Apple's Cook to ABC's Muir: FBI Goof Complicated San Bernardino iPhone Investigation

In an interview aired tonight on ABC's World News Tonight, Apple CEO Tim Cook told anchor David Muir that it was FBI incompetence that essentially led to the San Bernardino's county-issued iPhone to be locked up and its data inaccessible.

The "FBI directed the county to reset the iCloud password," Cook noted and, "When that is done, the phone will no longer back up to the cloud." "I wish they would have contacted us earlier, so that that would not have been the case, he lamented, telling Muir it was a "crucial" "missed opportunity."

[Of course, to be fair, as I understand it, even if the FBI had not fouled up there, there may have still been information on the phone which was not carried over to the cloud because it was walled off from ever being backed up. That said, it's still an important fact for the public discussion that FBI incompetence may have led to a significant snag in collecting more information from the terrorist's cell phone.]

Cook also complained that he learned about the court order, like the rest of the country, from the media rather than directly from the FBI: "We found out about the filing from the press."

At the close of the interview portion aired for World News Tonight, Cook sounded something of a Jeffersonian note on the role of government when he insisted (emphases mine): 

This is, this is not a position that we would like to be in. It is a very uncomfortable position. To oppose your government on something doesn't feel good. And to oppose it on something where we are advocating for civil liberties – which they are supposed to protect – it is incredibly ironic.

Here's the relevant transcript:

ABC
World News Tonight
February 24, 2016

DAVID MUIR: But in your quiet moments, do you have any concern that you might be able to prevent a terrorist attack by breaking into that phone? 

TIM COOK: David, some things are hard, and some things are right. And some things are both. This is one of those things. 

MUIR: And in this case, you believe there are some things that just should never be created. 

COOK: Correct. 

MUIR voiceover: But Tim Cook items us they talked to the FBI early on, giving them advice, he says, on other ways to best get information from that iPhone. To plug it in, to back it up to the iCloud.

MUIR: Did they do that? 

COOK: Unfortunately, in the days, the early days of the investigation, an FBI,  FBI directed the county to reset the iCloud password. When that is done, the phone will no longer back up to the cloud, and so, I wish they would have contacted us earlier, so that that would not have been the case. 

MUIR: How crucial was that missed opportunity? 

COOK: It is very crucial. 

MUIR: The White House said this week that the FBI's request is, quote, limited in scope. Limited in scope. Do you agree with that, and have you talked to the president on this?

COOK: I have not talked to the president. I will talk to the president. Uh, do I think it's limited? No.

MUIR: You have talked to the president before on these issues of privacy and security. Are you disappointed there wasn't more of a dialogue with the administration before this swift action from the Justice Department?

COOK: Yes.

MUIR: You wish there was more done.

COOK: Yes. And I think there should have been. Uh, this filing. We found out about the filing from the press.

MUIR: I'm curious, Tim. Did you ever think that you'd find yourself at the center of such a crucial national debate. 

COOK: No. This is, this is not a position that we would like to be in. It is a very uncomfortable position. To oppose your government on something doesn't feel good. And to oppose it on something where we are advocating for civil liberties – which they are supposed to protect – it is incredibly ironic.

MUIR, live on camera: Apple has until Friday to respond to the judge's order that it assist the FBI. Their legal team is preparing. [sic – Muir failed to complete the sentence with a direct object for "preparing."]

# # #

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.