Is Bill Barr Picking a Fight with Apple to Distract from the Failure of Trump’s Social Media Vetting?

To some degree, recent disclosures about Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani’s killing of three sailors in Pensacola make it seem like a mirror of the San Bernardino attack in 2015 in 2015. A man, steeped in Islamic propaganda, used a moment of vulnerability to attack Americans. He is killed in the attack, but not before he destroys a phone. At first, DOJ asks Apple for help getting the easier things from the phone, such as the materials stored in the iCloud account. Then, after a delay makes the most obvious work-arounds impossible, DOJ asks Apple to hack the phone, which would thereby make not just that phone accessible to law enforcement, but all iPhones vulnerable to cops, authoritarian governments, and criminals.

There’s even some reason to believe that the law enforcement officer grandstanding to use a terrorist attack as an opportunity to force Apple to weaken its products is lying both about what Apple and DOJ have respectively done, but about how certain it is that Apple is the only available option.

But investigators have been stymied in trying to access two key pieces of evidence — the gunman’s iPhones. Standing before giant photographs of two severely damaged devices, the attorney general publicly urged Apple to act.

“So far, Apple has not given us any substantive assistance,” Barr said, though aides later clarified that Apple had, in fact, given investigators access to cloud data linked to the gunman. “This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that investigators be able to get access to digital evidence once they have obtained a court order.”


In a lengthy statement, Apple disputed the attorney general’s description of its role, saying the company began responding within hours of the first FBI request on Dec. 6, and has turned over “many gigabytes” of data in the case.

“Our responses to their many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and are ongoing,” the company said. “The FBI only notified us on January 6th that they needed additional assistance — a month after the attack occurred. . . . Early outreach is critical to accessing information and finding additional options.”


Asked Monday whether the FBI’s technical experts on cellphones had agreed with the decision to send the letter pressing Apple to open the phones, Bowdich said he did not know.

An FBI spokesperson later said the bureau’s “technical experts — as well as those consulted outside of the organization — have played an integral role in this investigation. The consensus was reached, after all efforts to access the shooter’s phones had been unsuccessful, that the next step was to reach out to start a conversation with Apple.”

But the more important comparison may pertain to the role of social media in the attack.

Almost immediately after the 2015 attack, the FBI discovered that the woman involved in the attack, Tashfeen Malik, had pledged loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi just before the attack. That led Congress to suggest the Obama Administration hadn’t vetted Malik’s immigration processing closely enough, even though nothing in place at the time would have identified her past extremist writing.

In response, Customs and Border Patrol started laying the groundwork for a policy that seemed like dangerous overkill at the time, but that Trump nevertheless adopted: requiring visa applicants to list their social media handles so their social media activity can be vetted.

Somehow, in spite of that requirement, 17 Saudis in the US for military training were found to have jihadist material on their social media accounts, on top of al-Shamrani, and 15 of them had child porn on their social media accounts.

Barr said investigators had found evidence that 17 Saudis had through social media shared ­jihadist or anti-American material and 15 — including some of those who had shared anti-American material — were found to have had contact with or possessed child pornography.

It’s one thing for CBP to have missed Malik’s Facebook comments before they used social media to vet visa applicants.

It’s an entirely different thing to institute social media vetting, but then somehow miss that 18 people admitted onto our military bases to be trained are anti-American or pro-jihadist. All the more so given that Trump’s Muslim ban excluded Saudi Arabia — the origin of most of the 9/11 hijackers and other attempted terrorists since — even while focusing closely on Muslims from country without a history of terrorism against the US.

Plus, in spite of Barr’s vague comments explaining how a “US Attorney” reviewed child porn engaged well beyond that which George Nader pled guilty to yesterday and decided that person could return home to Saudi Arabia.

Barr said only one of those people had a “significant number” of [CP] images, and U.S. attorneys had reviewed each case and determined such people would not normally be charged with federal crimes. He said 21 cadets from Saudi Arabia had been disenrolled from their training and would be returning to the kingdom later Monday. Justice Department officials said 12 were from the Pensacola base, and nine were from other military bases.


