back to article Ex-Apple engineer lifts lid on Uncle Sam's top-secret plan to turn customized iPod into 'Geiger counter'

A former Apple engineer has spilled the beans on what he's described as a top-secret project Cupertino conducted with the US government in the 2000s. David Shayer, a former engineer with Apple's iPod outfit, this week recounted the yarn of how he came to build a custom bit of kit for the US Department of Energy (DOE) in 2005 …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apple should launch this for the public.

    Nothing would beat wandering around and realisng that the world is, and always has been, a radioactive place, to cure people of Nuclear Derangement Syndrome

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Apple should launch this for the public.

      For sure, but a little knowledge is a dangerous thing... wait til idiots accost some poor radiotherapy patient for being a terrorist.

      DARPA have a programme looking into the problem of separating natural or mundane sources from those that suggest something more sinister is going on... roving sensors and big data, etc. Not just radionuclides, but precursors to conventional explosive too. High acetone reading, ah, but it's outside a nail salon, likely mundane source.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Apple should launch this for the public.

        "...but precursors to conventional explosive too."

        Don't see how you can possibly do that without too high a false positive rate. Remember, Oklahoma City was done completely with materials available to any farmer.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Apple should launch this for the public.

          > Don't see how you can possibly do that without too high a false positive rate.

          That is what I was hinting at by including the Acetone / Nail Bar example that the DARPA programme manager gave. False positives are expected. Their plan is is use roving sensors (they talked of cars, but chemical sensors masquerading as smartphones fit this model too) to build a huge real-time data set and then use algorithms to highlight unusual cases. Fertilizer on a farm or agricultural wholesaler = normal. Fertilizer by a government building = worthy of investigation.

          I daresay that a similar approach is applied to purchases made online. Gallons of acetone supplied to a nail salon raises fewer flags than if it were supplied to a residential address in a certain area.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Apple should launch this for the public.

            "Fertilizer by a government building = worthy of investigation."

            Bovine fertilizer in a government building = completely expected.

        2. Steve Todd Silver badge

          Re: Apple should launch this for the public.

          Yes, the terrorists choice of champions is ANFO, Ammonia Nitrate (a common fertiliser) mixed with fuel oil, which incidentally was used by the US as the biggest non-nuclear bomb in history for a blast effect test (see https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/35418/this-was-the-largest-conventional-explosion-america-ever-set-off)

          1. Holtsmark

            Re: Apple should launch this for the public.

            "Ammonia Nitrate (a common fertiliser)"

            ..Uhm.. Next time you get out of the bunker, you might want to read about Lebanon.

            You do not need to explain ammonium nitrate anymore.

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: Apple should launch this for the public.

              OP didn't explain ammonium nitrate. That's only half of ANFO.

            2. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: Apple should launch this for the public.

              Most Americans don't need any reminding. Two words: Texas City.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Apple should launch this for the public.

            i thought that was the russian equivalent of the Saturn5 blowing up?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      @AC I Call BS... Re: Apple should launch this for the public.

      The whole story is cover for a failed attempt of selling ipods to Russia to help monitor people around Chernobyl.

      1. I like fruits
        Headmaster

        Re: @AC I Call BS... Apple should launch this for the public.

        Chernobyl is not in Russia.

    3. NoneSuch Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Apple should launch this for the public.

      "The Cupertino giant did not return a request for comment"

      They never reply to the Reg. No surprises here.

      1. First Light Silver badge

        Re: Apple should launch this for the public.

        Is that still the case? I've worked as a journo and it's so lame of them to do that. Makes them seem like scaredycats.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Apple should launch this for the public.

          There are rare occasions that Apple do reply, maybe two or three times in recent years, one, I think, in the last week or two. But yes, Apple are 5 year olds with a grudge :-)

    4. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Apple should launch this for the public.

      Beaten to it by Softbank who launched the Pantone 5 phone with built-in radiation sensor back in 2012...

