Apple helped build a top secret iPod for the government that only 4 people at the company even knew existed, former engineer says

An original iPod AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
  • Apple helped the US Department of Energy develop a special iPod that only four people within the company knew about, a former engineer revealed.
  • The DOE was looking to add custom hardware to an iPod and covertly record data from that hardware to the iPod’s disk.
  • It’s unclear what the secret iPod was intended for, but Nest founder and iPod co-inventor Tony Fadell confirmed the project in a series of tweets.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Apple helped develop a special iPod that was so secretive only four people at the company even knew it existed, a former Apple engineer revealed this week.

David Shayer, who says he was the second software engineer hired for the iPod back in 2001, said he was tasked with a special assignment in 2005, according to a post he wrote on TidBits.

The US Department of Energy was looking to add custom hardware to an iPod and covertly record data from such hardware to the iPod’s disk. It was Shayer’s job to provide two men from Bechtel, a contractor for the DOE, with any assistance needed from Apple.

Apple and the Department of Energy did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

Little details are known about the iPod or what it was designed to do. But Shayer described how he showed the two men how to “set up the development tools, build a copy of the operating system from a source, and load it onto the iPod.” Shayer speculates that the special iPod may have been a “stealth Geiger counter,” but there’s no way to know for sure.

The only people at Apple who knew about the project were Shayer, the director of iPod software, the vice president of the iPod division, and the senior vice president of hardware, he said.

Tony Fadell, the Nest co-founder who co-created the iPod during his time at Apple in the early 2000s, also corroborated Shayer’s story in a series of tweets. Matt Rogers, who also co-founded Nest, chimed in to say he remembered seeing the two men Shayer described around the office.

“The project was real [without] a doubt,” Fadell tweeted.

According to Rogers’ tweet, it was “super unusual” to have unfamiliar people in the office around that time. But being Apple, of course, the two men from Bechtel were subject to a variety of restrictions in order for the company to maintain secrecy.

Shayer even had the IT department reroute the Ethernet to connect only to the public internet so that the two men couldn’t access Apple’s internal network. They also weren’t allowed to access Apple’s source code server directly, so Shayer had to give it to them on a DVD. That DVD wasn’t allowed to leave the building either.

“This wasn’t a collaboration with Bechtel with a contract and payment; it was Apple doing a favour under the table for the Department of Energy,” Shayer wrote. “But access for that favour only went so far.”