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Former White House counter-terrorism chief advisor says NSA can hack San Bernardino iPhone

Published Mar 15th, 2016 7:45AM EDT
Apple FBI San Bernardino iPhone NSA

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The FBI is trying to convince us all that Apple has to be forced to create a backdoor in the iPhone so that the San Bernardino shooter’s phone can be inspected for digital evidence. But not all experts agree with that stance, with many saying that the FBI or other intelligence agencies, could crack that iPhone.

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Richard Clarke was the National Security Council’s chief counter-terrorism advisor to three presidents, including George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Talking to NPR, he said that he believes the FBI is playing out of bounds.

“For nine years, I was the senior counterterrorism official in the U.S. government,” he said. “And I went to bed every night worrying about terrorist attacks. Had I done enough to stop a terrorist attack that might be out there that I don’t know about? I know what the counterterrorism feels like because I was there. But I also operated within limits. And within the United States government, we’ve decided long ago that there are limits on what we’re going to do in the war against terrorism.”

He then proceeded to explain that encryption and privacy are larger issues than fighting terrorism.

“Under the Obama administration, for example, we’ve said we’re not going to torture people,” Clarke said. “You know, we could, at the far extreme to make the FBI’s job easier, put ankle bracelets on everybody so that we’d know where everybody was all the time. That’s a ridiculous example, but my point is encryption and privacy are larger issues than fighting terrorism.”

Clarke argues that the FBI and the DOJ are using a 1789 law to compel speech from Apple, as courts have ruled that code is speech.

“What the FBI and the Justice Department are trying to do is to make code writers at Apple – to make them write code that they do not want to write that will make their systems less secure,” he said, adding that a large list of intelligence officials have already sided with Apple on the matter including the secretary of defense, “the National Security Agency director and three past National Security Agency directors, a former CIA director, [and] a former Homeland Security secretary.”

Clarke saved the best for last, saying that if he were still doing his former job, he “would have simply told the FBI to call Fort Meade, the headquarters of the National Security Agency, and NSA would have solved this problem for them.” Asked to expand on this charge, the former cybersecurity chief said that every expert he knows “believes that NSA could crack this phone.”

Clarke added that the FBI and DOJ are not interested in solving the problem, “as they are getting a legal precedent,” so that the government can “compel a computer device manufacturer to allow the government in.”

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.