FBI Won't Tell Me How Much It Paid To Break Into Syed Farook's iPhone, Saying It Might Jeopardize Its Investigation

from the say-what-now? dept

As you probably recall, several months ago, after going to court to try to force Apple to write some software to allow the FBI to hack into Syed Farook's work iPhone, the DOJ and FBI abruptly called off the case, claiming that it had been able to get an exploit that let it into the phone. A few weeks later, FBI Director James Comey suggested that the government paid over $1.2 million to get that exploit from some "hackers." Some later news reports indicated that the FBI quietly tried to talk down those numbers, and suggested that perhaps Comey was just bad at math (rather than name a number, he said that the FBI had paid "more than I will make in the remainder of this job, which is seven years and four months....").

Either way, I sent a FOIA request into the FBI that day asking for either the invoice or any other documentation showing how much the FBI had paid to get into Farook's work iPhone. The FBI has now rejected my FOIA request, arguing that since this is an "ongoing investigation," responding to such a request might somehow "interfere" with the case.
This is complete hogwash, for a variety of reasons. First, Farook is dead. Second, what investigation is there left to do? We know that Farook and his wife shot up Farook's office party and killed a bunch of people. We also know that the FBI was so unconcerned about further investigation that it allowed reporters to ransack Farook's townhouse soon after the shooting. Third, how the hell would revealing the price impact the investigation? The answer is that it will not. There is nothing in saying "it cost us $1 million" or "it cost us $653,000" or whatever, that in any way interferes with whatever investigation remains to be done.

This is nothing more than the FBI doing what the FBI frequently does with FOIA requests. Denying them because the FBI doesn't want to answer.

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  • icon
    James Burkhardt (profile), 6 Jun 2016 @ 8:43am

    It would interfere with the narrative that they bought someone to hack the iPhone because they did nothing of the sort. They just said they did and moved on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 6 Jun 2016 @ 9:48am

    They can't show you an invoice that says yuan they paid because it might make everyone question who was being paid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2016 @ 9:56am

    It's the Principal of the thing...

    Just like a child should never question their parents...

    The citizens should never question its government or its agency.

    Anyone that has yet to be corrupted with political bias can easily discover these things to be a sign that corruption is "IN FACT" present.

    A parent that does not explain their actions to a child is corrupt the same as a government that does not explain itself to its citizens.

    So what can be done when corruption is 100% evident yet nothing is being done? Now you are getting the idea...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Shilling, 6 Jun 2016 @ 9:59am

    Perhaps they actually did buy a program but now they are building a case against the seller for fraud, conspiracy, working around DRM, or whatever else they can find so they can seize the money back from the seller. Gotta love civil forfeiture laws.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 6 Jun 2016 @ 10:17am

    Are you going the judicial route to expose the bullshit? Consider crowdsourcing it. I'll try to help.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2016 @ 10:23am

      Re:

      Judicial route is the wrong route.

      The congressional route is the ONLY viable route.

      They have the power to fix it directly. The courts have proven to be in the pocket of the government. Until there is a change in the American Electorate, NOTHING ELSE CHANGES.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 6 Jun 2016 @ 10:44am

    Submit an appeal

    Either you'll get the info you're looking for, or you'll be able to show that more senior FBI staff are violating the law.

    Either way, a win.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2016 @ 12:27pm

      Re: Submit an appeal

      ...you'll be able to show that more senior FBI staff are violating the law.

      I thought everyone already pretty much knew that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2016 @ 11:04am

    They didn't say who would be the target of the "prospective enforcement proceeding".

    It could be that the FBI is the target, and revealing the amount spent could result in someone getting fired for Security Theater overspending.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 6 Jun 2016 @ 11:30am

    It's hard to concentrate on your work when everyone is loudly laughing at you? ¯\_㋛_/¯

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Oblate (profile), 6 Jun 2016 @ 11:37am

    Maybe it went something like this:
    ---
    FBI Agents to FBI Middleman: Find us a hack for this iPhone.

    Hacker to FBI Middleman: Hey, I've got a hack for that iPhone, it's yours for $100k.
    FBI Middleman to Hacker: It's a deal!

