The terrorists are coming!
Barr cited, as evidence for the need for backdoors, the 2015 terrorist attack in Curtis Culwell Center, Garland, Texas, in which police shot and killed two Daesh-bags as they attempted to open fire on people at an exhibition of cartoons about Mohammed. The FBI is still unable to access about 100 encrypted messages sent by one of the terror bastards before the assault, Barr said.
It sounds scary, though when you actually dig into the case, it’s a baffling example to pick, as the lawsuit that followed the shooting revealed. Yes, two Islamic State terrorists did head out to shoot up the art event, injuring one security guard before both gunmen were killed. However, the evil duo were accompanied by a third man who was, er, an undercover FBI agent.
The Feds had been keeping tight tabs on the pair for years. Crucially, the undercover agent testified he had no idea the two other men were planning a shooting spree at the center, despite the pair having three rifles, three handguns, and 1,500 rounds of ammunition lying around in their car.
This all came out when the injured security guard sued the FBI. Although that lawsuit was dismissed, the whole affair raises eyebrows. If you have an undercover Fed getting pally with terrorists, who have – in one case – been under investigation for nine years, and the bastards still manage to pull off a surprise attack, what crucial role would have breaking their encryption have played here, exactly? With so much other evidence sitting there, you're telling us the cryptography has to be cracked to solve this super-mystery?
'Massive power of government surveillance'
After Barr’s speech, one of the most technologically literate senators in Congress, Ron Wyden (D-OR), launched a blistering attack on the Attorney General's arguments.
“I have never done what I am doing today," said Wyden. "Today, I fear, rather I expect that if we give this attorney general and this president the unprecedented power to break encryption across the board and burrow into the most intimate details of every American’s life – they will abuse those powers.
“I don’t say that lightly. And yet, when I look at the record, the public statements and the behavior of William Barr and Donald Trump, it is clear to me that they cannot be trusted with this kind of power. Their record shows they do not feel constrained by the law. They have not been bound by legal or moral precedents. Trump, by his own words, has no ethical compunctions about using government power against his political enemies. Never before have I been so certain that the administration in power would knowingly abuse the massive power of government surveillance.”
Wyden pointed out that Barr has a terrible record for this sort of thing. In October 2003, Barr testified that the PATRIOT Act didn’t go far enough and that the president shouldn't be restrained from using surveillance without congressional or legal oversight.
Furthermore, in the 1990s, Barr – then Attorney General for President Bush Senior – authorized the bulk collection of phone records by the US Drug Enforcement Administration without any legal oversight. A subsequent report by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice found the dragnet had been operating for 20 years, and only came to light in a secret Senate meeting in 2007.
“The argument that the government needs to weaken encryption has always been based on the promise that the government will never use this backdoor without a court-ordered warrant,” Wyden said.
“But Barr, in his own words and actions, has demonstrated repeatedly that, when it comes to surveillance, the laws don’t matter, the courts don’t matter and even the Constitution doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is whatever he and the president feel like doing."
Like the Obama administration before it, today's White House has made backdooring encryption a priority, and legislation is reportedly being prepared to enforce it. Barr promised that FBI Director Chris Wray will give another speech on the topic later this week at the same conference. It looks like the encryption wars are back on. ®
PS: After Barr basically stated that Americans should accept the security risks of backdoored encryption, General Michael Hayden replied: "Not really. And I was the director of [the] National Security Agency."