U.S. attorneys had independently determined the child porn did not warrant charges. Justice Department officials said the most significant case involved a cadet who possessed more than 100 images of child porn and had searched terms for child porn, according to his browser history — but even that fell below the normal threshold for a case deemed worthy of prosecution by a U.S. attorney’s office.

This seems to be part of a pattern that Ron Wyden has already complained about, the serial impunity of Saudi students who commit crimes in this country.

Normally, I oppose politicizing the response to terrorist attacks. You can’t prevent all terrorism, and the drive to do so has eroded our civil liberties.

But if you’re going to erode our civil liberties, then you better be damn sure you’re doing so for a reason. And it seems like CBP (and DOD) failed to ensure we weren’t inviting Saudis to our country to train them to be better terrorists against us in the future.

Barr wants this to be about Apple. First, however, he should be asked why the vetting Trump championed failed to work in this case.

If DOJ is going to complain that Apple isn’t degrading security, it should first explain why the last policy it took that traded privacy for security failed.

77 replies
  1. Greg Hunter says:

    What I find flabbergasting is the number of people seemingly involved in Child Porn to the point that I am suspicious that it was placed there so the Saudis have an excuse for killing these individuals upon their return to the Kingdom?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Or it could be that George Nader and others close to Trump are pedophiles and other sexual predators, because like attracts like. That might be unrelated to the US failure to vet Saudi government employees that it trains at its military bases in the United States, because oil.

      it might also be that Bill Barr knows a hot button issue when he sees it, and that he focuses on it to distract from a reality that threatens his attempt to impose his ultra-conservative religious and political views on the USG and American society.

      • e.a.f. says:

        Barr’s “ultra conservative religious views”, sort of like the Christian version of the extremist within the Islamic faith? Seems about right.

    • Susan Roby says:

      This administration does know that the Saudi’s loves to execute people. Just ask MBS. I wouldn’t out anything past Barr, including setting people up to be executed for child porn in order to save face.

    • Vicks says:

      I’m with you on this one, but then again I have no idea how prolific child porn is, or what the profile of one who indulges in this vilest of crimes look like.
      Perhaps this event will uncover that there is something about “military training” that attracts pedophiles in a similar vein as the priesthood attacks and then gives cover to this brand of sickness.
      Or maybe not?
      What is most disturbing to me is how a single image of child pornography would get ignored much less that 100 images as described in the quote didn’t merit anything but the boot because of some (seriously questionable) child porn threshold
      IMHO Anti-American material may be found to be in the eye of the beholder, but it is unacceptable to give images of child porn the same wiggle room.
      It almost seems MORE reasonable to consider stuff was planted as an easy way to shame and then round up certain individuals then this story they are pitching.
      But what do I know?

      • Mitch Neher says:

        I have a suspicion (without any evidence at all to support it) that one type of contraband (say, human smuggling or child pornography) becomes a vehicle for “piggybacking” some other type of contraband (such as illegal narcotics with drug mules or coded messages for terror cells from their offshore handlers).

        OTOH, I used to watch too much TV. So . . . maybe not.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Pornography in general is abundant on the Internet, nearly thirty percent of all traffic is a common statistic. The stats are contested: the percentage seems to decline over time as total traffic expands, and it is hard to track such things as peer-to-peer sharing. A lot of viewing is between 9-5, so work computers are heavily implicated.

        The network for child pornography appears to be quite substantial, though subterranean. It’s possession alone is per se illegal, but the purveyors are global, the industry appears lucrative, and the related old boy net is apparently very mutually protective.

        • Sonso says:

          And don’t forget the human trafficking that our president’s friend, Jeffrey Epstein, was “intimately” involved in. I will never understand the sexual fascination with children, but clearly it is fairly epidemic in male humans.

