Apple helped US govt make 'top secret' iPod; even Steve Jobs didn't know about it
Apple reportedly helped the US government develop a "top secret" iPod, back in 2005, that worked like a normal one but secretly recorded data using hidden extra hardware inside.
The project is said to be so secret that Apple's co-founder and then-CEO Steve Jobs did not know about it. The information was detailed in a story shared on TidBITS earlier this week by David Shayer, a software engineer with Apple's iPod division back in 2005.
TidBITS is a content network for Apple professionals. Shayer shared in his story post that the company worked with engineers from a large US Defence contractor to develop a custom fifth-generation iPod containing a special government hardware.
He added that the iPod had the ability to record data from the hardware to its disk, that couldn't be easily detected. Shayers claims that only four people in the company were aware of the secret US Defence assignment, adding that the intel of how the custom iPods would be used was never disclosed completely to Apple.
The clandestine project, which reads like a spy novel, chronicles how Shayer was approached for the 'special assignment' by the director of iPod Software, who was two levels above him in the chain of command.
Shayer recounts that the director unexpectedly entered his office one day, informing him that he was being assigned to help two engineers from the US Department of Energy on a "special assignment". The director further ordered Shayer not to tell anything to his co-workers or even his immediate superior about the project and report only to him.
Meanwhile, Shayer, who refrained from mentioning any names within his narrative, identified the two engineers he was working with, as Paul and Matthew. These engineers worked for a company named Bechtel, a government defence contractor to the Department of Energy.
Shayer went on to recount that their (engineers') task was 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."
He further expressed that the engineers were doing all of the actual work and his job was simply to "provide any help they needed from Apple."
Shayer states that the project evidently began when an official at the Department of Energy contacted Apple's Senior Vice-President (VP) of Hardware, "requesting the company's help in making custom modified iPods." The senior VP subsequently passed the request down to the vice-president of the iPod division, who then delegated it to the director of iPod Software, "who came to see me (Shayer)".
Shayer mentioned only four people were aware of the secret project. He said that his own boss was simply told that he (Shayer) was "working on a special project and not to ask questions."
Even though he hasn't named anyone, it is being said that Jon Rubinstein and Tony Fadell were the other two executives involved at the time as Jon who was given the moniker of "Podfather," served as Apple's Senior Vice-President of Hardware Engineering and later iPod Engineering.
He joined the company in 1997 and exited in 2006, at which time he was succeeded by Tony (Fadell), who at that time was in the role of vice-president of iPod engineering since 2004.
Weighing in on Shayer's story, Tony (Fadell) took to Twitter to confirm that he was indeed among the four executives who knew about the secret project. He called Shayer's comments as "absolutely spot on" and "this project was real [without] a doubt."
Absolutely spot on David Shayer…— Tony Fadell (@tfadell) August 18, 2020
This project was real w/o a doubt.
There was whole surreal drama & interesting story about how this project was kicked off & then kept secret.
The Case of the Top Secret iPodhttps://t.co/jgZqcvKIsV
Shayer narrated that there was no paper trail of the project, and all communication was held in person and none of the four people involved in it work at Apple anymore.