San Bernardino Shooter’s Apple Password Changed While in Government Possession

They lie like a rug.

In an attempt to convince Americans that having encryption and password-beating backdoors installed on their electronics so the government can snoop, the FBI first claimed the evil ISIS terrorists who shot up San Bernardino found a way to “beat” all of the resources of the NSA and lock down their iPhone to prevent further plots from being discovered. Lives were at risk, so the Fourth Amendment be damned!

That wasn’t really true.

It turns out, as the Justice Department acknowledged in its court filing, that the passcode of shooter Syed Farook’s iCloud account had been reset by the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, “in an attempt to gain access to some information in the hours after the attack… but that had the effect of eliminating the possibility of an auto-backup.” A federal official familiar with the investigation confirmed that investigators were indeed in possession of the phone when the reset occurred.

So, OK, it wasn’t the darn terrorists who did it, it was the dumb hicks at the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. Well, nonetheless, it wasn’t the FBI’s fault, so the FBI should be given the hacking tools needed to access all iPhone everywhere forever, or, maybe, something might happen again someday somewhere. At least with things in the FBI’s hands, such dumb mistakes wouldn’t happen.

Only that wasn’t really true either.

It turns out it was in fact the best of the best, FBI investigators seeking to recover data from the iPhone, who demanded a technician in the County Department of Public Health to reset the phone’s iCloud password. “The county and the FBI were working together cooperatively to obtain data, and at the point when it became clear the only way to accomplish the task at hand was to reset the iCloud password, the FBI asked the county to do so, and the county complied,” a spokesman for San Bernardino County said in an email. Except that wasn’t true or accurate and they screwed things up further by trying something dumb.

So here is what is true.

Apple could have recovered information from the phone had the Apple ID passcode not been changed under orders from the FBI, Apple said. If the phone was taken to a location where it recognized the Wi-Fi network, such as the San Bernardino shooters’ home, it could have easily been backed up to the cloud. The FBI then lied about whose incompetence lead to the mistake.

In other words, while the FBI is demanding massive changes in how Apple protects your privacy, none of those change would even be necessary if anyone on the government side understood how iCloud works. And these guys want us to believe we can trust them with our data, and indeed, our freedom.

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent. Reprinted from the his blog with permission.

5 thoughts on “San Bernardino Shooter’s Apple Password Changed While in Government Possession”

  1. Regardless of the truth, the feds still want the back door…and they’re going to get it…eventually. Just a matter of finding a judge to force it. And they WILL find one and they will get their back door…and they will abuse it, of course.

  2. This comes down to freedom and the Forth Amendment folks!

    Dec 2, 2015 San Bernardino shooting WITNESS ’41NBC’, *They were all white men*


    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

  3. FBI appeals for help to fill in 18 missing minutes of San Bernardino timeline

    The FBI appealed to the public for help on Tuesday in filling in 18 minutes missing from the timeline of last month’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, saying they hoped new information would shed light on the attackers’ motivations.

    Law enforcement hopes that the missing timeframe will “determine the
    motivation of Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife”, FBI assistant director
    in charge David Bowdich said at a news conference at the San Bernardino
    Police Department.

  4. I did a search on “how do I change iPhone password”. The Apple tech support page was clear. If you change password all data will be lost. So the FBI is either incompetent or deliberately deleted the data by changing the password. But wait. If the data was deleted then why doesn’t Apple simply go to court and say, “There is no data to recover. The FBI deleted it”.What is this Kabuki Dance really about? Is there really an FBI investigation of the San Bernardino shootings? Why not arrest every person know to visit the couple’s “bomb making apartment? I have seen no evidence that they are investigating anything. In fact, it seems like they are covering up the crime by admitting they destroyed evidence.But wait there’s more. When did search warrants become optional when served? If Apple has the data they have to turn it over. It seems Apple and the FBI are cooperating to create legal precedent. The government certainly has passed laws to require businesses to store data for various lengths of time in order to be available for a search warrant. SO is Apple forcing the government to force Apple create backdoor so that they will not be blamed for lack of privacy? Or. Does this mean that messaging services MUST save data? Is that the precedent being sought? To force all messaging products to save data? All of this makes very little sense on the surface.

  5. The spirit of Jimmy the Greek makes the odds 7500-1 that this was not a case of typical government incompetence. The FBI knew exactly what would happen if the iCloud password was reset, and had it done in order to gin up this demand for permanent universal backdoors. (Anyone think none of its agents has an iPhone?)

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