The Cable

FBI Paid at Least $1.3 Million to Break Into Apple iPhone

Bureau chief Jim Comey said the exploit cost more than he will make during the remainder of his tenure.

GettyImages-513197772crop

The FBI dropped at least a cool seven figures to break into the Apple iPhone belonging to San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook.

Speaking at a security conference in London, FBI Director Jim Comey said the hack cost the bureau “more than I will make in the remainder of this job, which is 7 years and 4 months.” According to federal salary tables, Comey brings home $183,300 a year, putting the price tag at a minimum of $1.33 million.

Comey acknowledged that the price tag was hefty but said, “It was, in my view, worth it.”

Asked to comment on whether Comey had correctly described the price of the exploit, an FBI spokeswoman passed along a link describing Comey’s salary.

The FBI has refused to say who actually broke into the phone for the government.

Prior to contracting with hackers to extract data from the phone, which was protected by encryption, the Justice Department had secured a court order mandating Apple design a way of undermining the phone’s security features.

Apple resisted that order, and the ensuing legal battle sparked a national debate over the government’s ability to compel companies to decrypt data, and a broader debate over privacy in the digital age.

The FBI has said that the growing availability of encryption technology is hampering their agents’ investigations, allowing criminals and terror groups to shield their communications from authorities.

NSA Director Michael Rogers has said that the Islamic State operatives who struck Paris in November used encryption to hide their planning. Members of that cell were also responsible for last month’s attacks in Brussels.

To get around encryption technology, the FBI is increasingly embracing hacking tools — such as the one used to unlock Farook’s phone — but bureau officials have said that such methods do not pose a long-term solution to the problem of what they call “going dark.”

Testifying before a House panel Tuesday, the FBI’s top scientist, Amy Hess, said the bureau lacks the ability to train a group of hackers capable of consistently breaking into devices protected by sophisticated security devices.

“These types of solutions that we do employ, they require a lot of high-skilled, specialized resources that we may not have immediately available to us,” Hess said.

And at more than a million dollars a pop, it’s perhaps no surprise the bureau is reluctant to hire hackers every time it needs one.

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy@EliasGroll

A decade of Global Thinkers

A decade of Global Thinkers

The past year's 100 most influential thinkers and doers Read Now

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola