FBI’s ‘No Data is New Data’ iPhone Spin Stinks

| Analysis

The FBI says it has new data from Syed Farook's iPhone, and that new data is that there isn't any data, or at least no data that's of any use to the San Bernardino mass shooting investigation. The FBI is saying their analysis shows Mr. Farook didn't communicate with anyone during an 18 minute window that's unaccounted for following the shooting spree—something they should've known long before hacking into the phone.

iCloud backups from the iPhone had been in the FBI's hands since early January, and agents had access to the device's phone carrier records, too. Critics to the FBI's push to force Apple to help hack into the iPhone said that, along with other parts of the investigation, were enough to show there wasn't any relevant data hidden away on the device.

The iPhone became a hot button in the investigation when the FBI obtained a court order telling Apple to create a version of iOS that removed the safeguards preventing brute force attacks on lockscreen passcodes. the FBI and Department of Justice wanted the hackable iPhone operating system so they could look at the encrypted contents of the phone to see if it held data that wasn't available in the backups Apple provided.

Syed Farook was issued the iPhone by his employer, San Bernardino County Public Health Department. It was recovered after he was killed along with his wife by police following their shooting shooting spree where they killed 14 coworkers and injured 22 more.

When Apple told the FBI it didn't have any way to hack into the iPhone, the agency responded by obtaining a court order compelling Apple to create the less secure version of iOS. FBI Directory James Comey made the push for what was named GovtOS a very public event that even included an appearance by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Stephen Colbert's TV talk show.

Nothing to see here: FBI says no useful information on Syed Farook's iPhoneNothing to see here: FBI says no useful information on Syed Farook's iPhone

The FBI said it needed GovtOS because seeing the encrypted contents of Mr. Farook's iPhone was critical to the shooting investigation. Director Comey and Attorney General Lynch also said this was a one-off request, and that Apple wouldn't have any trouble keeping GovtOS safe from hackers. Apple countered that complying with the court order would lead to security weaknesses for all iPhone owners, and would set a precedent where other companies could be forced to weaken security protections in their products, too.

Director Comey dropped the legal fight with Apple when a still unnamed third party came forward with a hack the FBI purchased and used to get into the iPhone. The details of the 0-day exploit are still unknown, and the FBI is reticent to share the technique with Apple because they want to use it on other iPhones. The FBI has already agreed to unlock iPhones for other law enforcement agencies, shooting down its own argument that agents wanted to get into just the one phone.

In the midst of the FBI's public fight with Apple, San Bernardino police chief Jarrod Burguan confirmed no one was expecting to find anything of value on Mr. Farook's iPhone—which ultimately proved to be the case. Ultimately, the FBI wasted time, man hours, and thousands of dollars on its scheme to force Apple to compromise iPhone security and encryption.

It's been pretty clear for a couple weeks there wasn't any useful information on Mr. Farook's iPhone. It takes about a day to work through an iPhone's contents to find any useful leads, and had there been any, the FBI would've already used that to show why Apple should've complied with the court order. Instead, the agency waited weeks before spinning the news into something that equates to, "It's lucky we got into that iPhone because there wasn't anything there."

It's easy to say the FBI needed to see the contents of Syed Farook's iPhone to rule out other possible leads, but they could've done the same—and presumably did—with good police work. That only drives home the idea that targeting this iPhone was always about law enforcement getting a backdoor into our encrypted personal data, and the FBI used an emotionally charged case with trigger words such as mass shooting, terrorist, and Muslim as a platform to get what they wanted.

The FBI did finally manage to get into Mr. Farook's iPhone, but without Apple's help. Apple will likely find a way to patch the exploit the FBI bought, killing that little victory, too.

In the end, we're left with the FBI willing to sacrifice privacy and security for everyone, including our own government, in exchange for an easy pass into encrypted devices. That, and a single iPhone without any data that could've undermined digital security around the world.

