An FBI counter-intelligence agent described a series of photographs and videos allegedly showing a Navy engineer and his wife making drops of classified data where investigators recovered secret information related to a nuclear-powered submarine fleet – and the promise of an additional cache of secrets the couple sought to sell for $5 million in cryptocurrency.
At the third of four pre-arranged drops, the FBI also found a message expressing deep security concerns, suggesting that plans be made to assist the family's escape to another country as "a last resort" to avoid detection, agent Peter Olinits told a federal magistrate Wednesday.
At the time, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, accused of attempting to provide classified information to a foreign nation, believed they were exchanging information with that unidentified country when in fact they were communicating with an undercover FBI agent.
The Toebbes pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday at separate hearings in a West Virginia federal court where they face maximum punishments of life in prison, if convicted.
Jonathan Toebbe did not challenge the government's request that he be detained pending trial. Diana Toebbe sought release on bond at a detention hearing where new details of the unusual case of alleged espionage emerged, including concerns that the family had planned to "quickly" flee the country.
U.S. Magistrate Robert Trumble did not immediately rule on Diana Toebbe's release.
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Olinits, who helped oversee the FBI's months-long inquiry, told the court that a search of the couple's Annapolis, Maryland home following their Oct. 9 arrests turned up evidence suggesting a long-planned escape.
He said investigators recovered a "go bag" packed for travel, passports for their two children, $11,300 in hundred dollar bills wrapped in a rubber band, a cryptocurrency wallet and shredded documents.
"I think she would try to leave the country," Olinits told the magistrate.
Prosecutors said Diana Toebbe's continued detention was necessary because the government had not yet located the $100,000 the FBI paid the couple in cryptocurrency during the undercover operation. Investigators also had not recovered additional caches of classified data that Jonathan Toebbe had allegedly dangled, seeking millions more in payments.
Defense attorney Edward MacMahon downplayed his client's role, asserting that the government had provided "no evidence that Diana Toebbe knew what her husband was up to."
MacMahon also rejected the FBI's description of the couple as displaying advanced trade-craft, as they carried out data drops concealed in a peanut butter sandwich and gun wrappers.
"It was terrible. They are here, aren't they," MacMahon said, suggesting that the FBI had no trouble tracking and later arresting them.
MacMahon later outlined a series of conditions, including electronic monitoring, that would ensure Diana Toebbe's future appearances in court.
"Mrs. Toebbe wants to defend this case and she wants the chance to do it," MacMahon told the magistrate, saying that her release was necessary to assist in the defense which likely could put her at odds with her husband of 18 years.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jonathan Toebbe, Navy engineer, wife Diana wanted $5M for US secrets