Why would the FBI lie about its inability to unlock a terrorist's iPhones?

Why would the FBI lie about its inability to unlock a terrorist's iPhones?
Last month, President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr decided to go after Apple for not unlocking an iPhone 5 and iPhone 7 belonging to terrorist Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. The latter killed three people last December at a Naval base in Pensacola, Florida and was killed during the attack which was ruled terrorism by the authorities. The FBI asked Apple to unlock the devices so that it could look for clues about any possible future attacks.

Like it did back in 2015 when it ignored a court order to unlock the iPhone 5c owned by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook, Apple rebuffed the FBI; the company fears that any special version of iOS it would have to develop in order to meet the requests of law enforcement could wind up in the wrong hands. That would make every iPhone user in the world vulnerable to having their personal data stolen.

If the DOJ can unlock the iPhone 11 owned by Lev Parnas, why can't it unlock a terrorist's iPhone 5 and iPhone 7?


Back in 2015, the FBI relied on a Cellebrite "cracking machine" to open Farook's handset. And Cellebrite recently bragged that "For the first time ever, a wealth of previously untapped data sets from iOS devices can be leveraged to change the course of investigations. This update allows you to quickly perform a forensically sound temporary jailbreak and full file system extraction within one streamlined workflow." With an update, Cellebrite's UFED Physical Analyzer software can access chipsets that power the iPhone 5s to the iPhone X. And that means the FBI should be able to break into at least one of Alshamrani's phones. In addition, Grayshift's GrayKey cracking machine allegedly unlocked an iPhone 11 Pro Max last year. With that in mind, we wonder why the FBI says that it still cannot unlock the phones belonging to the deceased terrorist who cut down three people in Pensacola.


According to Bloomberg, FBI director Christopher Wray revealed today that the FBI still cannot find out what information is in Alshamrani's handsets. During a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Wray admitted that his agency cannot access the encrypted data on the devices. In response to a question posed by Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, the FBI director said that the FBI is "currently engaged with Apple hoping to see if we can get better help from them so we can get access to that phone."

Apple has turned over cloud data related to the two iPhones used by the Pensacola shooter, but both law enforcement and the U.S. government want more. They want Apple to add a backdoor to its devices so that encrypted data can be easily obtained by U.S. agencies and officials. Apple does not want to do this pointing out that "Backdoors can also be exploited by those who threaten our national security and the data security of our customers."

And yes, there is some hypocrisy involved here. The current administration has banned Chinese manufacturer Huawei from obtaining U.S. made components and software and has asked allies not to use the firm's networking gear in their 5G networks. Trump officials, lawmakers, and law enforcement have taken this stance because they fear that Huawei products contain a backdoor that could send private data to Beijing. Yet, the same government officials, lawmakers and law enforcement officials are badgering Apple to put a backdoor inside its phones.

Last month, we first pointed out that the FBI doesn't seem to need Apple's help to unlock the phones in question. Security experts and forensic examiners agree with that conclusion. Last month the Justice Department said that it was able to extract data from the iPhone 11 owned by Rudy Giuliani's indicted pal Lev Parnas. The iPhone 5 and iPhone 7 owned by Alshamrani should be easier to open than Parnas' iPhone 11 was.

Whatever is really going on behind the scenes, Apple appears to be wrongly targeted by Trump who said in a tweet last month "We are helping Apple all of the time on TRADE and so many other issues, and yet they refuse to unlock phones used by killers, drug dealers, and other violent criminal elements. They will have to step up to the plate and help our great Country."

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6 Comments

4. tokuzumi

Posts: 2021; Member since: Aug 27, 2009

Bottom line; I'm fine with Apple providing the iCloud data for the criminals, but I'm glad Apple is standing their ground by not allowing a blanket back door into their OS to the gov't.

6. sgodsell

Posts: 7659; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Apple wants everyone to believe that their iPhones are private and secure. If it got out that certain authorities could break into every iPhone, then that would be bad for Apple's sales. Plus if the criminals believe that iPhones are secure and safe, then the bad actors would buy and use iPhones. People are either too young to remember back in the 1990's, or they don't know about when NSA keys were embedded into Windows, so why wouldn't they be in iPhones or Macs today? Plus the FBI wants to look incompetent when it comes to computers and software. It's better for the FBI in the long run.

3. Demo-jay

Posts: 105; Member since: Feb 13, 2018

I remember an article here saying google is hard to crack more than iphones...this is all in favour of terrorists, Google want terrorists to use their hardware, while Trump and FBI try to fool terrorists by saying they can’t crack the iPhone while they have already done that

5. jonartpop

Posts: 201; Member since: Oct 25, 2012

This omg. Game theory.

2. dimas

Posts: 3461; Member since: Jul 22, 2014

Why does FBI lie? Same reason why they should not disclose everything they do. If they're 100% transparent, they're just sitting ducks to everybody who want to outsmart them. All government will always have lies and we have to live by that.

1. Bobo1997

Posts: 18; Member since: Nov 05, 2019

Because if we (the FBI) can crack the iPhones but terrorist don’t know that, they will continue to them which gives us an advantage when we do apprehend them. If they know we can, it would cause them to move to another possibly hard to crack form of communication. I’ve always thought the United States has always been to public about what we can do with technology. One last thing if any Americans have a problem with Apple helping against terrorism, maybe they should be “persons of interest” themselves.

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