National Security

NSA: We couldn’t have hacked the San Bernadino iPhone

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The National Security Agency would not have been able to open the iPhone at the center of a spat between Apple and the FBI, a top official said Friday.

{mosads}After last year’s terrorist attack in San Bernadino, Calif., Apple and the FBI sparred over whether the company was required to help the agency break into an iPhone 5C belonging to Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the two shooters in the attack. The confrontation eventually resolved itself when the FBI purchased outside assistance to unlock the phone. 

But many wondered why the FBI did not call the NSA for a technical assist on something it seemed like the spy force would know how to do. 

NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett told the Defense One Technology Summit at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., that the agency prioritizes its limited resources on devices it knows terrorists are using. The 5c was not one of those. 

“We don’t do every phone, every variation of phone,” he was quoted by The Intercept as saying. “If we don’t have a bad guy who’s using it, we don’t do that.” 

Lots of high profile technology and national security figures including Richard Clark, ACLU Chief Technologist Chris Soghoian and Apple itself had questioned whether the FBI was deliberately avoiding asking the NSA for help. A widely circulated theory for not seeking the NSA’s help was that pursuing the matter in court would create judicial precedence to achieve an ultimate goal of mandating encryption backdoors.  

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