The fallout from the disappearance (and possible murder) of journalist Jamal Khashoggi after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and never left continues. There’s been a new wrinkle to the story: Khashoggi ostensibly used his Apple Watch and iPhone to record and transmit his torture and death.
The story appeared in Sabah, a pro-government newspaper in Turkey:
Reuters later quoted Turkish officials saying that Khashoggi’s torture and eventual murder were recorded via an Apple Watch connected to an iPhone that he left outside (reportedly with his fiancée) before entering the consulate.
Here are the parts of the story that check out: Khashoggi did have a third-generation Apple Watch, as seen in pictures before his disappearance. The Apple Watch does have the ability to record audio. Here’s what doesn’t check out: nearly everything else about the story.
First off, the most obvious error in the story: The Apple Watch isn’t unlocked via fingerprints — only iPhones are. Further, Khashoggi’s Watch would have needed to connect to a data network in one of three ways: an LTE network, a Wi-Fi network, or via Bluetooth.
LTE connections for the Apple Watch aren’t supported in Turkey. Technically, it’s possible that Khashoggi’s Watch could have still found an LTE band — Turkey’s LTE network uses the same LTE bands as the Apple Watch. But it’s an outside possibility. The other two possibilities are even more remote. A Wi-Fi connection would require that Khashoggi’s phone could also connect to a Wi-Fi network within the building, and that Wi-Fi network would need to be unsecured, or one that Khashoggi or his fiancée knew the password to. And Bluetooth connectivity on the Apple Watch to an iPhone is only 30 to 50 feet, under the best conditions — there’s almost no way it could connect to an iPhone outside with multiple walls between them.
Finally, there’s the issue of how the recording would have ended up in the hands of Turkish authorities. Assuming that the recordings exist and were uploaded to iCloud, someone would have needed to know the password to access them, and then decided to turn those recordings over to Turkish authorities. (Turkish authorities couldn’t have just gotten them from Khashoggi’s iCloud account. Apple has fought vigorously to protect iCloud accounts from government intrusion.)
The much more likely scenario: Turkish authorities bugged the Saudi consulate, and attempted to float the Apple Watch scenario as a way of concealing why they are so sure that Khashoggi was tortured and killed within the walls of the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Perhaps Turkish intelligence realized that there were pictures of Khashoggi with the Apple Watch and attempted to plant the story. Perhaps a journalists at Sabah and Reuters got a bad tip and ran with it. But barring an extremely unlikely set of circumstances, there’s almost no chance Jamal Khashoggi’s Apple Watch recorded what ultimately happened to the missing journalist.