Kabuki Theater at Apple

The Feds want Apple to open its kimono graciously, accept some harassment that could damage its business, for the greater good. Or is it?

San Bernadino, California, the latest domestic terrorism hoax spread by the media, gives authoritarians yet another powerful weapon in their War on Freedom. This is why they can’t let it go. It has security companies salivating for lucrative contracts, it has politicians gleefully accepting totally unrelated donations, wink wink, and a lot of ordinary folks confused or scared. Let’s back up a bit though.

There was a pseudo-military anti-terrorism drill in San Bernadino. The various first responders and civilian safety apparatchiks were all notified. This was a routine drill, like the others hosted in months prior. About once a month actually. Cameras were positioned to catch the dramatic non-event, completely unawares that it would be elevated to a mass panic inducing event. The kind the media vultures live for! I’d like to know just how many of them knew ahead of time, but since most of them just read a script handed to them from on-high, they don’t really have to be in on it. Except when pesky callers accidentally tell the truth on live TV, screwing up your whole narrative.

Luckily many bystanders these days have cameras too, and the video evidence tells another story. Interestingly, the media’s zealotry also managed to capture an unfolding story as a kind of large scale time-lapse shot. Seeing the progression of the scenes, the interviews subtle changes, the “new” evidence being released by insiders, clearly showed there was something very very smelly with the whole affair.

As clever amateur sleuths poured over the media, we could see the supposed scene being rehearsed, the same cars passing by, the almost turtle like enactment of the police chase, and plenty of scene tampering to embellish the story. In the videos, reporters unwittingly recorded the convoy of white and black trucks heading towards the big shootout intersection, yet the timelines were all wrong. Some witness interviewed, obviously a scripted actor, even told about how he could see the whole thing go down, had recorded it on his cell phone. The video in question shows a him running alternately waddling for cover, and being brave to continue recording, then a bunch of breathless commentary telling you what to believe in great detail.

Now, if you do your research, there’s plenty of damning evidence to be had, and that’s for other articles. The interesting part is how this charade comes back into relevance today.

To Lock or not to Lock?

I recently wrote a piece about the tug-of-war, between the forces that want to encrypt everything all the time, and the oppressors who tell is we can’t be safe if we are still allowed to have thoughts in private. These are the same forces that want to make Snowden a hero for revealing evidence of the massive domestic surveillance program, setup to spy on citizens by the NSA, which is hopelessly unconstitutional, illegal and immoral, and those would would throw Snowden into a deep dark hole for “rendition” (aka torture) for treason, for daring to undermine their efforts. This is the age old struggle between self-determination and tyranny, but in the digital age.

I conclude the the battle has largely stalemated, as the issue has become so contentious, and potentially damaging to any politician who tries too hard to get involved. If they try to woo the people with their defense of liberty, they risk being outcast by the Deep State machinery at the least, personally threatened, or at the worst, upsetting their corporate donors. If they try to be Dr. Strangelove, embracing the nuclear option, making everyone vulnerable to the Feds, which incidentally means vulnerable to hackers too, then the little people could oust them from power, or harass them endlessly as revenge. Who knows, even the group Anonymous could get involved…

So what we have here is an escalation of the battle, a way to break the deadlock. The courts have already sided with the Feds, which they generally do, but they know an appellate court could overturn it just as easily, and a Supreme Court case is probably out of the question since Scalia’s death. The only battleground that remains is the public space then, to convince enough people, that just this once, they need to make an exception to their otherwise fine stewardship of liberty and democracy. And we all know they would have zero intention of rescinding any powers they gain, since they never have.

How then do you convince the entire population addicted to iPhones, that their fruity lifestyle choice has to be compromised? Well the answer to that is hardly straightforward, but the usual gameplan basically involves boiling a lobster to death, the lobster being people, and the laws being the boiling water. Incrementally, they sap the rights of citizens, in arcane ways, in obscure instances, until all the wagons are circled, all the leaks plugged, and they own you.

A company like Blackberry was a special case, where they were never asked to compromise on security, having been the preferred supplier of military grade communications equipment to most of the government itself, so even on the other side there are exceptions. It’s not that the psychopaths at the NSA didn’t want to crack Blackberry phones used by other governments, but they needed at least one secure platform, for selfish reasons, more than that. It’s just rare that the government falls on the same side of an issue as the rest of us plebeians.

For Apple, this might be an existential crisis. The entirety of the Apple brand revolves around being cool and different, just like everyone else; believing some techno-utopian vision of the future, where ethical companies really care about their peeps. Deluded as they may be, the fact is corporations can resist the feature-creep of government. The irony here is that Apple isn’t one of the techno-utopian companies, they collaborated in secret with the NSA, until it became public, then they didn’t. According to documents leaked by Snowden, the NSA had the capability to unlock any iPhone at one time, as long as they had physical access to the hardware itself. They bragged about 100% effectiveness breaking Apple security, something they couldn’t brag about for competing platforms, hurray for uniformity!

