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Apple helped U.S. government build a "top-secret iPod"

iPod
iPod (Image credit: iMore)

What you need to know

  • Apple once helped the U.S. government build a top-secret iPod.
  • That's according to former employee David Shayer.
  • A U.S. government contractor wanted to add custom hardware to an iPod for recording purposes.

A new story from former Apple employee David Shayer claims Apple helped the U.S. government to build a "top secret iPod."

As reported by Tidbits:

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."

Shayer soon discovered the two engineers actually worked for Bechtel, a "large US defense contractor to the Department of Energy." Shayer explains how 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" all whilst looking and working like a normal iPod.

The story follows how the two men worked at Apple in secret to create an iPod with a partitioned disk that could hide the data they wanted to record secretly. they worked for months before wrapping up the project and moving back to their own office in Santa Barbara. Shayer has some thoughts on what they might have been building:

building something like a stealth Geiger counter. Something that DOE agents could use without furtively hiding it. Something that looked innocuous, that played music, and functioned exactly like a normal iPod. You could walk around a city, casually listening to your tunes, while recording evidence of radioactivity—scanning for smuggled or stolen uranium, for instance, or evidence of a dirty bomb development program—with no chance that the press or public would get wind of what was happening. Like all other electronic gadgets, Geiger counters have gotten smaller and cheaper, and I was amused to run across the Radiation Alert Monitor 200, which looks an awful lot like a classic iPod.

Shayer says that only four people at Apple ever knew about the project and that there was zero paper trail. It's a very interesting story, and you can read it in full here.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple.