Notorious “FOIA Terrorist” Jason Leopold “Saves” FBI Over $300,000

Last week, Jim Comey suggested the FBI paid more for the vulnerability that helped it break into Syen Rizwan Farook’s phone than he will be paid for the 7 years he’ll remain at FBI. The WSJ then did this math.

Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in London, FBI Director James Comey didn’t cite a precise figure for how much the government paid for the solution to cracking the phone but said it was more than his salary for the seven-plus years remaining in his term at the FBI.

His annual salary is about $180,000 a year, so that comes to $1.26 million or more.

“[We] paid a lot’’ for the hacking tool, Mr. Comey said. “But it was worth it.’’

Over 600 outlets covered that story, claiming — without further confirmation — that FBI paid over $1 million for the hack, with many accounts settling on $1.3 million.

I noted at the time that 1) Jim Comey has a history of telling untruths when convenient and 2) he had an incentive to exaggerate the cost of this exploit, because it would pressure Congress to pass a bill, like the horrible Burr-Feinstein bill, that would force Apple and other providers to help law enforcement crack phones less expensively. I envisioned this kind of exchange at a Congressional hearing:

Credulous Congressperson: Wow. $1M. That’s a lot.

Comey: Yes, you’ll need to triple our budget or help me find a cheaper way.

Lonely sane Congressperson: But, uh, if we kill security won’t that be more expensive?

Comey: Let me tell you abt time I ran up some steps.

I then mused that, because Comey had officially acknowledged paying that kind of figure, it would make it a lot easier to FOIA the exact amount. By the time I tweeted that thought, of course, Jason Leopold had already submitted a FOIA for the amount.

Sure enough, the outcome I figured has already happened: without offering an explanation for the discrepancy, Mark Hosenball reported today that the figure was actually under $1 million, and FBI will be able to use it on other phones.

The FBI paid under $1 million for the technique used to unlock the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters – a figure smaller than the $1.3 million the agency’s chief initially indicated the hack cost, several U.S. government sources said on Thursday.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation will be able to use the technique to unlock other iPhone 5C models running iOS 9 – the specifications of the shooter’s phone – without additional payment to the contractor who provided it, these people added.

Just one FOIA submission later (and, probably, the calls of a bunch of outraged members of Congress wondering why FBI paid $1.3 million for a hack they claimed, in explaining why they would not submit the hack to the Vulnerabilities Equity Process that might require them to share it with Apple nine months after Apple patched it, they didn’t understand at all), and all of a sudden this hack is at least $300,000 less expensive (and I’m betting a lot more than that).

You see how effective a little aggressive FOIAing is at reining in waste, fraud, and abuse?

A pity it can’t reverse the impact of all those credulous reports repeating Comey’s claim.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

8 replies
    • Hieronymus Howard says:

       
      Yeah, that wasn’t quite the right word, was it.  Credulity has to do with a willingness to believe baloney (like the MSM).  Though usually it’s “incredulous” that gets conflated with “incredible.”  But Marcy is busy & things slip through occasionally.  :¬)
       
      Nobody else is bothered by the fact that we have to put up with this dumb-bass Comey for another seven years?  Can’t something be done to get his sorry ass outta there?  How ’bout put him under oath in front of Congress & ask him why he said it cost a million dollars.  He’ll have a “prepared answer,” of course––-but let’s get it on the record.
       
      Maybe someday we’ll even find out what FBI is so desperate to hide about the Sayed & Farook saga.  Gosh, I got so tired of seeing her silly face on the toob.

  1. bevin says:

    ““[We] paid a lot’’ for the hacking tool, Mr. Comey said. “But it was worth it.’’”

    How about: “You paid a lot for the hacking tool. I hope that you feel it is worth it. We might have spent that money on cleaning up Flint’s water supplies or feeding some of the millions of hungry kids in this country. Instead we chose to do this. And there is nothing that suckers like you can do about it, except pay up and shut up.”

  2. Hieronymus Howard says:

     
    Oops, Marcy got it right.  I reread the last sentence & it says the reports (& thus the reporters who wrote them) were credulous––-MSM believed the baloney & reported it as fact.  Never mind.

  3. jerryy says:

    .
    How about taking the money out of Jim Comey’s paycheck?
    .
    I wonder how fast that cost estimate would be revised…

  4. bloopie2 says:

    To Jim White, who in the sidebar says this: “After drafting a guy who beat up his pregnant girlfriend, the Chiefs asked for trust. Nope”. Jim, God forbid you should ever do something bad, in which case your entire family and all your friends should walk away from you and you should be shunned forever. No second chances for you, no forgiveness. Right? Not for you or anyone, right? I sure as hell hope you don’t profess to be a Christian.

    • Jim White says:

      .
      Meh. That should be considered in the overall context of this year’s draft, where another team, the Ravens, who have a statue outside their stadium of someone who likely committed murder (Ray Lewis, look it up), completely dropped Tunsil from their draft list when the video of him smoking pot surfaced. And many other domestic abuse perpetrators in the NFL get minimal punishment compared to those who commit minor drug offenses. You can bet Manziel would still be in the league if he had kept his sins only to beating up his girlfriend and kept the boozing and gambling out of the news.
      .
      So my attitude right now on any NFL team “investigating” domestic violence events for a prospective player and deeming him “a good person who made one mistake” is that the odds were around 500:1 that that would be the outcome when the investigation started as long as no pot was involved. And in the case being considered now, keep in mind that the Chiefs were in the midst of a campaign showing how they were increasing the overall character level of the team. That makes the move even more suspicious.

  5. Bill Michtom says:

    I always wonder whether Comey’s really a fool or if he’s (first choice) a lying sack of manure.

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