How Tim Cook and Apple Became Part of the Discussion on the Russian Investigation

Comments from FBI employees about Apple and Tim Cook

Apple and CEO Tim Cook managed to make their inadvertent way into the public discussion on the Russian investigation. Comments both critical and complimentary about Apple and Tim Cook were released in a cache of text messages released by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Those messages were between two FBI employees—Agent Peter Strzok and attorney Lisa Page—and the comments about Apple and Mr. Cook were unrelated to the Russian investigation. The two FBI employees were complaining about Mr. Cook’s privacy stance against the FBI in the case of the San Bernardino iPhone 5c, calling him and Apple hypocrites.

Comments from FBI employees about Apple and Tim Cook
Some of the comments about Apple and Tim Cook, as found by BusinessInsider

And that’s where it gets kind of funny, because the two also made reference to keeping one discussion limited to Apple’s iMessage. The implication to me being that they knew iMessage protected their privacy, even while complaining about Apple’s stance on privacy.

Cache of FBI Texts

This cache of text messages was large, and BusinessInsider found all the comments about Apple and Mr. Cook. You can read their detailed coverage for the specifics, but the short version is that Agent Strzok and Ms. Page believed Apple was using the FBI’s demands to create a backdoor into iOS as a marketing stunt.

They’re wrong, but that’s not really the point. Also, I’d like to note that few among us would look all that great if we had our private text messages exposed to the world.

A Tangled Web

Agent Strzok and Ms. Page were in a relationship at the time, and their text messages were released because of the political fighting over Russia’s meddling into U.S. elections. Both were involved in investigations into Hillary Rodham Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State, and in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in our elections and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

In addition to the comments about Apple and Tim Cook, their text messages revealed the two were critical of Donald Trump. Those comments have been used by Republicans to argue bias in the investigation, and the broader cache of texts were released to bolster that claim. It didn’t bolster their case, but that’s how they got released.

That makes their complaints about Apple and Tim Cook collateral damage, and unrelated to the investigation. It’s important to remember that while these private comments were essentially in line with criticism of Apple by then-FBI Director James Comey, they weren’t necessarily representative of the FBI as a whole.

For instance, in January, John Bennett, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s San Francisco office said, “We heart Apple. They train our cops.”

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Since the US government cannot be trusted to follow the law—and there seem to be no penalties to government officials when they violate the law—I applaud Apple for their privacy stance. And I hope it continues.