U.S. Congressman asks Tim Cook how dozens of Mueller team’s iPhones got wiped

U.S. Congressman Doug Collins (R-Ga.) has this week written a letter asking Apple CEO Tim Cook how dozens of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller􏰀s team’s government-issued iPhones got wiped clean of data, illegally destroying government records.

The letter, verbatim:

September 15, 2020

Dear Mr. Cook,

Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller
I write to request information from your company regarding the iPhone􏰀s feature that wipes phone data after a certain number of failed passcode attempts. I believe this information will be helpful to many Members of Congress and the American public concerned that some members of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller􏰀s team may have intentionally wiped their government- issued iPhones, illegally destroying government records in the process.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made by Judicial Watch, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has publicly released documents which indicate that several attorneys and staff working on Special Counsel Mueller􏰀s team wiped the entirety of data (including emails, text messages, pictures, and call data) on their government-issued iPhones shortly before many of the phones were scheduled to be turned in. From the events described in the DOJ-released documents, it seems to be no coincidence that so many of Mueller􏰀s staff members􏰀 iPhones were wiped due to a forgotten passcode right before turning them in. If my instinct is correct that these individuals intentionally subverted potential efforts to investigate their actions during the Mueller investigation it leads inquiring minds to wonder: what evidence was so damning that they felt the need to destroy it?

Adding to my concerns about the recently released documents is the fact that many members of Mueller􏰀s team whose phones were wiped prior to their return blamed the data destruction on an iPhone feature that automatically wipes a phone􏰀s data after the wrong passcode is entered consecutively a certain number of times. It is my hope that your company can shed light on this mechanism and how it may have played a role in this case.

To provide some background, of the at least 27 iPhones that were reported to be wiped of their data in the DOJ-released documents, over a dozen of these were reported as iPhones being wiped 􏰂on accident􏰃 because the phone􏰀s user entered their passcode incorrectly too many times. The several such incidents included in the DOJ-released documents secured by a Judicial Watch FOIA request would suggest that it is a common occurrence for a user to accidentally wipe his or her entire iPhone data due to an incorrect passcode. It would be truly shocking if the attorneys chosen to investigate the President of United States 􏰁 arguably the Democrats􏰀 􏰂best and brightest􏰃 lawyers could manage to inadvertently wipe their government-issued iPhones because they spent hours entering an incorrect passcode to a phone they had used for over a year.

It is my understanding that this security feature is intended to prevent unauthorized access via passcode guesses in the event that an iPhone is lost or stolen and includes features to prevent accidental destruction of the data by the user. In fact, widely available information indicates that it would take a minimum of 10 successive incorrect passcodes entered over the course of at least three hours for this security feature to be triggered.

In light of this concerning situation, I request that Apple provide information about this security feature and its history that might improve the understanding of Members of Congress and the American public as to whether the purportedly 􏰂accidental􏰃 wipes of iPhone data claimed by Andrew Weismann and others on Special Counsel Mueller􏰀s staff is as common as they would lead us to believe or if such a widespread technical 􏰂mishap􏰃 resulting in the triggering of this feature signals it was intentionally manipulated to erase government records. Specifically,

  1. For the iPhone 6 and iPhone 7, what is the minimum number of successive failed passcode attempts necessary to trigger the complete destruction of data on an iPhone? Would any data be recoverable via the iPhone itself or through iCloud?

  2. For the iPhone 6 and iPhone 7, what is the minimum amount of time that could pass from the first input of an incorrect passcode to the triggering of this security feature, given that the user immediately entered an incorrect passcode as soon as the iPhone unlocked from a previous incorrect attempt?

  3. Does your company keep statistics on the reliance of your users on Apple􏰀s security features, including the one at issue here? If so, what percentage of iPhone users, outside of iPhones reported lost and/or stolen, do you estimate have accidentally or intentionally wiped their iPhones as a result of this security feature? How many lost or stolen iPhones have been wiped as a result of this security feature?

  4. In creating this security feature, was it the goal of your company to minimize the likelihood that a user would accidentally trigger the destruction of data this feature ultimately leads to?

I appreciate your attention to this matter and your prompt response to the questions above.

Sincerely,

Doug Collins
Member of Congress

MacDailyNews Take: It makes perfect sense that at least 27 of the Mueller team’s iPhones got wiped. How else are you going to execute a coverup?

Note to the Mueller􏰀 team: You’re not clever. Not by a long shot. But, you sure seem dirty.

For many years, iOS has offered an option in the Passcode section of the Settings app: “Erase all data on this iPhone after 10 failed passcode attempts.”

As Daring Fireball’s John Gruber explained back in May 2018, it’s not that easy to accomplish: “It turns out this feature is far more clever than I realized, and it’s highly unlikely that your kids or jackass drinking buddies could ever trigger it.… According to Apple’s own iOS Security Guide (page 15), it would take one hour and 36 minutes. Attempts 1-4 are ‘free.’ There’s a 1-minute delay before the 5th attempt, 5 minutes before the 6th, 15 minutes before the 7th and 8th, and a 60-minute delay before the 10th… I’ve got it turned on now, and I can’t think of a good reason why anyone wouldn’t enable this.”

58 Comments

  1. To all the people commenting about MDN covering an Apple related political article and starting “keep politics out of it”…

    Can you say that you do the same exact thing on every other website when they inject left-wing politics into every single article?

    I’ll answer for you. No, you don’t. What you are experiencing is cognitive dissonance.

    1. And you are experiencing selective victimhood!
      Help, help, I’m being oppressed!
      Waaaaah, waaaah, someone didn’t agree with me! Their a radical! Someone said something disagreed with, that makes it ‘left-wing politics’!!!! Waaaah, waaaaaah, waaaaah! I’m melting…I’m melting….melting….what a world!

      What you think is ‘left wing politics’…I don’t know…you claim it’s so pervasive but no examples or references…just accept that the Republic party members and so-called Conservatives can dish it out but sure can’t take it. Talk about snowflakes!

  2. I agree with Charles an Zac.

    “MacDailyNews Take: It makes perfect sense that at least 27 of the Mueller team’s iPhones got wiped. How else are you going to execute a coverup?

    Note to the Mueller􏰀 team: You’re not clever. Not by a long shot. But, you sure seem dirty.”

    And MDN, you are not an impartial news gatherer. I’m done here.

    “Hasta la vista, baby.”

  3. wow. after over 20 years, ima finally have to say goodbye to mdn. your “daily take” on this is just too far over the edge. so long, and thanks for all the fish…

    1. and how are trumps policies helping you? does the splash page for your site BEGGING for money give you pride? you’re on the wrong side of history, which makes me sad, because back in the day, you were a beacon of hope for the platform. today, you’re an abomination.

      1. You fucking takers block ads and, when asked to kill ads by contributing, you don’t.

        All you do it TAKE. TAKE, TAKE, contribute nothing of value, and COMPLAIN.

        Get the FUCK lost. You’re less than worthless.

        1. i’m sorry, but WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?!!?
          what do you know about my on-line support of mdn, and/or buying habits? can you prove that i didn’t contribute when asked? or are you too busy riding your fucking high horse right now?

          go fuck yourself.
          since, clearly, no one else will fuck you.

  4. I’m always fascinated how 50+ people will show up for an article on this website which has political overtones, but only 2 or 3 comment on a regular mac article. Do you guys have some kind of “political detection bot” that roams the Internet, and pulls up political articles on small websites like Macdailynews? — so you can post intelligent comments such as “It’s Obama/Clinton/Carter/Johnson/Kennedy’s fault!” . . . maybe if you set your bot to visit all Macdailynews articles–about Macs, the owner wouldn’t have to pander to the lowest common denominator.

  5. This is typical Leftist cancel culture response- “I’m not visiting your site anymore”.

    Cool. See ya. and yes- you’ll check the page tomorrow. Leftist boycotts are rarely successful. They give in to their urges.

    All of that to say attacking MDN for pointing out something NON-POLITICAL is ridiculous. You do NOT wipe 27 iPhones if you are not hiding something- especially if doing so is a violation of law.

    That’s not politics. That is fact.

    MDN, a donation heading your way for putting up with this leftist whining.

  6. I don’t see what’s wrong with wiping their iPhones on purpose before turning them in just like any user would. There is no telling where those could end up, or what the information on them could be used for.

  7. If the phones were issued by the USA, then why weren’t they preset to archive themselves regularly onto government servers. Are you telling me that the USA doesn’t hire IT administrators of at least average knowledge and capability?

    If they wiped their phones, they were probably backed up/archived on a calendar basis. In addition, the recipients of those phones would have received the phones with an additional user agreement of the administrative requirements, which should have stated the conditions and process for returning a phone. I’ve read nothing of this sort, but rather this scurrilous article which apparently tells us that the democrats broke individual agreed upon parameters, and also that no civilian employee in technical support areas should be capable of performing their jobs.

    If you’re going to state such idiotic claims, then
    A. Show a representative sample agreement signed by the recipients of the iphones.
    B. Provide a statistical summary of the average competence of the ech admins who provided the phones and also who received the returned ones.
    C. Show a copy of the memo requesting the specific return of the devices.

    I clearly think that the article is some crap coming from a potentially diseased brain of a hater from the RW who has NO moral compass.

  8. Surely I’m not the only one in these comments that realizes the cellphone of a government employee (issued or personal) is likely to centrally managed by an MDM system like Jampf Pro, ManageEngine Mobile, Cisco Meraki and others. Given that reasonable assumption it introduces new players and motives including the possibility that the phones were factory reset remotely by parties sympathetic to the DOJ and other Trump-friendly agencies.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.