FBI Spent Over $1.3 Million In Taxpayer Money To Crack San Bernardino iPhone 5c And Found Nothing

From the get-go, FBI Director James Comey insisted that his agency's attempt to force Apple to crack the security protecting the contents of the iPhone 5c handset that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters was not a ploy to set a precedent. Instead, it was about a debt to the victims, to which he said "we owe them a thorough and professional investigation under the law." Well, the FBI (and taxpayers) ultimately provided one, paying a third-party more than $1.3 million to hack the phone.

It's the largest sum for hiring hackers the FBI has ever publicized, coming in over $300,000 above even what security outfit Zerodium is willing to pay for iPhone vulnerabilities. Further attempts to put the figure into perspective aren't needed because Comey himself already did that, pointing that it's more than he'll make during his remaining time as Director.

iPhone 5c

"A lot. More than I will make in the remainder of this job, which is seven years and four months for sure," Comey said. "Bit it was, in my view, worth it."

Comey's annual salary is $183,300. Ruling out raises or any bonus incentives that might be in his contract, he stands to earn $1.34 million for his remaining time. Whatever the FBI paid to peek at the contents of the iPhone 5c it confiscated, it's more than that, and Comey makes it sound like it could be significantly more. But hey, it was worth it, right?

That's really the question. The FBI became so obsessed with seeing this case through once it entered the public eye—unnecessarily, we might add—that any attempts to evaluate risk versus reward went right out the window. According to what a law enforcement official told CBS News last week, "nothing of real significance has been found on the San Bernardino terrorist's iPhone."

This whole thing happened because the FBI dropped the ball from the outset.

James Comey

"There was a mistake made in the first 24 hours, where the county, at the FBI's request, made it hard to make the phone back up by [changing the password of] the iCloud account," Comey previously testified.

The FBI should have gone straight to Apple, but once it reset the terrorist's iCloud password, there was no easy way into the phone. To make matters worse, the FBI publicized all this, putting undue pressure on itself to see this thing through.

Simply put, the agency whiffed, and when Apple refused to provide backdoor access for fear that it would make hundreds of millions of iPhones vulnerable to attack, the FBI turned this into a case about setting a legal precedent, despite comments Comey made to the contrary. Seeing that things wouldn't play out in its favor, the FBI dropped its suit, but only after paying a significant sum of taxpayer money to hack the iPhone and save face.