The Justice Department and FBI Director Chris Wray slammed Apple on Monday morning for the tech company's alleged unwillingness to provide help with their investigation in the wake of December’s deadly shooting at a Florida military base.
Attorney General William Barr and Wray described during a virtual press conference how the gunman who opened fire at the Pensacola Naval Air Station on Dec. 6, 2019 was meticulous in his planning and had been radicalized overseas for at least five years.
The FBI learned of the contacts between the gunman, Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani and an al-Qaida operative after breaking the encryption on cellphones that had been locked.
The Justice Department had previously asked Apple to help extract data from two iPhones that belonged to the gunman, including one that authorities say Alshamrani damaged with a bullet after being confronted by law enforcement.
“We received effectively no help from Apple. We canvassed every partner, and every company, that might have had a solution to access these phones. None did, despite what some claimed in the media,” Wray said. “So we did it ourselves.”
At least once, in January, Apple denied the Justice Department's claims that the tech company did not help with the investigation.
Apple called the Pensacola terrorist attack "a devastating and heinous act," in a emailed statement provided by a company spokesperson. But it later described Wray's "false claims" as being "an excuse to weaken encryption and other security measures that protect millions of users and our national security."
Apple products have universal protections, like strong encryption, to keep their customers' information safe, according to the company. The hardware and software security ensures that there are no backdoors into its systems and as an added measure for customer security, the company does not store passcode.
"All of these practices apply equally to our operations in every country in the world," according to Apple.
Wray said FBI agents were able to break the encryption without the help of Apple, but the technique that the bureau has developed, “is not a fix for our broader Apple problem—it’s of pretty limited application."
"But the delay getting into these devices didn’t just divert our personnel from other important work," he later added. "It’s also seriously hampered this investigation."
Alshamrani, who was killed by a sheriff’s deputy during the rampage at a classroom building, killed three and wounded eight others.
Wray called Monday’s announcement “an important moment in an important case."
Alshamrani was undergoing flight training at Pensacola, where members of foreign militaries routinely receive instruction.
Law enforcement officials left no doubt that Alshamrani was motivated by jihadist ideology, saying he visited a New York City memorial to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and posted anti-American and anti-Israeli messages on social media just two hours before the shooting.
Separately, al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen, released a video claiming the attack. The branch, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, has long been considered the global network’s most dangerous branch and has attempted to carry out attacks on the U.S. mainland.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The report was updated to include a statement from Apple.