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Counterterrorism Expert Richard Clarke: ‘The FBI Are on Their Own’

9/11 Commission Hears Second Day of Testimony
Photo: Brooks Kraft/Corbis

In a brief interview on NPR, former national-security official Richard Clarke explicitly criticized the FBI’s lawsuit against Apple, an effort to compel the company to build software compromising the security of their devices.

Clarke — who directed counterterrorism operations under the Clinton and Bush administrations — believes that, on a legal level, the FBI is fighting an uphill battle, since courts have ruled in the past that code is an expression of speech. “This is a case where the government, using a 1789 law [the All Writs Act], is trying to compel speech,” he said.

Compounding this, Clarke says that the FBI does not have much support from other government agencies or prominent national-security figures. “I don’t think it’s a fierce debate. I think that the Justice Department and the FBI are on their own here,” he said, adding that FBI director James Comey “is exaggerating the need for this, and is trying to build it up as an emotional case.”

What is at stake here, in Clarke’s interpretation, is the legal precedent set by the case. He said that Comey was looking for a legal battle, and that if they really wanted to the NSA could crack the phone open. That’s mostly beside the point. “Every expert I know believes that the NSA can crack this phone,” he asserted. “They [the FBI] want a precedent that the government can compel a computer device manufacturer to allow the government in.”

Counterterrorism Expert: ‘FBI Are on Their Own’