Syed Farook’s iPhone is a Bust for the FBI

| Analysis

The FBI has had access to the encrypted contents of Syed Farook's iPhone 5c for at least a week and when asked about the status, FBI general counsel James Baker said they're still analyzing the data and the agency won't talk about what may or may not be there. That's government talk for, "We didn't find anything useful on the iPhone."

FBI: Nothing to see here, move alongFBI: Nothing to see here, move along

Mr. Baker responded to questions about the San Bernardino mass shooting investigation this week at an International Association of Privacy Professionals conference where he said, "We’re now doing an analysis of that data, as we would in any other type of criminal terrorism investigation," according to the Wall Street Journal.

He added that there hasn't been enough time for the FBI to determine if anything on the iPhone has value to the investigation. "It's simply too early," Mr. Baker said.

The iPhone in question was recovered from Syed Farook—one of the two shooters who killed 14 people at a San Bernardino County employee party last December—after he was killed in a shootout with police. The FBI enlisted Apple's help to recover data from the phone in January and was able to get iCloud backups from October, leaving several weeks worth of data they couldn't see because it was hidden away and encrypted on the iPhone. The cell service provider handed over what data they had, too.

That gave the FBI about two months to pour over the data they had up to that point.

Next up: The FBI's worthless iPhone

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No surprise there.


The DOJ’s attempt to force Apple to unlock this phone was a shameful waste that only served to expose their purpose which was to set a precedent. On the other hand the FBI would have been negligent in their duty if they would not have used every means at hand to find out what was on this phone just because it likely held nothing. Sometimes the most innocuous detail can open up a significant avenue of investigation.


True but…
There are limits to what we allow law enforcement to do. At some point the good of the public outweighs the wishes of the police.

John Dingler, artist

the acquistive nature of the National Security State Apparatus is never satisfied.


tah   tah   tah   tah   tih-tidi tih-tidi tih-tidi-dah !!! 
tah   tih-tidi dih,  tah tah   tah   tah   tah dahhhh!!!
Will the contestants please take their places again at the starting line - the next heat is about to begin!

CNET Daily News, April 7, 2016: “FBI says its iPhone-cracking tool works only on the 5C”

(new life for “The All-Writs Act” v. the iPhone, etc.)


I’m sorry, I may be the ultimate cynic. But I’m am inclined to believe that the FBI was unable to break into the phone. Just consider the sequence of “supposed” events.

1. The FBI cannot unlock the phone.
2. The FBI attempts to take Apple to court to force Apple to develop the necessary software to break into the phone.
3. The FBI claims that an “undisclosed company” has developed the necessary software and unlocks the phone.
4. The “magic” software only works on an iPhone 5C running IOS9.
5. The FBI now claims nothing of importance was found on the phone.

I am cynical enough to believe that this whole episode has been just a ruse after the FBI realized that the probability of winning the court case was very small.

Just my 2 cents


CNET Daily News, April 7, 2016: FBI spills iPhone hacking secret to senators

“The FBI may be keeping Apple in the dark about how it broke into an iPhone used by a terrorist. But now it’s letting some members of Congress in on the secret.

“The law enforcement agency has started briefing some US Senators about how it accessed data stored on an iPhone 5C used by Syed Farook, one of the people involved in December’s San Bernardino, California, terrorist attack that killed 14 people…

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was briefed by the FBI about how it got into the iPhone 5C, a representative from her office confirmed to CNET, though he declined to give any details about the briefing. Feinstein is the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and one of the backers of a bill that would make sure the government can access encrypted data. Feinstein has called encryption “the Achilles’ heel of the Internet.”

The National Journal, which originally reported the news of the briefings by the FBI, also said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and co-sponsor of an encryption bill with Feinstein, was offered a briefing but hasn’t taken it yet. His office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The National Journal said both Feinstein and Burr believe Apple shouldn’t be given information on how the FBI broke into the phone, which is an obvious stance given the bill they’re planning to introduce as soon as this week.

“I don’t be­lieve the gov­ern­ment has any ob­lig­a­tion to Apple,” Fein­stein said in a state­ment emailed to the National Journal. “No com­pany or in­di­vidu­al is above the law, and I’m dis­mayed that any­one would re­fuse to help the gov­ern­ment in a ma­jor ter­ror­ism in­vest­ig­a­tion.”

Law enforcement agencies like the FBI often give classified briefings to federal intelligence committees. But they don’t have the same obligation to tell companies how they circumvent their security controls if sharing the information could hurt investigations. That has been particularly vexing to Apple of late… Apple, which had been fighting a search warrant to help the FBI unlock Farook’s iPhone, has said it wants the information so it can make sure its devices are secure…

Reuters, citing sources, reported Wednesday that the White House won’t offer public support for the encryption legislation soon to be proposed by Burr and Feinstein. President Barack Obama previously had seemed to support the bill, saying last month that Americans have always made privacy trade-offs with the government when it comes to public safety.”


This whole thing has been such a debacle. Thanks for the excellent reporting, Jeff. It is beyond bizarre to me that tech sites provide better news than the news ones. Keep up the great work. smile

Bardi Jonssen

“But I’m am inclined to believe that the FBI was unable to break into the phone.”

Knowing some in the FBI, I agree.  The FBI is simply playing out the melody they started.  No break in, no more info for them.

If you think about it, the FBI were the one who ordered the owner to change their password, the screwup needed covering up.  The “Senate” briefings were part of the coverup and basically stated that nothing was found on the phone.(They may have actually come clean with Feinstein/Burr but they really did not have to, the message would be clear to those two clowns in the great “security” circus).

And, I am not a cynic.


I don’t think anyone should be so smug about what they think the FBI knows or doesn’t know. They are very good at playing with the public’s perception of what happens to be going with issues like terrorism. It’s a mistake to take an answer like they gave on this issue. And apply meanings to it. We’ll know what they know when they think they can benefit from telling us.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t think security and policing agencies should divulge details about investigations. The facts will come out in court. Sometimes being paranoid. Is just paranoia.

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