  2. Terrapin says:

    Of course, this is ridiculous. When Tashfeen Malik and his wife conducted their massacre in San Bernardino, California, Apple similarly refused to give the feds a backdoor into the technology citing privacy concerns. And the FBI quickly got plenty of offers from white hat hackers to get into Malik’s phone which they took up and used to access its content. Bill Barr could very easily take this approach if his concern is merely to study the content of al-Shamrani’s phone. But Barr is insisting on getting a backdoor from Apple not only to harass not only what he sees as a politically-unfriendly company, but also so the feds can conduct warrantless searches of whoever’s phone they please when they please for whatever reason or none at all.

    • e.a.f. says:

      think you’re on to something with those warrant less searches. Barr and the American constitution seem to be in different worlds. There isn’t much about Barr which leads me to conclude he’s a good law officer or a defender of the American Constitution. Its all about Barr and his personal beliefs, which frequently appear at odds with what has been acceptable practises in the American government.

  3. P J Evans says:

    I wonder if they came in with clean phones and downloaded the jihadist material after getting here. It seems like a simple (and also obvious) way around the social-media stuff upon entrance.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The potential factual differences between “had contact with” and “possessed” child porn are considerable. Then there is that allegations of abusive sexual practices, especially those involving children, is in chapter one of the Character Assassination playbook, well-used by hard-right politicians and intelligence services. The Bush/Cheney administration, for example, reportedly used it against some of its WMD critics.

    Separately, such allegations are a very loud dog whistle on the American right. (Never mind that Trump himself is credibly accused by dozens of women for gross sexual impropriety: hypocrisy is a defining characteristic on the right.)

    Mr. Barr – an old CIA hand, current and former AG, former telecom company general counsel, and long-time Beltway professional – would be familiar with the technique. He has as little regard for legal and other limits as Mr. Trump, so he would care little about any consequences for revealing such “facts,” or more likely, would have intended them.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      There’s a flip side to the use of corrupt allegations of sexual violence to politically assassinate opponents: Making false accusations of abuse to discredit real ones. Caroline Orr has a nice thread on Project Veritas, a Breitbart project apparently funded by the Mercers, Trump, Peter Thiel and others. Erik Prince was also involved.

      “Project Veritas also hired a woman to pretend she was raped to discredit women who were actually sexually molested. This was done in an effort to help elect accused child molester Roy Moore, & and coincided w/ Breitbart sending 2 staffers to Alabama to discredit Moore’s accusers.”

      • thomasa says:

        Snowed last night. We live on a steep hill in a coastal city. Cars sliding all over; crashing on the hill. Too slick to walk. I’m sprinkling sand on the sidewalk.
        Cop taking accident report: “What’s your phone number?”
        Driver: “Don’t have one.”
        Cop: “No cell phone even?”
        Driver: “No.”
        Cop: “You work?”
        Driver: “Yes, computer science department at the U.”
        Cop: “Why the Canadian driver’s license and car?”
        Driver: “I split my time between here and UBC in Canada.”
        Cop: “And no cell phone. That’s a new one on me.”

        • e.a.f. says:

          There are people in British Columbia who don’t own cell phones, but don’t know if any of them attend or work at U.B.C. Given the person was from Vancouver, B.C. and it was snowing, he might have been very, very confused. It is snowing here on the west coast and we don’t handle it well at all, especially those who have always lived in Vancouver or Victoria. It can leave you very confused, forget where you’re at, and even make you stay home, as in Starbucks is empty. there were actually white out conditions and its freezing. Ya and I don’t have a cell phone. Perhaps he simply regressed to the 1990s. Possible.

  5. sproggit says:

    Put aside the (lies/mis-informed statements) from AG Barr and think instead about the delays between the FBI obtaining the handsets and then asking Apple for further assistance.

    Bear in mind that the FBI rely on Apple and other device manufacturers to help them solve crimes all the time and that Apple have always been helpful in response to a lawful subpoena.

    Bear in mind that this is the second major case where the FBI have tried to get Apple to provide more assistance than Apple are willing to do voluntarily and that, coincidentally, this is the second case involving a terrorist attack.

