US Senator Dianne Feinstein has revealed that the FBI paid $900,000 to hack into the iPhone of the San Bernardino killer after Apple resisted a court request to help the agency. The FBI director, James Comey hinted at the figure last year.
“I was so struck when San Bernardino happened and you made overtures to allow that device to be opened, and then the FBI had to spend $900,000 to hack it open,” said Senator Feinstein, (D-California) during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, according to AP. “And as I subsequently learned of some of the reason for it, there were good reasons to get into that device.”
Immediately following the disclosure, FBI director James Comey did not confirm or deny the figure.
The amount was disclosed by Feinstein as Comey was testifying on the agency’s work, the events in the run-up to the 2016 elections, and the impending reauthorization of the government’s surveillance powers.
The federal government paid the money to shortcut a court battle with Apple Inc, who resisted a magistrate judge’s order to help the Justice Department hack into the phone of Syed Rizwan Farook.
Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, carried out the mass shooting and attempted bombing in December 2015, killing 14 people and seriously injuring 22 others. After the shooting, the couple fled in a rented sport utility vehicle (SUV). The couple, radical Islamists who supported ISIS, were later killed in a shootout with police. The work phone was found after the shooting.
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment Friday.
The FBI considers the amount to be classified information and it has protected the identity of the vendor paid to do the work. The AP and other news organizations sued the FBI in 2016 for not revealing the information and the name of the third party involved. In January, the Justice Department responded to the suit by providing “heavily redacted” records lacking the “critical details” requested in the lawsuit.
Initial reports stated the Israeli company Cellebrite was assisting the FBI with the hack. But later, the Washington Post reported the FBI had paid “professional hackers” who used a zero-day vulnerability in the iPhone’s software to bypass it ten-try limitation, and did not need Cellbrite’s assistance.
National reactions to Apple’s opposition of the order were mixed. A CBS News poll that sampled 1,022 Americans found that 50% of the respondents supported the FBI’s stance, while 45% supported Apple’s stance.
Comey hinted at a ballpark figure last year, saying the government paid more than he would earn in his remaining seven years on the job, an amount that would have been more than $1 million. He has called the sum “worth it.”
At the end, the FBI reported that it found “nothing of real significance” after it had gained access to the iPhone 5c. The ‘hack’ provided answers to some questions about the terrorist attack but generated no solid leads.