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Former US anti-terror chief tears into FBI over iPhone unlocking case

They'd just send it to the NSA if they really wanted access, says Clarke

A former counter-terrorism chief has laid into the Feds over its ongoing Apple iPhone battle – saying FBI director Jim Comey is exaggerating the need for access and that if agents really wanted into the phone, they would just send it to the NSA.

Richard Clarke was national security advisor and head of counter-terrorism to presidents Clinton and Bush. Speaking to National Public Radio (NPR) on Monday, he was blunt about what he feels is the FBI's goal.

"[The FBI] is not as interested in solving the problem as they are in getting a legal precedent," Clarke said. "Every expert I know believes the NSA could crack this phone. They want the precedent that government could compel a device manufacturer to let the government in."

Clarke also points to the fact that three past national security directors as well as a former head of the NSA and other high-level security officials are "much more sympathetic" to Apple's arguments than the FBI's.

Pointing the finger at Comey individually, Clarke added: "The FBI director is exaggerating the need for this, trying to build it up as an emotional case ... It's Jim Comey. And the Attorney General is letting him get away with it."

Instead, Clarke puts forward Apple's argument that the court order is "forced speech" and argues "encryption and privacy are larger issues than combating terrorism."

Obama and Oliver

Clarke's public comments come as the debate over the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone has heated up again following comments from President Obama late last week in which he appeared to take a pro-FBI position.

The topic also hit more mainstream awareness with topical weekly satire Last Week Tonight tackling it, resulting in a widely shared video that came down on the side of Apple.

Youtube Video

It also comes as some claim the latest filing from the Justice Department contains a veiled threat that it will ask for the source code to Apple's mobile operating system if it refuses to develop a version of the OS that lets the FBI gain access.

In a footnote to the filing late last week, federal prosecutors noted: "The government did not seek to compel Apple to turn those over because it believed such a request would be less palatable to Apple. If Apple would prefer that course, however, that may provide an alternative that requires less labor by Apple programmers."

That note has caused Lavabit founder Ladar Levison – who shut down his encrypted email service rather than grant the FBI full access to it – to argue that the Feds are preparing to demand Apple's private security keys and source code in order to develop their own system for hacking into phones.

Levison was asked for exactly that so the Feds could access every message going through the service, reportedly in the hunt for Edward Snowden. Levison has also argued in an amicus brief filing that the FBI's request of Apple is akin to slavery and breaks the 13th Amendment.

Apple and the FBI will meet in court to argue their case next Tuesday. ®

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