(CN) – FBI officials did not misspeak when they testified before Congress in 2016 that they were unable to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino terror suspects, according to a report released by the Justice Department Tuesday.
The report does acknowledge, however, that the agency could have tried harder to crack the encryption before demanding help from Apple.
After the deadly mass shooting at a county government building in which 14 people were killed, federal investigators sought help from Apple to unlock the iPhone of shooter Syed Farook.
Then-FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress that the bureau was unable to access the information on the phone, and in February 2016 the U.S. Attorney’s Office in California obtained an ex parte court order to get the California-based Apple to unlock it.
Apple fought the court order to protect its product encryption, but in March 2016 the FBI said the help wasn’t necessary after all. The FBI unlocked Farook’s iPhone with the help of a third party, a fact confirmed by a representative from the agency’s science and technology branch before a congressional committee in 2016.
According to the 17-page report released Tuesday, then-FBI executive assistant director Amy Hess expressed concern about an alleged disagreement between units within the Operational Technology Division and the purported “capabilities available to the national security programs” to unlock Farook’s iPhone.
The report says a miscommunication within the agency left FBI officials out of the loop as to the capabilities of technicians within the bureau, who were indifferent to the testimonies before Congress and court orders compelling Apple to help unlock the phone.
The heads of the FBI were not lying when they testified before Congress about the agency’s capabilities to unlock the iPhone, according to the report. But a day before the FBI made its court filing, a third-party vendor was contacted to help with the investigation.
“We therefore determined that neither the congressional testimony nor the submissions to the court were inaccurate when made,” the report states.
“However, we found that inadequate communication and coordination within Operational Technology Division (OTD) caused a delay in engaging all relevant OTD personnel in the search for a technical solution to the Farook iPhone problem, as well as the outside party that ultimately developed the method that unlocked the phone, issues that we learned the FBI has since taken steps to address.”
The FBI said it is taking steps to improve communication within the bureau, according to the report and will create a new section within its technology division to work on the encryption of computers and mobile devices in its investigations or as it is called in the report the “Going Dark” problem.
In 2017, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, revealed the FBI paid the vendor that unlocked the iPhone $900,000 during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing with Comey.