The FBI Spent More Than $1 Million to Hack One Potentially Useless Phone

Ximagination/iStockPhoto

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


It turns out the FBI’s 11-hour solution to its huge public fight with Apple didn’t come cheap.

FBI director James Comey said on Thursday that the agency paid more than $1 million to unnamed private-sector hackers for help in unlocking the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. The FBI first attempted to make Apple write software that would allow law enforcement to unlock the phone quickly, but the company refused and said the request could unconstitutionally expand government authority. The case sparked an uproar over digital privacy as well as a major court battle, which stopped only when the FBI announced it had received the hackers’ help and withdrew its order to Apple.

Comey, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, didn’t give a specific price for the hack, but said it cost the agency more than he would make in the next seven years of his term as director. The FBI director makes at least $181,500 a year by law, putting the cost of the hack at a minimum of $1.27 million, by Comey’s estimate. An FBI press officer could not confirm the accuracy of Comey’s estimate or provide a specific cost.

“It was worth it,” Comey told the audience in Aspen. But it’s not clear how much value the hacking method or the phone actually has. Comey has repeatedly said that the method used to break into the phone would work only on an iPhone 5C running iOS 9, like the San Bernardino phone, and that Apple could discover and fix the security flaw that allowed the hack to work. And on Tuesday, CNN reported that the phone “didn’t contain evidence of contacts with other ISIS supporters or the use of encrypted communications during the period the FBI was concerned about.” The FBI argues the lack of information is valuable evidence in and of itself.

THE END...

of our fiscal year is Thursday, June 30, and we have a much larger fundraising gap than we can easily manage with only days left to go.

Right now is no time to come up short: If you value the hard-hitting, democracy-protecting, justice-advancing journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us keep charging as hard as we possibly can with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

THE END...

of our fiscal year is Thursday, June 30, and we have a much larger fundraising gap than we can easily manage with only days left to go.

Right now is no time to come up short: If you value the hard-hitting, democracy-protecting, justice-advancing journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us keep charging as hard as we possibly can with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate