Victor Wynne

The case of the top secret iPod

source:tidbits.com

David Shayer:

“It was a gray day in late 2005. I was sitting at my desk, writing code for the next year’s iPod. Without knocking, the director of iPod Software–my boss’s boss–abruptly entered and closed the door behind him. He cut to the chase. “I have a special assignment for you. Your boss doesn’t know about it. You’ll help two engineers from the US Department of Energy build a special iPod. Report only to me.”

The next day, the receptionist called to tell me that two men were waiting in the lobby. I went downstairs to meet Paul and Matthew, the engineers who would actually build this custom iPod. I’d love to say they wore dark glasses and trench coats and were glancing in window reflections to make sure they hadn’t been tailed, but they were perfectly normal thirty-something engineers. I signed them in, and we went to a conference room to talk.”

It terms of how Apple operates all of the secrecy does seems like business as usual. It gets better…

“They didn’t actually work for the Department of Energy; they worked for a division of Bechtel, a large US defense contractor to the Department of Energy. They wanted to add some custom hardware to an iPod and record data from this custom hardware to the iPod’s disk in a way that couldn’t be easily detected. But it still had to look and work like a normal iPod.

They’d do all the work. My job was to provide any help they needed from Apple.

I learned that an official at the Department of Energy had contacted Apple’s senior vice president of Hardware, requesting the company’s help in making custom modified iPods. The senior VP passed the request down to the vice president of the iPod Division, who delegated it to the director of iPod Software, who came to see me. My boss was told I was working on a special project and not to ask questions.”

I can only imagine how Jobs would have reacted to this happening right under his nose. It hits on a lot of the same notes as the FBI seeking custom iOS software (and thus creating a backdoor) to catch a terrorist. The interplay of software used for this government project could have easily made its way around the darker parts of the web and then the image of the iPod would have been unjustly tainted for it.