Why Would Two Smart Suburbanites Try Selling U.S. Military Secrets?

Dr. Munr Kazmir
5 min readMar 22, 2022

A nuclear engineer and his wife sent Brazil an anonymous offer to sell U.S. military secrets. Brazil called the FBI.

“Spies everywhere!” by Emory Allen.

The legal case against Jonathan and Diana Toebbe is still ongoing- Mr. Toebbe recently pled guilty to the charges leveled against him- but he story of the Toebbes, and their misbegotten foray into the amateur spy businesses, has already become the stuff of legend in Washington D.C.

Called the “Spy Capital of the of World,” Washington D.C. rarely lives up to the name in terms of fodder for the Capitol Hill gossip mill. Not this time.

With the Toebbes, there has been no shortage of details about a spy caper too unbelievable and madcap to be anything but true.

From the moment of their initial overture towards a friendly government- offering to sell highly-classified U.S. military secrets to Brazil because approaching an unfriendly government would have been, in their words, “wrong”- the game was already up for the Toebbes.

Everything they did from that moment on- complicated dead-drop schemes, encrypted currency research, useless safeguards, clandestine signals- was for nothing.

The Brazilian intelligence agency in receipt of Jonathan Toebbe’s anonymous package- a “gift” of classified U.S. military documents and an offer for more in exchange for money- immediately notified their law enforcement counterparts in the U.S.

Which, as anyone must admit- even the Toebbes in retrospect- makes perfect sense. A country friendly to the U.S. would have to be absolutely insane to take anyone up on that offer.

With all the data available about this case- emails exchanged between Mr. Toebbe and FBI agents posing as Brazilian officials, text messages between Mr. and Mrs. Toebbe- a question still remains:

Why on earth did they do it?

More importantly, what made them think they could get away with it? Why would two otherwise intelligent people with no criminal history- he a nuclear engineer and she a teacher- do something so incredibly stupid?

Smart people tend to avoid crime, on the whole. Our cultural obsession with the brilliant criminal mastermind, the evil…