While working at the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, a little-known government research facility in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, Mr. Toebbe is said to have had access to the documents he allegedly passed on to the undercover FBI officer.
Much of the details of the exchanges were redacted in the court documents, but there was reference to scale drawings and maintenance details. The FBI cited a note, which the affidavit suggests was written by one of the Toebbes, stating that the information “reflects decades of ‘lessons learned’ from the United States Navy that will help keep your sailors safe.”
Submarine secrets have been the stuff of spy games for generations. Although the Cold War is long over, the technology is more important than ever, especially as the United States intensifies its patrols in the Pacific, including in the disputed areas of the South China Sea and off the coast of North Korea.
The ubiquity of image satellites and the proliferation of ship-killing missiles have led countries to put a premium on ships that can travel undetected and strike suddenly. That was a key factor in allowing Australia to join the small club of nations that can deploy nuclear submarines.
Diesel-powered submarines can stay submerged for up to a few weeks before having to surface for refueling; their nuclear-powered equivalents can remain underwater for months. Australia initially agreed to buy a fleet of diesel submarines from France in 2016, but as the project was behind schedule and over budget, it was lured away by offers from the United States and Britain to work with them. replicate their nuclear-powered submarines. However, it will be years before those are deployed, officials in the Biden administration say.
The FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service arrested Jonathan and Diana Toebbe on Saturday. They will appear in federal court in Martinsburg, W.Va on Tuesday.
The Toebbes live in a middle-class neighborhood in Annapolis, Md. Neighbors said about a dozen black SUVs descended on their streets shortly after 1:15 p.m. Saturday. Officers rushed out and knocked on the door of the Toebbes’ split-level home. In the end, about 30 officers were present.