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The FBI is saying their analysis shows Mr. Farook didn’t communicate with anyone during an 18 minute window that’s unaccounted for following the shooting spree

They would have known that from phone records and metadata.
I’m not just embarrassed that the FBI tried to subvert the US constitution
Not just because they wanted to put all of our privacy at risk.
Not just because they were willing to literally put lives at risk around the world.
I’m also embarrassed that THIS is the best lie they could come up with to cover their ass’s. The current FBI makes the Keystone Kops look good.


Phone records would show if he had a phone conversation or any text messages but would not show iMessages or other data based communication apps. He could have deleted the iMessages or apps as well, but there is always a chance that the information is there. So they have legitimate reason to want to get in - they just should be doing on their own.


Face it.  The San Bernardino case, and the several others the FBI is keeping out of the limelight, has never been about law enforcement or keeping the People safe. It is about finding excuses for the federal government to usurp even more power and authority over our everyday lives.

“Constitution?  What Constitution?”


There’s a bad Rose Mary Woods joke in here someplace…...


Look, any data found on the phone had to be investigated.  IF they had found a list of eight names with no included explanation, it would have taken days to process that list and determine if it was of any value.  They would never have had held a press conference claiming “We have a list of eight accomplices thanks to the iPhone hack.  Suck it Apple” unless they had arrests to go with them.  They had data, they had to research it, and there is no predicting how long that research would take - so the timing component of your argument means absolutely nothing. 

Releasing any information about actual discoveries to the press would have made those leads useless.  Despite their subsequent comments to the press, it remains entirely possible that they DID find substantial leads and are not releasing the data in order to follow where those leads go. 

I don’t agree with the Justice department’s warrant tactics against Apple, and I support strong encryption, but because of the nature of this case and standard law enforcement investigation tactics, this article and any argument based upon that iPhone’s “true content” is nothing but idle speculation.  We won’t know the truth until some FOIA request results in un-redacted documents, which will probably take a few years.


So embarrassing, so shameful, so transparent, so despicable. Ugh. Just, ugh. All of it. I honestly don’t know who the intelligence community think they are fooling.

Liam Lopez ©®™

The sad thing is that San Bernardino continues to lie they do not give any employees iphones they give them android phones. I have been in their offices before and the higher up staff have either a swung galaxy or a Lg g series device. Not only can they not afford to buy every one iphones they also would like to constantly see what their employees are doing on their phones and their is a way to see exactly what is on the screen of an android phone their are apps and remote access, and even more. San Bernardino is one of the most corrupt counties in California.


Liam: I don’t know about the Samsung/LG/Apple ratio of phones at San Bernardino. Or about the predilection for monitoring.

But what I have seen described is the failure to establish enterprise-management software that would allow the county IT to manage/control what happened on the phone. It was apparently on their “to do” list but they issued iPhones before it was done. And that strikes me as criminally culpable.


Look, MonkeyT, the FBI had a couple of weeks to process any information they found on the iPhone. IF they had found incriminating leads then they’d have to follow them up - which might take quite a while, as you say.

But if they did then why would it have been so specific about finding no information? Yes - I realize that this could be tactical disinformation while they continue investigation but that doesn’t seem likely. And yes - you can’t lie to FBI but FBI can lie to you/us. Bummer.

But please don’t cloud the issue with vague possibilities. We’ve seen enough FBI in the past to know that it would have not been hesitant to trumpet “success” had it found any non-trivial evidence. Not immediately but, hey, we’re weeks down the road now.

We are now past the point of “idle speculation” and to claim otherwise is clinging to fairytales. If FBI had found some substantial evidence then that fact would have become known - although not the evidence itself. All the FBI has for our million dollars is coverage of the 18-minute gap.

Hmmm. I remember Arlo Guthrie speculating about an 18-minute gap. I wonder if the two are related??


Jeff: I love the image with this one.

“Circling the wagons”  !!!!

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