    Put all that together and the inescapable conclusion is that the FBI in general and William Barr in particular are trying to use public sentiment and the “Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse” to persuade citizens to give up more of our freedoms by granting them more and unfettered power over our digital lives.


    Just: no.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Among the problems with Trump’s constantly shifting excuses for why he assassinated a foreign government’s no. 2 official – his latest being, “It doesn’t matter why I killed him” – is that it does matter.

    The existence of an “imminent threat” is essential to his legal defense. It is the difference between engaging in illegal aggressive warfare and acting in self-defense.

    Bill Barr will deny that it’s a problem for Trump, but his views are no more credible than Trump’s. But the Don proves one more time why he’s the world’s worst client – and the worst modern American president.

    • Legonaut says:

      “I could stand in the middle of 5th Ave. and shoot somebody and not lose any voters.” Now we’re hairsplitting about the location of the victim & the caliber of the gun.

      The water is boiling, and 42% of the frogs have been anesthetized.

  7. sproggit says:

    Hilarious (and slightly off-topic)…

    AG Barr has now said that he believes that the Attorney General and FBI Director should approve counter-intelligence investigations of Presidential Candidates.

    Which means, in other words, that the AG believes that it is appropriate for two Presidential appointees to be the ones to approve any counter-intelligence investigation in to the person that may well have appointed them in the first place. Yeah, that doesn’t sound remotely corrupt. Not at all.

    • bmaz says:

      Dude, do you understand how DOJ is structured and works? Yeah, for that sensitive of an investigation, the DFBI and AG should be in the loop. Not to mention PIN, obviously. And they have always been. This is not a controversial thing.

      • sproggit says:

        Did you actually read the linked article?

        Quote: “The FBI should get sign-off from the attorney general and the director of the FBI before opening a counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign, Attorney General William Barr said on Monday.
        The determination, which Barr said was agreed to by FBI Director Christopher Wray, is ***one of the most influential changes*** to be proposed in the wake of a Justice Department inspector general report that faulted the FBI for its handling of certain investigative steps as it probed potential ties between the campaign of President Donald Trump and Russia beginning in 2016.”

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          I agree with bmaz that the bar should be set high for such high-profile investigations. They are inherently subject to potential political bias. The bar used to be high, for example, regarding investigating journalists. But the corruption and the politicization of both DoJ and the FBI wreaks havoc with every process – by design.

          On your point that Wray “agreed” to Barr’s directive, it is unsurprising. He reports to Barr and this administration is astonishingly filled with abject followers.

          Barr is breaking and inventing rules to protect his vision of the presidency and his anti-constitutional vision of the untrammeled reach of its power. That Trump personally benefits from that is secondary, I think, to Barr’s movement.

        • bmaz says:

          Yes, Sproggit, I “read the linked article”. How stupid do you think people here are? You have been here a very short time. Thanks for edifying us on shit we have been covering forever. And, no, you do not have any breaking news because you linked some CNN blog post. Lol.

  8. Mitch Neher says:

    Frame Substitution: Replace Trump with Obama; replace Barr with Holder. Now rerun the same story about Muslim, jihadist, terrorist pedophiles whom the sitting POTUS, Trump, himself, invited to be trained by the U.S. military at bases located on U. S. soil.

    I swear to The Heavens! The whiny little cry-baby bully-boys in The Republican Party and The Trump White House have not one clue just how easy they have it nor, thereby, how much better than them they’re supposed witch-hunting political opponents are.

    And why is that, btw? Why do The Democrats have to refrain from attacking The Republicans for being disloyal to The United States each and every last time The Republicans accuse The Democrats of being disloyal to The United States? What’s going on? What’s going on?

  9. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Problem #1: Because of his own previous deceptions to the US public, (i.e., Mueller Report, loss of Epstein jail videos), AG William Barr has has too little credibility to be smearing any large US corporation.

    Problem #2: How on earth did people with significant amounts of child porn, as well as evidence of interest in jihadist ideology, get through vetting?!