This unfettered access was abruptly cut following the Snowden revelations. Google and Apple started encrypting their backhaul finally, and Apple went one step further, storing all the customer data encrypted, without saving the key for themselves. Suddenly, Apple was now a gatekeeper, rather than landlord, and this expression of democratizing security was a tough pill to swallow. Now this isn’t to say Apple had no way to circumvent the protection, judging by statements made recently, since they could just as easily modify their digital storage locker, case by case, to store everything unencrypted. The only caveat is, they have to force the iPhone to do a data backup to the iCloud, and thereby dump it’s secrets into an open locker. There is no doubt a technical reason to have this ability, older iPhones that use older operating systems, and troubleshooting synchronizing errors, but this is why even a well-intentioned backdoor, or master-key if you will, is generally a bad idea in the digital world.

Having this “backdoor” to obtain customer data, also meant the Feds didn’t push Apple so hard to abandon it’s protective technology, something that I’m sure made Apple executives happy. Even frivolous lawsuits are expensive, and when it’s a lawsuit by the government itself, you’re effectively dealing with unlimited budgets. Apple has huge lawsuits in motion at all times, it’s a side effect of being a large target, and also for using so many technologies in your product. I will save my condemnation of the patent system for another time, but it shares the blame too.

Would it then surprise anyone to know that Apple still cooperated with the law enforcement agencies in America?

The Iron Mountain on a Cloudy Day

According court records, Apple had complied with aiding the police, around 70 times between 2008-2015, for cases involving suspected narcotics offenses. Where was the outcry from Apple? Were they just keeping silent on the issue, until a truly defensible case came along? Afterall, how certain can we be, that techno-utopians are going to side with a drug dealer, let alone have them whip up privacy infringement storm among the huddled masses? If that was going to be their position, finding the “right” court order, or government lawsuit to fight, this isn’t it. Sympathy for terrorists is at an all time low, matched only by the average citizen’s support of Congress, and the collective respect we have for Kanye.

Perhaps there was a technical reason? The previous cases in the court records indicated largely older iPhones, ostensibly running their older iOS 7, which doesn’t have much of the device security, and possibly much less communication security of their latest operating systems. This would start to make some sense, fighting on technical grounds, arguing it isn’t feasible, again this isn’t likely. The iPhone in question is running iOS 8, which has a limited number of password guesses before completely locking out a user attempting to access it, and that is one of the reasons cited by the authorities for requesting the help.

Imagine for a moment that this is the entirety of the problem, the Feds are worried about turning it into a brick by guessing wrong, we would then have to believe Apple has stopped adding diagnostic ports on the circuit board that could bypass the BIOS, the thing that would do the locking. If that was the case, there wouldn’t be much of a repair industry. There’s also another wrinkle to the cover story, while the iPhone was in custody, and the supposed terrorist was lying in a freezer somewhere, quite dead, someone changed the Apple account password. Which means one of two things, the Jihadi wannabe didn’t own the phone, or didn’t own the Apple account.

Mull on that for a minute.

Aaaand it’s gone

If the iPhone didn’t belong to the killer, that creates three further possibilities, the phone is planted evidence, the real killer was never killed, or this was a complete hoax and there was no massacre at all. The one common element here, is that there is a hidden hand trying to perpetuate a story, one that doesn’t even support itself.

If this was a case of planted evidence, like how we find magical passports at nearly all these events, or how the cops seem to know every detail about the killers and victims, without having had time for an investigation, then this entire kerfuffle over unlocking the phone is misdirection isn’t it? Because clearly, whoever planted it would know, and whoever that was, was FBI. Further more, if the planted evidence was supposed to found, and supposed to be used as proof of guilt, why would whoever supplied the iPhone change the password? This scenario doesn’t add up. It’s sure handy everyone was conveniently killed eh?

If the real shooters, the three tall white male shooters of semi-muscular build, wearing tactical or military gear, as described by two witnesses, accidentally dropped the phone, then the entire spectacle of the car chase, and in fact all the information on the suspects released thus far, is bogus. That means every shred of documentation suggesting this Middle-Eastern couple were the killers, is false, and they couldn’t have been killed in their SUV, unless it was mistaken identity. False identities are often used in intelligence operations, and as we found out after the fake Paris massacre recently, sometimes those identities belong to living people, who have no idea they were killed. Funny that. And don’t forget the area was crawling with cops, doing an anti-terrorism drill, exactly where they were.

Unless of course, the third man in their party escaped, and it was that man who owned the iPhone. Which would mean, one killer is still at large, and the cops have failed to get their man. This slim possibility would nullify the need for the entire security apparatus that the Department of Homeland Security setup, the billions of dollars spent, the hundred of re-purposed military vehicles, the countless hours of anti-terrorism training for local police, and the entire NSA spy machine. Invalidating the police-state is obviously a non-starter, and an escaped killer would never be made public, but the story of the terrorist couple was planted in the media in advance, with photos and biographies ready to go. Once again, this isn’t it.

The last possibility, the only one that stands up to scrutiny, that the entire event is a complete hoax, is not invalidated by the presence of real shooters. The only aspect to this that matters, is the false narrative being peddled to the public. It doesn’t matter if there were more shooters, or if they were Israeli, or if they worked for Blackwater. The point is, that the event is a case of political jiggery-pokery, to affect or influence the public, to support more militarism, and more draconian laws. The iPhone in question doesn’t matter either, the agents have no need to access it, and since there’s no one to prosecute, they can’t even argue they need evidence for a trial.

The question we should be asking, is why the urgency? Why do the various agencies want to step up the fight against privacy right now?

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