Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Apple Insiders Say Nobody Internally or at the FBI Knows What’s Going on With Bloomberg’s Story

John Paczkowski and Charlie Warzel, Buzzfeed:

Reached by BuzzFeed News multiple Apple sources — three of them very senior executives who work on the security and legal teams — said that they are at a loss as to how to explain the allegations. These people described a massive, granular, and siloed investigation into not just the claims made in the story, but into unrelated incidents that might have inspired them.

[…]

Equally puzzling to Apple execs is the assertion that it was party to an FBI investigation — Bloomberg wrote that Apple “reported the incident to the FBI.” A senior Apple legal official told BuzzFeed News the company had not contacted the FBI, nor had it been contacted by the FBI, the CIA, the NSA or any government agency in regards to the incidents described in the Bloomberg report. This person’s purview and responsibilities are of such a high level that it’s unlikely they would not have been aware of government outreach.

Guy Faulconbridge and Joseph Menn, Reuters:

Apple’s recently retired general counsel, Bruce Sewell, told Reuters he called the FBI’s then-general counsel James Baker last year after being told by Bloomberg of an open investigation into Super Micro Computer Inc , a hardware maker whose products Bloomberg said were implanted with malicious Chinese chips.

“I got on the phone with him personally and said, ‘Do you know anything about this?,” Sewell said of his conversation with Baker. “He said, ‘I’ve never heard of this, but give me 24 hours to make sure.’ He called me back 24 hours later and said ‘Nobody here knows what this story is about.’”

Reuters also reports that a division of GCHQ, Britain’s signals intelligence agency, does not presently doubt Apple and Amazon’s denials. Here’s the score so far:

  • Bloomberg is sticking by its reporting that modified circuit boards with potentially devastating security concerns were found by Apple and Amazon in servers of theirs supplied by and made for Supermicro. They also stand by the existence of cooperation between the tech companies and the FBI in an investigation that has been going on for years.

  • Apple and Amazon have both denied specific allegations in Bloomberg’s story, and have refuted its overall premise. Amazon’s chief information security officer and, now, Apple’s former senior-most legal counsel have put their names behind categorical denials of finding manipulated hardware in their data centres and having any knowledge of an FBI investigation, respectively.

  • Apple’s former legal representative has also said that a senior contact at the FBI told him that they didn’t know anything about this story.

  • British intelligence says that they believe Apple and Amazon’s statements at this time.

  • The U.S. administration has seized upon Bloomberg’s report to continue their campaign of criticism of the Chinese government.

That’s a lot of reputable organisations — and the American government — who have staked their credibility on widely varying accounts of the veracity of this story.

Update: Now the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is echoing the British viewpoint in support of the ostensibly affected companies’ statements, even while the Vice President is using Bloomberg’s report for political purposes.