Leaked recording: Inside Apple’s global war on leakers

Jun 21, 2017, 07:00 AM

A story from The Outline.

Leaked recording of an internal briefing at Apple earlier this month obtained by The Outline sheds new light on how far the most valuable company in the world will go to prevent leaks about new products.

The briefing, titled “Stopping Leakers - Keeping Confidential at Apple,” was led by Director of Global Security David Rice, Director of Worldwide Investigations Lee Freedman, and Jenny Hubbert, who works on the Global Security communications and training team.

According to the hour-long presentation, Apple’s Global Security team employs an undisclosed number of investigators around the world to prevent information from reaching competitors, counterfeiters, and the press, as well as hunt down the source when leaks do occur. Some of these investigators have previously worked at U.S. intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA), law enforcement agencies like the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service, and in the U.S. military.

The briefing, which offers a revealing window into the company’s obsession with secrecy, was the first of many Apple is planning to host for employees. In it, Rice and Freedman speak candidly about Apple’s efforts to prevent leaks, discuss how previous leakers got caught, and take questions from the approximately 100 attendees.

The presentation starts and ends with videos, spliced with shots of Tim Cook presenting a new product at one of Apple’s keynotes, that stress the primacy of secrecy at Apple. “When I see a leak in the press, for me, it’s gut-wrenching,” an Apple employee says in the first video. “It really makes me sick to my stomach.” Another employee adds, “When you leak this information, you’re letting all of us down. It’s our company, the reputation of the company, the hard work of the different teams that work on this stuff.”

Steve Jobs ran a notoriously secretive ship during his tenure as Apple’s CEO, and in 2004 the company even unsuccessfully tried to subpoena a group of tech bloggers to unmask their sources. Cook first publicly mentioned doubling down on secrecy at a 2012 tech conference, and this presentation seems intended to reveal the results of that effort.

“This has become a big deal for Tim,” Greg Joswiak, Apple’s Vice President of iPod, iPhone and iOS product marketing, says in one of the videos. “Matter of fact, it should be important to literally everybody at Apple that we can't tolerate this any longer.” Later, Joswiak adds that “I have faith deep in my soul that if we hire smart people they’re gonna think about this, they’re gonna understand this, and ultimately they’re gonna do the right thing, and that’s to keep their mouth shut.”

To make sure of it, Apple has built an infrastructure and a team “to come after these leakers,” Joswiak says, and “they're being quite effective.” After the first video concludes, Hubbert addresses the room. “So you heard Tim say, ‘We have one more thing.’ So what is that one more thing?” she asks. “Surprise and delight. Surprise and delight when we announce a product to the world that hasn’t leaked. It’s incredibly impactful, in a really positive way. It’s our DNA. It’s our brand. But when leaks get out, that’s even more impactful. It’s a direct hit to all of us.” “So today we’re going to share with you some of the behind the scenes of leaks that have happened on the supply chain, but also, right here in Cupertino,” she says. “So let’s paint a picture as to this team that Tim said we’d put in place.”

She then introduces David Rice to talk about the “New Product Security” team, a part of the larger Global Security team that Rice says “is really a secrecy group, we’re a little bit misnamed.” Rice worked at the NSA as a Global Network Vulnerability Analyst for four years, and before that was a Special Duty Cryptologist in the U.S. Navy. He’s directed the Global Security team at Apple for more than six years, according to his LinkedIn page. Hubbert also introduces Lee Freedman, who previously worked as the...