A former head of two intelligence agencies had a clear message on Friday for the government as it tries to get Apple to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.
“Get over it,” said Gen. Michael Hayden, a former head of the National Security Agency and the CIA under President George W. Bush. “Understand that no matter what we do with Apple, it’s going to get harder and harder to get content.”
Apple is currently defying a court order directing the tech giant to create software that would let FBI investigators unlock an iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the two terrorists who killed 14 people in California last year.
Hayden is one of a growing number of former top homeland security and intelligence officials, including ex-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who have sided with Apple in its fight against the FBI.
Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Hayden discussed his change of heart as the Apple-FBI standoff unfolded.
The former top intelligence official believes the government likely has the authority to demand what it wants from Apple, but he ultimately decided “it’s a bad idea.”
“When this began, I wanted to side with the bureau,” he said. “But the longer this has gone on, the more I’m convinced this is not a one-and-done.”
Hayden cited reports that the FBI is seeking similar help in other undisclosed cases.
“There are at least a dozen of these around the country that will immediately be brought into the courtroom and Mr. [Cyrus] Vance, the U.S. attorney up in Manhattan, says he’s got a room with 175 [phones] just waiting to go.”
And from a pure security perspective, he said, each tool created to undermine a phone’s safety measures puts another crack in global digital security.
These are the tools Hayden's NSA team used to hunt down, because they provided the easiest method to crack encryption.
Upon finding them, "my response was 'thank you, Lord,' " Hayden said.
He said forcing companies to create these tools contradicts the warnings of government officials, such as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who argue cybersecurity is the most serious threat to Americans' safety.
Instead, intelligence officials should focus on the vast amounts of digital data that is readily captured.
Although content may be increasingly impenetrable, Hayden said, there are “incredible volumes of digital exhaust blowing out there right now into the atmosphere that a good intelligence service can collect ... and glean an incredible volume of information.”
“It’s just you're not going to be able to get content,” he said.