      Obviously, with Fukushima in 2011, Japan was an obvious market for personal/pocket geiger counters - ether standalone or smartphone attached, that uploaded data and so permitted the creation of radiation heat maps.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Apple should launch this for the public.

        The article is referring to a story about a project in 2005. If true, maybe it's still secret and not publicly available and so not beaten by a product from 2012. Or maybe it was never true in the first place, or just an abject failure.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Apple should launch this for the public.

          I was referring to the observation "Apple should launch this as a product" ie. they should release an iPhone/iPod in 2020 with this functionality, rather than let people who want it, purchase a third-party add-on for sub £50 from Amazon.

  2. chivo243 Silver badge

    We are through the looking glass

    Spooks can imagine it, geeks can make it work?

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: We are through the looking glass

      Spooks can imagine it, geeks can make it work? .... chivo243

      I wouldn't be so sure that is the right way round, chivo243, given what one might know what spooks can do and have been doing since forever.

      However, that should in no way suggest your question is wrong worded and does not accurately represent the true nature of current developments with future horizons in present events.

      1. Trollslayer

        Re: We are through the looking glass

        Yup, you're from Mars.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: We are through the looking glass

        True. But then spooks can be geeks and geeks can be spooks.

    2. aki009

      Re: We are through the looking glass

      Yes. They definitely can.

      The inconspicuous radiation detector probably found use as we tracked down nuclear material in all kinds of interesting places around the world.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh, the stories I could tell.

    But I won't ... as I signed the Official Secrets Act and various companies security policies, and I believe in trust, integrity and professional standards!

    1. Stuart Moore

      To be fair, the current government don't believe in any of those things, so you might as well tell all...

    2. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Linux

      You could indeed tell stories, but that's all they would be. Same as I could.

      On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        What the f*** did you just f***ing say about me, you little b****? I'll have you know I graduated top of my class in the Navy Seals, and I've been involved in numerous secret raids on Al-Quaeda, and I have over 300 confirmed kills. I am trained in gorilla warfare and I'm the top sniper in the entire US armed forces. You are nothing to me but just another target. I will wipe you the f*** out with precision the likes of which has never been seen before on this Earth, mark my f***ing words. You think you can get away with saying that s*** to me over the Internet? Think again, f***er. As we speak I am contacting my secret network of spies across the USA and your IP is being traced right now so you better prepare for the storm, maggot. The storm that wipes out the pathetic little thing you call your life. You're f***ing dead, kid. I can be anywhere, anytime, and I can kill you in over seven hundred ways, and that's just with my bare hands. Not only am I extensively trained in unarmed combat, but I have access to the entire arsenal of the United States Marine Corps and I will use it to its full extent to wipe your miserable ass off the face of the continent, you little s***. If only you could have known what unholy retribution your little "clever" comment was about to bring down upon you, maybe you would have held your f***ing tongue. But you couldn't, you didn't, and now you're paying the price, you goddamn idiot. I will s*** fury all over you and you will drown in it. You're f***ing dead, kiddo.

        Lots of woofs

        Copypasta the dog

        1. Stumpy

          Quote: "I am trained in gorilla warfare"

          So you're used to wrestling with Silverbacks then?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            he probably finds it difficult wrestling other seals because they are just so slippery

        2. First Light Silver badge

          That is pretty much the style of things these days. In the past, the undiagnosed, untreated mentally ill person on the other side of the county, country or world couldn't get to you. Now not only can they harass you online they can also find out where you are in the world to come find you, if they are functional, crazy and wealthy enough to do so.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Did anyone else just get flashbacks to Jasper Carrots "Nutter on the bus" sketch?

        3. aki009

          Entertainment of the day

          Thanks. That was hilarious. I'm over-awed to be in the online presence of someone trained in gorilla warfare.

          Next time you need to work on being a bit more realistic. Like the Official Secrets Act you made reference to earlier. It's a term only used in England and a few of its former colonies, which kind of makes it difficult to explain why you would then be the Tom Cruise (i.e. top-everything) of the Seals and Marines, both of them being part of the US armed forces.

