Apple’s Former Legal Chief Bruce Sewell Says FBI ‘Never Heard’ of Supermicro Allegations Last Year

Apple's efforts to thoroughly deny this week's bombshell Bloomberg Businessweek report now extend to a former top executive.

Apple's former general counsel Bruce Sewell

Apple's recently retired general counsel Bruce Sewell told Reuters he called the FBI's then-general counsel James Baker last year after being told by Bloomberg of an open investigation into Supermicro, and was told that nobody at the federal law enforcement agency knows what the story is about.

"I got on the phone with him personally and said, 'Do you know anything about this?," Sewell said of his conversation with Baker, reports Reuters. "He said, 'I've never heard of this, but give me 24 hours to make sure.' He called me back 24 hours later and said 'Nobody here knows what this story is about.'"

Sewell's comments are consistent with a statement Apple shared with Bloomberg Businessweek and on its Newsroom on Thursday:
On this we can be very clear: Apple has never found malicious chips, "hardware manipulations" or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server. Apple never had any contact with the FBI or any other agency about such an incident. We are not aware of any investigation by the FBI, nor are our contacts in law enforcement.
Also from the Apple Newsroom:
No one from Apple ever reached out to the FBI about anything like this, and we have never heard from the FBI about an investigation of this kind — much less tried to restrict it.
Apple later clarified that it is not under any kind of gag order or other confidentiality obligations after speculation mounted.

Amazon and Supermicro have also refuted the Bloomberg Businessweek report, with the latter company claiming it has "never been contacted by any government agencies either domestic or foreign regarding the alleged claims."

The UK's National Cyber Security Centre has also backed Apple's and Amazon's denials of the Bloomberg Businessweek report, claiming Chinese spies planted tiny chips the size of a pencil tip on server motherboards manufactured by Supermicro, which both Apple and Amazon used at one time in their data centers.

"We are aware of the media reports but at this stage have no reason to doubt the detailed assessments made by AWS and Apple," the agency, a unit of the GCHQ, said in a statement provided to Reuters today.

"The NCSC engages confidentially with security researchers and urges anybody with credible intelligence about these reports to contact us."

Bloomberg Businessweek yesterday reported that Apple discovered the suspicious microchips around May 2015, after detecting odd network activity and firmware problems. Two senior Apple insiders were cited as saying the company reported the incident to the FBI, but kept details tightly held.

The insiders cited in the report said in the summer of 2015, a few weeks after Apple identified the malicious chips, the company started removing all Supermicro servers from its data centers. Every one of the 7,000 or so Supermicro servers was replaced in a matter of weeks, according to one of the insiders.

One government official cited in the Bloomberg Businessweek report said China's goal was "long-term access to high-value corporate secrets and sensitive government networks." No consumer data is known to have been stolen, the report added, but the extent of the alleged attack appears to be unclear.

At this point, there is a clear divide between what Bloomberg is reporting and the denials from Apple, Amazon, and Supermicro. In the coming days, additional information will hopefully provide some clarity about the matter.

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Katherine Adams to Become Apple’s New General Counsel as Bruce Sewell Set to Retire This Year

Apple today announced that Katherine Adams will join Apple as General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Legal and Global Security this year. She will serve as the chief lawyer of Apple's legal department and report to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Katherine Adams, left, will replace Bruce Sewell as Apple's general counsel

Adams will replace Bruce Sewell, who has served as Apple's general counsel since 2009 and will be retiring at the end of the year.

Apple's general counsel oversees all legal matters, including corporate governance, intellectual property, litigation and securities compliance, global security, and privacy, according to Sewell's executive bio.

Cook said Adams is a "seasoned leader with outstanding judgment" in her field. He also offered best wishes to Sewell.
We are thrilled to welcome Kate to our team. She's a seasoned leader with outstanding judgment and that has worked on a wide variety of legal cases globally. Throughout her career she's also been an advocate on many of the values we at Apple hold dear.

Bruce has our best wishes for his retirement, after eight years of dedicated service to Apple and a tremendously successful career. He has tirelessly defended our IP, our customers' right to privacy and our values. Bruce has set a new standard for general counsels, and I am proud to have worked with him and proud to call him a friend.
Adams said "it's an honor" to join Apple.
Apple has had a tremendous impact on the world and it's an honor to join their team. I'm excited to help Apple continue to grow and evolve around the world, protecting their ideas and IP, and defending our shared values.
Sewell said the eight years he spent working at Apple have been the "most gratifying" of his entire career.
To have worked with this amazing executive team and all the incredibly smart people at Apple, especially my colleagues in legal and global security, has been the honor of a lifetime. The years I have spent in this job have been the most gratifying of my career. I'm delighted Kate is joining and I know she will be a huge asset.
Adams was most recently senior vice president and general counsel of Honeywell, where she had worked since 2003. Prior to then, she was a partner at New York law firm Sidley Austin LLP. She has also served as a law clerk for the U.S. Supreme Court and as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Sewell came into the spotlight twice last year during Apple's separate battles with the FBI and Spotify.


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