AG Barr: Navy base shooting was terrorism and we need Apple's help to unlock the shooter's phones

It became pretty clear last month that this is where the investigation was heading, now it has been confirmed. In a press conference today, Attorney General Barr stated, “This was an act of terrorism.” Barr added, “The evidence shows that the shooter was motivated by jihadist ideology. During the course of the investigation, we learned that the shooter posted a message on Sep. 11th of this year stating ‘The countdown has begun.'” Barr went on to say that the shooter had posted anti-American and anti-Israeli messages online including just two hours before the attack.

One of the things that was of great concern initially was the possibility that other Saudi flight students might have known about the attack in advance. Specifically, there were reports that another pilot was filming the attack from a nearby car. Today, AG Barr said those reports turned out to be false. There were some Saudi’s who took video as the commotion outside the building began but they did not know what was happening at the time.

However, that’s not the end of the story. While investigating the attack, the US found 21 individuals had expressed anti-American sentiments on social media and 15 of the pilots “had some kind of contact with child pornography.” In most cases that seems to mean they received or viewed images posted online by others. The US decided none of the incidents were grounds for prosecution but the Saudis decided to dis-enroll all of the students involved.

Near the end of his statement, AG Barr raised an issue involving access to the shooter’s phones. During the standoff with first responders, the shooter took time to put a bullet through one of his two iPhones. His second phone was also damaged. The FBI was able to repair both phones and has a court order to search the phone but it hasn’t been able to access them because the FBI doesn’t have the passwords. Given that the shooter was killed during the attack, there is no way to retrieve those passwords.

“It is very important for us to know with whom and about what the shooter was communicating before he died. We have asked Apple for their help in unlocking the shooter’s phones. So far Apple has not given any substantive assistance,” Barr said. He called on Apple to assist the FBI in keeping with the court order.

This is not the first time that Apple has refused to unlock a terrorist’s phone after his death. The FBI asked Apple for help unlocking the phone of Syed Rizwan Farook, the terrorist who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, CA in 2015. Even after receiving a court order to unlock the phone, the company refused. Apple claimed its decision was not because it didn’t want to help but because it had no back door into its own phones. But experts said at the time that Apple could crack its own phones if it wanted to do so. A few weeks later the FBI announced that an outside company had unlocked the phone for the FBI. It sounds as if the FBI may need to go back to the outside experts once again.

Here’s the full press conference with AG Barr:

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