Maccast Members 2016.04.08 - Burr, Ciphers, and Apple
Burr and Hamilton
- The 1800 presidential election
- Between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams
- Ushered in a generation of Democratic-Republican Party rule and the eventual demise of the Federalist Party
- Uncovered a flaw in how the US Constitution set up the Electoral College
- Allowed each elector to cast two votes for president.
- They never though about the concept of political parties and votes aligning along party lines
- But in 1800 election the Democratic-Republican Party’s electoral votes were split evenly between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr
- Because of the tie the vote was decided by members of the House of Representatives.
- There was a lot of mudslinging and before the House vote Alexander Hamilton gave support to Jefferson while actively working against Burr
- After 36 votes but ultimately Jefferson got the vote to become the parties Presidential candidate with Burr as Vice President
- Burr believed that Hamilton had manipulated the vote in Jefferson’s favor.
- The 12th Amendment was created to counter the Electoral College problem.
- It stipulates that each elector must cast distinct votes for President and Vice President, instead of two votes for President.
That Famous duel
- Near the end of his VP term in 1804 it was clear that Jefferson would drop Burr from his campaign.
- Burr decided to run for Governor of New York
- Again Hamilton spoke out against Burr calling him, “a dangerous man, and one who ought not be trusted with the reins of government”.
- Burr lost and blamed it on a campaign run by his rivals including Hamilton
- After the lost election letters and accusations flew back and forth between Burr and Hamilton. Ultimately Burr demanded that Hamilton recant or deny any statement disparaging Burr’s honor over the past 15 years.
- Hamilton denied leading to Burr challenging him to a duel.
- Most of us know that Burr won the duel and Hamilton was mortally wounded then later died.
- Burr, still Vice President, was charged in New York and New Jersey with multiple crimes, including murder, and fled to South Carolina
- The challenge happened in NY and the actual duel was in New Jersey
- He did later return to Philadelphia and then to Washington to complete his term as Vice President.
- The charges in New York and New Jersey were eventually dropped.
The Burr Plot
- After the leaving the Vice-Presidency in 1805 Burr moved west to lands acquired in the Louisiana Purchase.
- He supposedly leased land in what is now Louisiana, from the Spanish government.
- But there were accusations that Burr was trying to create a new independent country in the middle and southwest US.
- The accusation goes that Burr had partnered with General James Wilkinson, commanding General of the US Army and the Governor of Missouri Territory. The two were said to be forming a militia.
- They started stockpiling men and supplies on an island on the Ohio River owned by another Burr supporter, Harman Blennerhassett.
- Allegedly Burr also contacted the Spanish minister in 1806 and shared his plans for not only a western secession, but the capture of Washington, D.C
- In a nutshell the supposed plan was to start a war with Mexico, claim and secede the land, and declare himself “emperor” of his new country.
- Throughout 1805 and 1806 president Jefferson was getting word from various sources about Burr’s plans.
- The final undoing of the plan was when Burr’s accomplice, James Wilkinson, became nervous that he could be implicated for treason
- He ratted Burr out to Jefferson using letters sent to him from Burr as evidence of the plot
- But here’s the twist. Wilkinson supposedly edited the letters in an attempt to preserve his innocence and career.
- The original letters were in a cypher, but Wilkinson’s “doctored” one was provided decoded.
- I won’t go into all the details of the following trial, but Burr was acquitted due to lack of evidence of treason. He left the United States for a self-imposed exile in Europe.
The Burr Cipher
- For our purposes it is the “cipher” that that provides the bridge to Apple and the FBI
- The analogy I guess is that you have a ciphered piece of evidence that the government would like to know the contents of and you have a 3rd party, in this case Burr’s clerk, who they want to decipher the contents.
- The “cipher” used in the Burr letters actually used three techniques
- Codes or “hieroglyphics”. Symbols or numbers to refer to a specific person or thing and each party had a codebook for deciphering them.
- Book or Dictionary cipher. Numbers that referenced pages and columns in a reference work that both parties would have and know. In this case, 1800 edition of Entick’s Spelling Dictionary.
- Substitution. Where specific letters are replaced with a symbol or number.
Apple and the Burr Cipher
- So, how does all this fascinating history relate to Apple and the FBI case.
- When the DOJ filed a brief in the lead up to the now dismissed case they countered some of Apple’s claims against the original order by citing the Burr trial in their filing.
- They deny that they are asking Apple to provide decryption services, though note that because of the Burr case, they could do that.
- Saying, contrary to Apple’s argument, the Order does not require it to “provide decryption services” to the government.
- They go on to imply though that such a request would not be unreasonable and cite the Burr trial.
- During that trial, in 1807, Chief Justice Marshall said that Burr’s clerk could be compelled to decipher the Wilkinson letters as long as doing so would not incriminate the clerk.
- But Apple fired back, and from what I have read of the Burr trial documents accurately so, that they government did not have the precedent from the Burr cast to compel decryption.
- Apple claims Judge Marshall did not “compel” the Clerk to decipher the letters, basically invoking the “All Writs Act”.
- What happened was the clerk was simply asked if he knew what the contents of the encrypted letters were.
- In response the clerk said he would not confirm if he “understood” the contents of the letters on the grounds that he may incriminate himself.
- Judge Marshal then informed the clerk that the clerk’s answer as to whether he understood the cipher could not incriminate him and that he could say whether he understood the letter. They did not require him to decipher it.
- The clerk was also told he does not have to answer any questions related to the ciphered letter if he cannot answer without accusing himself.
- And there you have it. Why an obscure reference to Arron Burr from 1807 appears in an a series of legal briefs on an Apple case in 2016.
Burr’s ancestor betrays him
- And now the story gets even stranger.
- This week details emerged on draft legislation introduced to Congress this week that would empower judges to require technology companies such as Apple to help law enforcement crack encrypted data.
- The author’s of the legislation are Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.)
- Richard Burr, according to statements by his father, is the 12th cousin of Arron Burr.
- Think his cousin, a user of ciphered communications, is rolling over in his grave?