The Ugly Truth About Apple's Secret Police Force

Four men and two women turn up at a guy’s door in a neighborhood of San Francisco. Flashing badges in front of his face, he presumes they’re the cops. He answers their questions and even lets them search his home. They are looking for a phone, a very important phone. Something just isn’t right here. This is the story of the sketchy secret police force working at one of the biggest companies in world history. We’ll come back to that important phone later, but first, let’s have a look at how Apple got into the secret policing thing. Back in the day, people called them “Job’s mob” in relation to the departed CEO, Steve Jobs. An even more ominous epithet was the “Apple Gestapo”. None of those names are exactly nice-sounding, but they’re fitting considering what Apple got up to while everyone was thinking it was such a cool company. Apple itself called its police the “Worldwide Loyalty Team.” This team was given the name the Apple Gestapo by employees working within the company. The name was admittedly an exaggeration of what the loyalty team did, but only because they didn’t ever torture people into making confessions. However, the “loyalty team” wasn’t as benign as the name suggests. Think about it. Institutions such as the Gestapo, or for that matter, Joseph Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD, often had one thing in mind when they followed a person and sometimes in the dead of night, abducted them and took them to a small room for vigorous questioning. They wanted to know, often with some amount of torture involved, how loyal the person was to the country. Apple wanted to know the same, although the person being followed was usually suspected of leaking company secrets, not government secrets. A former Apple employee talking to Gizmodo about the loyalty team said, “Apple has these moles working everywhere, especially in departments where leaks are suspected. Management is not aware of them.” He explained that if someone in a certain department was suspected of leaking information, Apple wanted to keep them inside the building. The secret police would go to that department in the early morning and arrange an “operation". Once all the staff was in the office, it would be announced that all employees should remain seated at their desks. At this point, the workers were told they shouldn’t take a toilet break, after all, they could throw something into the bowl or remove something from their phone. At this point, none of the staff would have known that Apple’s loyalty cops were in the building. Saying that, when they were then ordered to hand over their phones, some folks would have likely become quite suspicious. Those phones would then be examined. Yep, this was a day at work, not something you’d expect to happen. If the employees had iPhones, all the data from the phones was uploaded to another computer. Since Apple gave phones to its employees, most of them had iPhones. If those phones were locked, the secret police demanded that the owners unlock them. Gizmodo wrote this: “They back up everything and go through all the other phones' text messages and pictures. If you have porn on your phone, they will see it. If you have text messages to your spouse, lover, or Tiger Woods, they will see them, too. Just like that. No privacy, no limits. "Now you are starting to see just how paranoid Apple was, and is, as a company. But this is just the beginning. While all those checks were going on, the employees were told they could not use their computers. All PCs had to show screensavers. The cops didn’t want anyone sending messages out while the operation was in process. Employees were even told that they shouldn’t chat with each other during this time. You’re now thinking, if that was me, I’d just grab my phone, give the police guy a piece of my mind, and leave the building. Some people might have done that, but you have to remember that working for such a cool company was perhaps one of the best gigs in the world. It’s like in the dystopian novel “The Circle”, which was based on a fictional super-huge tech company with some rather shady secret police. Just like in that book, the Apple employees were so grateful to work at the company they’d have done nothing even when things started to look unethical. Maybe when the author of The Circle, Dave Eggers, wrote the fictional company’s motto “Secrets are lies” and “Privacy is theft”, he had Apple in mind. If they suspected someone of leaking secrets, Apple’s secret police might also have taken a line from George Orwell’s book, “1984”. Basically, the cops would have said something along the lines of, “We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.” If the person at Apple really did complain and not hand over their device, they were offered a deal. The deal was, get up now, collect your things, walk out of that door and never come into this company again. Your number is up, and if you try and enter this building in the future, we’ll have you thrown out. Oh, and by the way, you will be hearing from our lawyers. That former employee said he’d experienced this firsthand, and some people had their devices checked and were then whisked off for what he called an “interrogation.” That would usually include the person being told to come clean, or some kind of legal action would be forthcoming. Why Apple would act like the Gestapo is simply because it doesn’t want any competitors knowing what it is developing. If that should happen, it could be very costly. Many companies are paranoid about this, but as you’ll see, Apple takes it to another level. Apple’s secret police won’t disappear a person if they think that person is a spy or just poses a threat to the company, but it might break the law and go to great lengths to plug a leak. This brings us back to the Apple cops visiting that guy in San Francisco and impersonating real police officers. The man in question was named Sergio Calderón, then 22-years old. In July of 2011, it was reported that one of Apple’s prototypes for the iPhone somehow ended up in the “Cava 22” bar in San Francisco. The phone was supposedly "priceless”, given that such a prototype could make its way to a country such as China, where another company might copy the device. The cops arrived at this guy’s house in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of the city, and told him, “Hey, Sergio, we're from the San Francisco Police Department.” They said a phone they very much wanted had been tracked back to his abode. The thing was, they didn’t say they worked for Apple, so the guy just thought they were police officers. Once inside the house, they pretty much went through everything and then told Sergio he’d be given a $300 reward if he could make it somehow reappear. It was also reported that the officers tacitly threatened Sergio’s family with deportation if he couldn’t produce the device. He later told the media, “One of the officers is like, 'Is everyone in this house an American citizen?' They said we were all going to get into trouble.” One of the people that was there that evening said his name was officer Tony. He turned out to be a former cop named Anthony Colon. With Tony and another Apple cop were some actual police officers but get this, what happened that evening was never officially recorded. Sergio