General Michael Hayden, former director of both the CIA (2006 to 2009) and the NSA (1999 to 2005) says FBI Director James Comey is wrong about encryption, and that America and the American people will be "more secure" with unbreakable, end-to-end encryption.
General Hayden made the comments in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, some of which was posted to YouTube.
"I think Jim Comey's wrong," General Hayden said. "Jim's belief is based on the belief that he remains the main body, and that you should accommodate your movements to the movements of him, which is the main body. I'm telling you, with regards to the cyber domain, he's not. You are."
General Hayden was appointed director of the NSA by President Bill Clinton (D), and then director of the CIA by President George W. Bush (R). The tl;dr version of his interview is that he says there is no doubt that strong encryption makes the job of law enforcement more difficult. On balance, however, strong encryption makes the country stronger.
Going back to the Crypto Wars of the 1990s, General Hayden said the NSA (under him) eventually realized, "The overall health of the American computing industry was of far more strategic advantage to the security mission of the NSA—this is not a commercial argument—than any specific tactical operational transient advantage we'd have because our computers were bigger than their computers."
"I think that thought translates directly to the current debate on end-to-end unbreakable encryption," he added. "America is more secure with unbreakable, end-to-end encryption. It's a slam-dunk if I widen the field of view to the broad health of the United States."
While many focus on the National Security Agency's spying mission, the NSA also has a mission to protect the U.S. from foreign spying. The General's point is that the stronger America is, the more protected the country is against the myriad of bad actors that operate around the planet, and that this outweighs any advantage law enforcement might have in being able to access our devices.
You might remember that Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a 2015 interview that he didn't think we'd hear any more calls from the intelligence community to have back doors in iOS, and that he hoped the FBI would come around. While the FBI has yet to see wisdom on this issue, General Hayden's interview offers tremendous insight on how the intelligence services view this issue.
I should also note, however, that General Hayden pointed out that even after losing the Clipper Chip fight of the 1990s—a separate battle to get hardware backdoors built into all cellphones—the NSA nevertheless went on to a golden age of surveillance. He was referring specifically to bulk collection of communications and so-called metadata that the NSA engaged in for more than 15 years until it was ended in November of 2015.
This resonates with a Harvard study released earlier in February that argued Internet of Things connected devices offered law enforcement and intelligence services plenty of new ways to spy on us.