FBI Director James Comey suggested Thursday that the bureau paid more than $1 million to access an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino attackers, the first time the agency has offered a possible price tag in the high-profile case.
While speaking at a forum in London hosted by the Aspen Institute, Comey would not offer a precise dollar figure, saying only that it cost “a lot” to get into the phone.
He said the cost of the tool was “more than I will make in the remainder of this job, which is seven years and four months, for sure.” As he made his remark, Comey, a former federal prosecutor who speaks precisely in public settings, paused as if to consider the math he was performing in his head.
The FBI director serves a 10-year term, though Comey’s predecessor, Robert S. Mueller III, served for 12 years after Congress approved a request from President Obama to extend his tenure.
Comey was confirmed July 2013 and took office in September of that year, so he has more than seven years left in his term. According to the federal statute detailing his salary, Comey is paid the rate set for Level II of the executive salary schedule. That means he makes $185,100 a year, under the pay schedules that went into effect this year.
As a result, Comey’s remarks strongly implied that the bureau paid at least $1.3 million to get onto the phone, which had belonged to Syed Rizwan Farook, who, with his wife, killed 14 people during the Dec. 2 terror attack in San Bernardino, Calif.
“But it was, in my view, worth it,” the FBI director said of what it cost to access the phone’s data.
Federal authorities have not publicly revealed who helped the FBI unlock the San Bernardino iPhone, which was at the center of an extended fight between the government and Apple. The Justice Department had maintained that only Apple could help it access the phone without erasing all of its data before abruptly saying it had gotten help from an outside party and no longer needed Apple’s assistance.
According to people familiar with the issue, the FBI cracked the phone with the help of professional hackers who were paid a one-time flat fee. Law enforcement officials have said recently that the FBI has so far found no links to foreign terrorists on the phone.