later said he’d never allow Apple staff to search his home if he had known the truth. You can’t not record a search like that, so that led the San Francisco police to issue a statement saying, “This is something that's going to need to be investigated now. If this guy is saying that the people said they were SFPD, that's a big deal.” It was a big deal. Apple was acting like the authorities, and companies are not allowed to do such a thing. There was no need for it, either. Prior to this case, Apple had searched for a phone but not by itself but with a police task force working on behalf of the company. We’ll come back to this messed-up story later. It turned out that the operation involving the search of Sergio’s house was the work of a former FBI agent named John Theriault. He was the head of the Apple secret police at the time. He was the one that gave the order that day. It was said that he was hired by the paranoid Steve Jobs, but after Jobs went to live for eternity in the cloud, Theriault left the company and Apple cleaned itself up and stopped being so darn heavy-handed. Theriault announced that he’d retired, but the word on the street was that he’d been forced out of the company after what happened in Bernal Heights. Once Sergio knew what had happened to him, he got himself a lawyer and sued Apple. That’s when Theriault announced his departure. A person familiar with spying and the matter of the lost phone said, “My gut tells me that a company does not lay off or induce somebody to quit while it is potentially being accused of wrongdoing led by that person…That person could end up being the best witness against them.” We don’t know what happened to the phone in the end, but it might have been sold on Craigslist for the price of $200. If that is the case, someone really had no idea just how much money they could have made. They probably just thought they had an iPhone that didn’t quite work right. As for Sergio’s legal case, it seems the matter was settled out of court, so he could have made himself a good chunk of money. Neither he nor his lawyer David Monroe would comment on the matter, which leads us to believe that they signed an NDA with Apple. It also seems like the phone never did get into his hands, so all the cash he earned was deserved. Now for the story of when Apple did use the authorities in the right way but was also accused of heavy-handedness. This involved the case of a lost prototype for the iPhone 4G. It was mistakenly left at a German beer bar in Redwood City, California, in 2010. The two people that found the phone apparently tried to get it back to the owner, but when that didn’t work out, they sold it for five thousand bucks to a tech journalist named Jason Chen. Chen subsequently published details and photos of the phone for Gawker Media. Apple cops later visited him at his home, but when they were denied entrance, the company contacted the California Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team. Those guys used a warrant to search the house and take all of Chen’s computers and anything else they thought was related to the phone. They didn’t even tell him if he was a criminal suspect. The New York Times later said what happened could have been called “misappropriation of lost property” adding that “it's a crime but it's not theft.” Steve Jobs, mad as anything alive, said it was extortion, although when the case went to court Chen and Gawker came out without a scratch. The sellers of the phone didn’t serve a day in prison but were put on probation. Still, many people claimed that under the 1980 Privacy Protection Act it is illegal to search a journalist’s home. This just goes to show the power of Apple. Now some more paranoia. We’ve mentioned the departed Steve Jobs a few times already, a man that some people treated almost like a God. Sir Jobs was the knight of the techno-realm while he was still with us, but he was perhaps also a dark knight. He was undoubtedly good at his, er, job, maybe, as some people said, he was “the greatest CEO of his generation.” But after his departure, as the fanfare died down and people stopped crying to songs playing on their beloved iPod, a good amount of Jobs-related blasphemy filled the air. He was called rude, hostile, manipulative, a bully, spiteful, and among other not very nice things, an extremely paranoid fella. On top of that, his precious products were made by people in China who worked ungodly hours in terrible conditions for pitiful wages. These folks were named the “Islavas; people who worked with safety nets in their factories lest they get funny ideas about clocking out for good. Jobs also created a culture of fear at Apple, the kind of place where secret police were needed. At times, though, Jobs didn’t need that team. Sometimes he was scary enough all by himself. One such instance was when he met a journalist for the Wall Street Journal to talk about his new iPad. The meeting had to remain behind closed doors, and some people at the Journal who thought they’d be privy to the information were locked out. One person that did talk to Jobs was an editor named Alan Murray. He could have had no idea what he was getting himself into. You see, after the meeting, he took to Twitter and wrote what seemed like a harmless comment. He said, “This tweet sent from an iPad. Does it look cool?” The tweet was sent from one of the new iPads, but there was no leak going on at all. Nonetheless, paranoid Jobs was reportedly furious about this, the veins in his neck almost ripping apart his black turtleneck sweater. Murray was later asked if this was true and also asked if he knew why Jobs had exploded. In an email, he only said, “I will say that Apple's general paranoia about news coverage is truly extraordinary - but that's not telling you anything you didn't already know.” And all this guy did was write a tweet simply saying he’d used the product. What do you think happened in those days if you said something bad about one of Jobs’ products? You should ask a man named Ken Stan borough, from Liverpool in England. One day his daughter handed him her new iPod and told him there was something wrong with it. He picked it up, and it started hissing. "I could feel it getting hotter in my hand, and I thought I could see vapor,” he later said. He then threw it out of the door and onto the lawn, where it hissed some more, exploded, and shot 10 feet into the air. The iPod had turned into a bomb. Not a great look for Apple. After making a complaint, he received a letter from Apple. He said the company offered him a refund but denied any liability of his player turning into a potentially deadly device. He also had to agree to a vow of silence. The letter said, “You will keep the terms and existence of this settlement agreement completely confidential.” It added, if somehow news got out about what had happened to him, this would happen. Apple will seek, “injunctive relief, damages and legal costs against the defaulting persons or parties.” He told the British media that this was a kind of life sentence, seeing that if he did one day make the mistake of saying something, he could potentially be ruined. In his own words, he said, “If we inadvertently did say anything, no matter what, they would take litigation against us. I thought that was absolutely appalling.” Too right it was.