    Problem #3: Barr really needs to think through how it looks that he is smearing a huge US employer, while at the same time failing to hold Jared Kushner, Trump, and anyone else in cahoots with the Saudi royals accountable. Circle back to Problem #1: Barr has zero credibility, and smearing Apple simply puts him even deeper in ‘negative territory’.

    The lack of self awareness among the Trumpsters continues to be breathtaking.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    A new sport for the winter Olympics. Or not. Manuel Sanchez, a Spanish reporter working for Sputnik News, “reportedly died after falling out of a Moscow window.” Russians are not known for keeping their windows open in midwinter. One would think a Spaniard would be less likely to enjoy the winter chill than a Muscovite.

    An ancient art for dealing with political rivals, defenestration reportedly used to be an early CIA specialty [e.g., Frank Olson]. In mocking tribute, Putin seems to have made it his own, and reserves it especially for journalists. And Donald Trump loves this guy.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          “Smilla sees the boy’s footprints in the snow and suspects foul play.” Isaiah was afraid of heights. He would never have gone to the roof unless he was more frightened of something else.

          The same sort of evidence could probably be found in connection with most defenestrations.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Trump’s Senate backers seem intent on defenestrating the press. During the trial, Moscow Mitch (hmm) is proposing to put reporters in a “free speech” pen to keep them from wandering about and bothering Senators at work. He also proposes to install further electronic screening devices to keep out the electronic contraband reporters already do not bring into the chamber. All in an effort to enhance security. Uh, huh.

    The net effect would be like broadcasting without sound on C-Span or CNN. In effect, you’d have to find and read the Congressional Register to learn what happened, beyond the limited and/or biased reports of congresscritters.

    This is the perfect counterpoint for the president who thinks the White House is a film studio: don’t let them film or record soundbites. Journalism and the country as a whole would suffer. Moscow Mitch, as does Lindsey Graham, proves every day that there are no lows to which he will not stoop.

    Sarah D. Wire – Pulitzer winner, LA Times congressional reporter, and chair of the Standing Committee of Correspondents – has more.

    • e.a.f. says:

      Once upon a time people knew how to take short hand and could record entire conversations, word for word. Its a lost art. Perhaps its time some one took up the skill once again, if they’re going to outlaw everything except books and pencils.

      • bmaz says:

        That is a lost art. The shrinking of recording devices killed it. There is a difference though. You are much more likely to have to produce a recording in discovery than your secretary’s notes. Not sure I feel good putting it in those terms, but it is true.

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Michael Flynn finally and formally attempts to withdraw his guilty plea. Good luck with that a week before sentencing. Undoubtedly, there will be an exchange of briefs and threats to appeal to a DC Circuit Trump has moved to the right.

    I defer to bmaz, but the odds for other than delay seem slim. This seems to be more of the same plea for an impeachment distracted Trump to focus on Flynn and give him a pardon or commutation. I don’t see how that works unless Flynn has a lot more to give up on Trump and would credibly divulge it to stay out of the pokey.

    • P J Evans says:


      Flynn’s motion to withdraw his plea is not as crazy as I anticipated (though it suggests that supplemental authority will follow), but still seems aimed more at Trumpland than at the judge. Also, it is crazier than it ought to be.
      Notably: if you’re going to say you’re innocent after having said twice you’re guilty, you need to explain. He doesn’t even touch two of the three factual theories underlying his plea.

    • bmaz says:

      Naw, it is full on crazy. It is not just what is in it, it is the timing and delivery. Sullivan has let them have the rope to date, so we will see about the delay. But this is extreme bad faith, a normal defendant would get skewered.