    3. iron Silver badge

      Well done, you just broke the Official Secrets Act by telling us you've signed it. I know this because I've signed it too, a very long time ago. Really it doesn't make you special.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Me too! but i used the AC tag, clever eh?

        So if you cant tell people you've signed it ... then the whole "i'd tell you but id have to kill you " thing is out the window...

        where does it end?

        "What do you do at BAE?"

        "cant tell you"

        "Aha! because you've signed the official secrets act! i'm reporting you for admitting that!"

      2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        I think at least 10% of my friends have signed it at some point in their lives.

        1. JimboSmith Silver badge

          It's not that uncommon to have to sign to say you've read it. My mum, a retired schoolteacher, has signed to say she's read and understood the OSA. I can't say why she had to sign it but she did.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "a retired schoolteacher, has signed...the OSA"

            The first rule of Detention is: You do not talk about Detention!

      3. Martin Summers Silver badge

        "Really it doesn't make you special."

        Signing the Official Secrets Act is on my bucket list. It would make me *feel* special, and that's all that matters.

        1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

          Good news!

          Even if you have not signed the Officials' Secret Act you can still be prosecuted for breaking it.

          If you want to feel special you can put yourself on an NSA watch list. Just do a web search for 'tails'.

          1. Antonius_Prime
            Joke

            Re: Good news!

            These days, its less common to be on their watch lists!

            In fact, these days they don't even bother with lists, they just go get your info direct from Zuck!

          2. David Shaw

            Re: Good news!

            I handed out hundreds of free DVD tails install/boot disks to random members of the public, at a expo, explaining how useful it could be to counter the rising crime threats to internet banking etc. this was of course, preSnowden

            Imagine my surprise when a highly privileged member of staff (economist) came and denied/disrupted/destroyed/degraded etc my actions by asking endless meaningless questions, stopping me from handing out further copies....

            ....but that's the world we live in, where I am subjected to a physical military attack by a trained agent for trying to do something useful for humanity, we later had a few coffees as she was a nice agent

            so I suggest you shouldn't search for a runtime boot DVD for The Amnesic Incognito Live System, and remember, finally, that recently "someone" created a whopping new 25% of TOR exit servers overnight. Which were kicked out from TOR as "untrustworthy", but reinstated a whole 24h later as "trusted" - impressive

            yeah

          3. JimboSmith Silver badge

            Re: Good news!

            Even if you have not signed the Officials' Secret Act you can still be prosecuted for breaking it.

            As somebody I know said once that applies to all laws, even gravity*.

            *although prosecution unlikely in that case.

          4. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

            Re: Good news!

            Even if you have not signed the Officials' Secret Act you can still be prosecuted for breaking it. ..... Flocke Kroes

            Oh? Presumably then would one be being prosecuted by an ass, Flocke Kroes. Not a good look for any sort of justice system practising laws, methinks. However, stranger things have surely happened.

            And when an abiding human flaw with myriad vulnerabilities for exploitation, something automatically attractive to the intellectually active? :-) ....... which is really not something anyone would want to be held responsible and accountable for encouraging and activating whenever it may be catastrophically destructive.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

      4. Outski Bronze badge

        Not really, that only applies to certain sections. Every civil servant, member of the military or government contractor has to sign it as part of onboarding.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Nobody signs the official secrets act, except perhaps some government official responsible for making laws. If anything, you only sign a scrap of paper confirming that the existence of The Act has been brought to your attention. The Official Secrets Act is an act of parliament and like any such act is part of the law that everyone in the country is subject to.

      6. aki009

        OSA Makes You Special

        Yes, it makes you special. While your friends are having fun talking about many a governmental topic, you'll need to shut up lest you cross one of those invisible lines. I.e. it makes you seem like one of those withdrawn loner types...

      7. John Bailey

        Ditto. As part of my work experience. Where the most secret thing I came across was...

        Well. Nothing really, I was told to sign it as a formality for working at a financial institution.

    4. This post has been deleted by its author

    5. macjules Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Not supposed to tell anyone you have been subject to OSA.

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