Money was likely not the only motivation behind a Maryland couple’s reported decision to try to sell sensitive U.S. submarine secrets to a foreign government, a leading expert in the psychology of espionage told The Washington Times.
Dr. David Charney, a Northern Virginia psychiatrist who has worked extensively with members of the intelligence community, also said husband and wife spy duos like those outlined in the FBI case are unusual.
“I look askance at the simplistic attribution, always, to money being the explanation,” said Dr. Charney. “You always have to take it further.”
Dr. Charney provided insights as Navy nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe and his schoolteacher wife, Diana, made their first appearance in federal court since their arrest Saturday in West Virginia.
The couple are accused of passing sensitive information about U.S. submarines to agents they thought were working for a foreign government but who were in fact undercover FBI agents.
Magistrate Judge Robert Trumble ordered the couple to remain behind bars pending a detention hearing Friday.
The 23-page affidavit released over the weekend described a months-long FBI sting operation after an undisclosed foreign government alerted the U.S. that Mr. Toebbe sent copies of submarine documents with a promise for more in exchange for cryptocurrency deposits.
While at face value, the episode appears to be an open-and-shut case involving information in exchange for money, Dr. Charney, who reviewed the affidavit but is not directly involved in the case, said he is certain that what motivated the couple, as with most spies, goes beyond money alone.
By all appearances, the Toebbe’s lived a comfortable life. Both had seemingly fulfilling careers and lived with their two children on a quiet middle-class street in Annapolis.
Dr. Charney said this does not always tell the whole story.
“You may look at somebody’s life as you will if you look at the pictures of the Toebbes online, and you would say, ‘Jeez, it looks pretty good,’” he said. “And even the story of his career seems pretty good, as does his wife’s. Well, then it doesn’t matter what you think. It matters what the person thinks within their now heart and mind as to how things have gone.”
Several key elements stood out in the Toebbe case.
First, husband and wife spy duos are unusual and Mrs. Toebbe’s involvement raises several questions, the psychologist said.
“It’s not unheard of, but it’s quite unusual, said Dr. Charney, who has served on defense teams for several accused spies and consults for federal agencies and private businesses on insider threats and counterintelligence.
Mrs. Toebbe, a private school teacher, is alleged to have conspired with her husband and served as a “lookout” on several of the dead drops, according to prosecutors.
If Mrs. Toebbe was involved to the degree that is reported in the complaint, it would point to an even more complex shared motivation, he said.
“Anytime you have two people that are carrying off a more complex scheme, they’ve got to have a shared outlook about things,” he said. “And that is not clear to me what that could be right now.”
Second, the case reportedly involves a high level of premeditation. Mr. Toebbe is accused of collecting sensitive information for years before releasing it to the foreign government.
While Mr. Toebbe was an amateur and had no training in spy trade