  13. Eureka says:

    Oh very YAY: Marcy rt’d Adam Klasfeld re an article by him and Megan Mineiro (with addl. research by Brandi Buchman, Jack Rodgers, and Tim Ryan). It’s a nice national overview of the Parnas & Fruman donations (with a map and spreadsheet as to 2018). Much appreciated, it was on my grifter-reportage wishlist:

    Indicted Giuliani Ally Has Money-Tied Republicans Seeking Cover

    I’m still unclear as to the fate of PA-01 Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick’s “Furman” Fruman donation: last I heard, and current per tweeters who are on his case, is that he “planned” to donate the funds to charity (which begets further influence issues, as opposed to turning the money over to Treasury). In the article, it sounds like Fitzpatrick has indicated that he ‘has’ donated the money. (? Maybe his “similar claim” re donating money to charity is dissimilar in tense, or this is a new fact …)

    • Eureka says:

      What’s really nice about having the data arrayed this way is that you can see that all of the lower-tier donations (totaling 2100+ and 2400+ per recipient) were all by the “Furman” decoy — as contrasted with the three higher amounts (2700, 5400, and 5400, to McCarthy, Wilson, and Sessions, respectively), which were all done in some real-name variant (Parnas to McCarthy, Fruman to Wilson, and Fruman & Parnas to Sessions). While textually reported, it makes a nice visual.

      • Eureka says:

        To be explicit: the patterning (overall) suggests McCarthy might have been due another 2,700, though I assume someone has already scoured his donations for another 2,700 from a different name/ alias. Maybe the separate donations* to his PAC (one funneled through another PAC) sufficed (*as documented in linked article).

  14. Eureka says:

    Meanwhile, SPLC continues exposing the leaked Stephen Miller / Breitbart emails. New today:

    In a November 2015 email that Hatewatch has not previously published, Miller forwarded an interview with Phyllis Schlafly from far-right conspiracy website WorldNetDaily that argued undocumented immigrants should be shipped out on trains to “scare out the people who want to undo our country.”
    (internal link removed)

    I have no words, so will recall that our fellow commenter Mooser often says of Miller, ~~that’s the way the matzoh crumbles sometimes.

    Miller Dismisses DACA in Emails, Mirroring Anti-Immigrant Extremists’ Views | Southern Poverty Law Center

  15. Manqueman says:

    1. We learned following 9/11 that Saudis are special. They give the orders, our elected officials acquiesce. (In connection with 9/11, it was making it super easy for possible people of interest to be shipped home to Saudi Arabia. And, of course, there’s the still-censored part of the 9/11 report.)
    2. The Apple thing: The establishment press happily reports ~99+% of the lies the GOP spews and, in this case, bashing Apple has been an establishment media trope since at least the 1990s. The problem here with Barr’s spew, which the press exacerbates by overlooking, is that there’s precious little private info on a phone that Apple has access to. What Barr and his ilk want Apple cannot provide. Barr acts like the issue of will not, and the press supports the lie.

  16. e.a.f. says:

    In my opinion, based on nothing substantive, Barr/Trump et al, want to find an excuse to have apple access things they normally wouldn’t access. Then once that has been done, Trump and his allies can “spy” on other Americans, specifically their political opponents. (its not that different from trying to “black mail” other countries into doing it for them). Once they have the technology within Barr’s hands, they’ll sell it to other countries, who will then use it to obtain information on their opponents.

    Barr and his are simply too lazy to do the job they were hired for. If they work hard enough and are even some what clever in their jobs, they would be able to make a case. checking some one’s media is simply fast and easy and most importantly cheap. If those doing back ground checks were really doing back ground checks they might have discovered this material. However, the Saudi’s seem to get a pass on just about anything. Kill a journalist, the U.S.A government seems O.K. with it, oppress and kill women in S. A., the U.S. government . is O.K. with it.

    It would be interesting to see who these cadets were related to in Saudi Arabia. What was their track record in Saudi Arabia in their military. given the sect of Islam most Saudi’s belong to, how do we not know that these cadets were sent to the U.S.A. to spy and carry out “terrorist” activities. Seems some one forgot most of the 9-11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia and its about the most socially backward Middle Eastern country. Why the U.S.A. would even consider taking their cadets is beyond me.

    No country ought to give up their right to their citizens’ privacy. Once that has been done, democracy/freedom, is on its way out the door.

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