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March 25, 2016 8:02 am

The New York Times Mysteriously Erases Israeli Identity of iPhone Forensics Firm

avatar by Ira Stoll

Cellebrite, the Israeli company whose origin the New York Times omitted. Photo: Facebook.

Cellebrite, the Israeli company whose origin the New York Times omitted. Photo: Facebook.

Wire service stories posted on the New York Times website have reported on how what they describe as an Israeli company, Cellebrite, may be helping the FBI gain access to a locked iPhone used by the shooter in the San Bernadino, Calif., attack.

Here’s the Associated Press, from March 22: “[E]xperts mentioned an Israeli company, Cellebrite Inc., that’s a leader among several firms selling smartphone forensics services and software tools to U.S. police agencies.”

Here’s Reuters, from March 23: “TEL AVIV — Israel’s Cellebrite, a provider of mobile forensic software, is helping the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s attempt to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, California shooters, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported on Wednesday.”

Here’s the Associated Press again, from March 24: “A great deal of speculation centers on Cellebrite — an Israel-based forensics firm that says it does business with thousands of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, militaries and governments in more than 90 countries — though it remains one of several possible candidates.”

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Yet when the news appeared under a New York Times staff byline — that of Katie Benner — in the paper’s print edition, the Israel connection was mysteriously eradicated. Instead, what the newspaper reported was this:

The F.B.I. has tried many ways to get into the iPhone used by Mr. Farook, such as exploiting a previous bug that allowed unsigned code to be loaded and run on the device, Stacey Perino, an electronics engineer with the F.B.I. has said in a court filing in the case.

The F.B.I. also tried tools made by the agency and a mobile forensics company, Cellebrite, which let older iPhones load and run code that could crack a device passcode, Ms. Perino wrote. Cellebrite describes itself on its website as a subsidiary of Sun Corporation, a publicly traded Japanese company; it has done work for a number of government agencies.

Yet none of those tools worked, Ms. Perino wrote in the court document that was filed March 10.

A quick look at the Cellebrite website discloses executives named Yossi, Ron, Alon, Leeor and Amir. None of them appear Japanese. The CFO and the co-CEO both list degrees from Tel Aviv University, which is not in Japan. (As an aside, the Times reference to the March 10 court filing about the failure of the Cellebrite attempt may have been overtaken by new events; there is a federal record of a March 21 purchase order by the FBI with Cellebrite.)

If the “Israel-based” or “Israeli” description of Cellebrite is good enough for wire stories on the Times website, why isn’t it good enough for readers of the print edition, or an article written by a Times staffer? Maybe there’s a good explanation, but without sharing that explanation with readers, the Times’ reluctance to identify the company as Israeli seems strange, as if the newspaper is somehow trying to deny the Jewish state credit for its widely acknowledged technological acumen.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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