2012 he has worked as a nuclear engineer with the US Department of the Navy and had access to classified information. He was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and maintained his security clearance.
Diana Toebbes has a Ph.D. in Anthropology and was a humanities teacher at the “elite” Key School in Annapolis. Diana was formerly active on social media, where she frequently posted her progressive political opinions. An ardent supporter of Hilary Clinton and BLM, she was a self-professed member of ‘The Resistance’ and openly raged against then-President Donald Trump, often calling for him to be “stopped.”
A former student has since referred to her as “insanely smart.” Um, ok.
In reading about their capture, I was left wondering what happened to their children. They couple had taken to Facebook to find a babysitter so that they could make the dead drop in WV. The FB post indicated a need for someone for about five or six hours, neglecting to mention that it might end up being 25 to Life. The post was later updated to indicate a babysitter had been found.
The question is now raised, why did they do this? Why did this well-educated couple decide to risk everything by stealing classified information and selling it to a foreign power? The most common reasons for treason are financial troubles or disillusionment with the government. While there may be financial issues involved here, by all accounts they had a positive net worth and lived a comfortable, middle-class, suburban life.
Could political disillusionment be the determinative factor? There is more evidence to support this theory, especially from Diana; in some ways she could be viewed as the poster child for what trained “mental health experts”, such as Sean Hannity, have labeled Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS). Did Diana’s hatred for Trump lead the couple to take a risk that could cost them their lives? While there is no public evidence to indicate that Jonathan shared her political views, that is not surprising given his employer and the nature of his job. It is likely that he was as much a fellow traveler with his wife in her progressive politics as much as he was her co-playtron at Ren Faires. However, it is still a big leap from lionizing Ruth Bader Ginsberg to betraying your nation. I am not sure that TDS is an adequate explanation.
If it is TDS, then the “orange man” isn’t the only bad one on the internet. Maybe the former student was only half-right.
Can any lessons be learned from this? I can think of at least three. Never use store brand peanut butter to disguise US naval nuclear technology; Never ask for Dogecoin as a payment for treasonous activity, and; Never, ever, set up a drop for purloined naval information in a state where the largest body of water is the swimming pool at the Greenbrier Resort.
Seriously, for all their purported intelligence, they really missed the first clue this might be a sting: trying to sell naval secrets to someone in West Virginia, a state almost entirely composed of mountains. That’s like someone who works in Cupertino stealing the microchip processor for the new iPhone, hiding it in their organic, ethically sourced, renewable, Vegan Avocado BLT from The Plant Cafe, and then agreeing to sell it to a man named Jebediah in Pennsylvania Dutch country.
My hat is off to the FBI and NCIS in their investigation, though. They coordinated their investigation and kept America’s nuclear secrets safe from our…allies? I am left with one last question, which I am sure is on everyone else’s mind too: will this event lead to a new spin-off of the popular CBS television show, this time set in Charleston, WV?
Let’s call it NCIS: Deliverance.