    FBI Middleman (and secret kickback specialist) to FBI Brass: I've got a hack for that iPhone, it's yours for $1.2M.
    FBI Brass to FBI Middleman: It's a deal!

    FBI Agents: Yay, kickbacks!
    ---
    Of course they can't release the exact amount paid, it would certainly get back to someone who would cause trouble.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2016 @ 12:41pm

    Because

    "how the hell would revealing the price impact the investigation?"

    If they get a conviction (of eg alleged accomplices or co-conspirators or anybody who looked at them funny), the cost of the hack was 1.99 and the FBI is ace hackerz.

    If they get handed an acquittal (for the same alleged ...) the cost of the hack was 1.9 billion and they will launch a case for wasting law enforcement time and a civil suit demanding penalties, reparations and damages of 1.9 billionz plus interest and dry-cleaning bills, for hurt feelings and being made fun of (and looked at funny).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2016 @ 1:57pm

    You are just a slave to them. someone that has no rights because they know they will not be held accountable when they refuse what they are legally required to do.

    I just do not understand why the writers here at techdirt always act so shocked that America is turning into a police state tyranny.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    DCL, 6 Jun 2016 @ 3:03pm

    data rules....

    They know how much you can figure out with some 'innocent' metadata.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2016 @ 4:43pm

    Im suprised anyone still wants to work for them with how criminal they have become.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 6 Jun 2016 @ 6:42pm

      Works for the mafia, works for the FBI

      "It's like this see, you can work with us 'voluntarily', or we can go get a ruling from some pals of ours, which you may or may not be allowed to see but won't be able to talk about that will make you work for us, and trust me, if we have to go get that ruling we are not going to be happy. And if we're not happy, you are most certainly not going to be happy either. Got it?"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2016 @ 6:02pm

    Third, how the hell would revealing the price impact the investigation?

    Because it makes them look stupid. And as Whatever loves to state, authority simply can't function well if something might result in them having their feelings hurt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2016 @ 1:27am

    If it was a stupendous ammount, they'd argue if was well worth it.

    Others might say, stop spending our money, supposedly, on stupid fucking bullshit chirlish games that will continually have nations at eachothers throats as was and still is to some degree, the cold war

    One nation takes the liberty, and others follow suit in order to retaliate as a form of defence, like perpetual war and violence if feeds itself on its own self sustaining battery........no matter what happens, we all loose, and yet again, we have to live in a world where governments introduce something into the world that has the potential to cause some serious harm

    You have to start asking yourself, is it better for bad things to happen on a local level, or to have that magnified by a governments resources and make it a global level..............a government is not some divine written on stone destiny, there are literally countless possibilities on how a government can and should be.........i dont have a problem with a human right government......i do have a problem with an hypocritical corrupt one though

    With the resources available in such positions, the bar to entry is pittifully low, and id argue, corrupt

    Goddamit government, your suppose to be the best of us

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2016 @ 6:04am

    Government-to-English translation

    It's all another official-sounding way of saying "Fuck you."

    "For a further explanation of this exemption, go fuck yourself."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    freedomfan (profile), 7 Jun 2016 @ 3:57pm

    They don't want the amount known because they learned nothing from the phone

    The fact that they don't want the cost to unlock the phone known at all makes me suspect that they got very little useful evidence from the phone.

    Consider: If it was a large amount and they got no further significant leads from the unlocked phone, then they look like idiots for trying to bully Apple into unlocking it. And, it would contradict their narrative that the sky will fall if they don't have all the data all the time. And, important FBI allies like Feinstein and Burr are re-exposed as idiots for using this as an example in their currently-comatose proposal to outlaw secure (non-backdoored) encryption. Those results mean the cost stays covered-up as long as they can fight off the FOIA requests/suits.

    On the other hand, they would be happy to release the amount to unlock the phone if they got some great evidence from the phone that they didn't have otherwise. Even if it was millions of dollars, that would only bolster their claim that they don't have the expertise to do this kind of unlocking and they need a back door because getting such critical evidence is prohibitively expensive without it.

    So, in all likelihood, they spent a lot of our money and - surprise! - got zilch. No one at the DOJ wants to write that press release.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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