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Former Cyber Czar Says NSA Can Unlock iPhone Terror Data For FBI

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 15/03/2016 Chris D'Angelo

The Federal Bureau of Investigations is perfectly capable of gaining access to the iPhone connected to the San Bernardino terrorist attack, a former national security official says.

Richard Clarke, who was the senior counterterrorism official in the U.S. government for nine years, gave a candid insight Monday into national security in regards to the FBI and the Justice Department's demand that Apple help unlock the phone.

"Every expert I know believes that (National Security Agency) could crack this phone," Clarke told National Public Radio's David Greene. "They want the precedent that the government can compel a computer device manufacturer to allow the government in."

Clarke, who served as the National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counterterrorism for the United States, told NPR that "encryption and privacy are larger issues than fighting terrorism."

"The point I'm trying to make is there are limits," he said. "And what this is is a case where the federal government, using a 1789 law, is trying to compel speech," he said. "And courts have ruled in the past, appropriately, that the government cannot compel 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."

In a letter last month, Apple head Tim Cook blasted the FBI for requesting the tech giant build a customized version of iOS that would allow access to private data stored on an iPhone.

Clarke told NPR that if he was still a government counterterrorism official, he would have instructed the FBI to call NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, which "would have solved this problem for them."

"They aren't as interested in solving the problem as they are in getting a legal precedent," he said.

And with many in the defense and intelligence communities siding with Apple, Clarke said the FBI and DOJ are "on their own." 

"You really have to understand that the FBI director [James Comey] 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,” Clarke told NPR. “And the Attorney General [Loretta Lynch] is letting him get away with it."

Clarke is not alone in his belief that the FBI doesn't need Apple. At a conference last week, Edward Snowden called the bureau's claims "bullshit."

See below for Clarke's full interview with NPR. 

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