In late 2005, the iPod listening revolution was in full swing. Videos could now also be viewed on the portable devices, the rectangular shape of which was inspired by the transistor radio by Braun designer Dieter Rams. While the characteristic white cables in more and more ears disappeared on the streets, two mysterious figures settled in Apple’s Californian offices where the iPod team worked. And the then Apple engineer David Shayer received a discreet assignment: He should take care of the two strangers who called themselves Paul and Matthew.
Schayer not only had to pick her up every morning at the security gate due to the lack of an access card. He was supposed to provide them with technical tips and program code on a DVD so that they could build a special iPod. 15 years later Shayer unpacked. On the online portal Tidbits, which specializes in reporting on Apple, he tells the story of a previously unknown secret operation inside the technology company.
Paul and Matthew therefore worked for the service provider Bechtel and were commissioned by the US Department of Energy. They tinkered with a secret iPod with additional, invisible storage space that normal users should not have access to. In this, data should be recorded unnoticed. A secret feature exclusive to the government. There was no contract or payment, writes Shayer. “Apple has done the Department of Energy a secretly favor.”
But why did the mysterious guests unscrew and rebuild at least a dozen iPods? You never told Shayer, but he has a theory: The Department of Energy, which is also responsible for nuclear weapon security, wanted to hide a Geiger counter in the iPod. His agents could have been looking for stolen uranium or laboratories for dirty bombs in an unobtrusive way in everyday life, it was the time of the large anti-terror budgets after September 11th. Another theory is that the iPod should be converted into a listening device.
Shayer writes that only four people at Apple knew about the project. It is unclear whether the then CEO Steve Jobs was involved. Shayer did not respond to a request from the SZ. Apple does not deny his statements, a spokesman only writes: “No comment”. Shayer’s supervisor at the time, Tony Fadell, the “father of the iPod”, confirmed the story, however. He speaks of “crazy super cool technology the government was working on at the time”. Whether it was actually about a Geiger counter, he does not reveal: “These secrets will remain secret.”
It would not be the first case in which governments dock directly with technology manufacturers in order to use them for their security policy. Sometimes they go so far as to weaken the safety of products that are then also sold on the market. In the 1990s, the US tried to oblige telephone providers to install so-called clipper chips in devices. The NSA should be able to overhear the conversations advertised as safe at any time. The plan failed due to protests from IT experts and lawyers. For decades, the BND and CIA maintained the cover company Crypto AG in Switzerland, which sold encryption technology to countries around the world. The two secret services had access to overhear all communications. Today the US government accuses China of wanting to spy on Western cellular networks using the technology of the provider Huawei.
What became of the secret iPods remains a secret. Shayer is no longer with Apple. He threw the DVD with the program code for the agents in the trash while mucking out.