Richard Clarke Slams FBI's Pursuit of Weaker Encryption on Apple's iPhone

Richard Clarke, former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism for the United States, strongly condemned the FBI's efforts to force Apple to weaken iPhone encryption. In an interview with NPR, Mr. Clarke said that the FBI was wrong on encryption and was more interested in setting a precedent in its efforts against Apple than it was in actually accessing a work iPhone used by a dead terrorist.

Listen to the full interview below:

Mr. Clarke was the top counterterrorism official under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. His book, Against All Enemies, detailed his career, including the run-up to and aftermath of 9/11.

In his interview with NPR, Mr. Clarke said that the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice were largely on their own in the Obama White House in wanting to weaken encryption, saying:

I don't think it's a fierce debate. I think the Justice Department and the FBI are on their own here. You know, the secretary of defense has said how important encryption is when asked about this case. The National Security Agency director and three past National Security Agency directors, a former CIA director, a former Homeland Security secretary have all said that they're much more sympathetic with Apple in this case. You really have to understand that the FBI director is exaggerating the need for this and is trying to build it up as an emotional case, organizing the families of the victims and all of that. And it's Jim Comey and the attorney general is letting him get away with it.

The FBI and DOJ may not be as alone as Mr. Clarke thinks, however, as President Obama gave an interview on Friday advocating for an impossible system whereby we have secure devices that the government can access when needed.

Richard Clarke

Richard Clarke
Source: Wikimedia

But, Mr. Clarke's belief that "encryption and privacy are larger issues than fighting terrorism" is shared by others in the intelligence world, including former director of the NSA and CIA, General Michael Hayden.

"Within the United States government," Mr. Clarke said, "we've decided long ago that there are limits on what we're going to do in the war against terrorism. Under the Obama administration, for example, we've said we're not going to torture people. 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."

He also stated categorically that, "Every expert I know believes that NSA could crack this phone," but that the FBI wants, "the precedent that the government can compel a computer device manufacturer to allow the government in."

Mr. Clarke has no small degree of baggage on Capitol Hill because he was sharply critical of the Bush Administration's efforts to connect 9/11 to Saddam Hussein when no such link existed. That turned him into a valiant hero for those who opposed the war and persona non grata to those who supported it.

But that's politics, and politcs aren't the important thing in today's fight over encryption and privacy. What's salient to me is that intelligence professionals are increasingly vocal about the abilty for all of us to be protected against malicious actors around the world being more important than the ability of the FBI to access devices and communications belonging to some criminals.

Mr. Clarke's voice is an important one to be raised in support of these concepts, and I hope that people pay attention.