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Greenwald: FBI-Apple Fight Tied to U.S. Effort to Access the Communications of Everyone Everywhere

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On Monday, the Justice Department announced it has succeeded in unlocking an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters and dropped its case against Apple, ending a high-stakes legal battle but leaving a broader debate over encryption unresolved. The fight between the FBI and Apple had grown increasingly contentious as the tech giant refused to help government authorities bypass the security features of its phone. The FBI wanted Apple to build a backdoor into the phone, but Apple said such a move would put the security of other iPhones at risk, as well. The FBI’s decision to drop its case now raises new concerns about the strength of security in Apple devices given law enforcement’s ability to unlock the iPhone without Apple’s assistance. Last week, we talked to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald about the fight between the FBI and Apple, as well as Donald Trump’s embrace of torture.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, the Justice Department announced it succeeded in unlocking an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters and dropped its case against Apple, ending a high-stakes legal battle. But the news leaves a broader debate over encryption unresolved. The fight between the FBI and Apple had grown increasingly contentious as the tech giant refused to help government authorities bypass the security features of its phone. The FBI wanted Apple to build a backdoor into the phone, but Apple said such a move would put the security of other iPhones at risk, as well. The FBI’s decision to drop its case now raises new concerns about the strength of security in Apple devices given law enforcement’s ability to unlock the iPhone without Apple’s assistance.

After the Brussels bombing last week, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton delivered a major address at Stanford University and addressed the FBI-Apple fight.

HILLARY CLINTON: Impenetrable encryption provides significant cybersecurity advantages but may also make it harder for law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals to investigate plots and prevent future attacks. ISIS knows this, too. At the same time, there are legitimate worries about privacy, network security and creating new vulnerabilities that bad actors, including terrorists, can exploit. There may be no quick or magic fix. In the Apple case, the FBI may have found a workaround, but there will be future cases with different facts and different challenges, so the tech community and the government have to stop seeing each other as adversaries and start working together to protect our safety and our privacy.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaking last week after the Brussels attack.

We turn now to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept. Last week, Democracy Now!’s Nermeen Shaikh and I interviewed him and asked about this fight between FBI and Apple.

GLENN GREENWALD: One really interesting aspect of this is, a lot of people ask what really has changed as a result of Edward Snowden’s revelations, and sometimes people express the view that not much has, by which they mean that there’s not a lot of laws that have been passed limiting the NSA’s ability to spy. But one critical change, a really fundamental and significant one, has been that prior to the Snowden revelations, Silicon Valley companies, like Apple and Facebook and Google and Yahoo, were full-scale collaborators with the NSA’s effort to collect everything, essentially, to turn the Internet into an unlimited realm of surveillance. And they were able to do that because nobody knew they were doing it, and so there was no cost. Once we were able to shine a light on the cooperation between Silicon Valley and the NSA as a result of Edward Snowden, there was a huge cost to these companies, which was that people around the world would be unwilling to use their services and would instead move to South Korean or German or Brazilian social media companies that protected their privacy. And so these companies needed to say, “We are willing now to protect your privacy by putting encryption products into our products that will not let the government invade your communications and see what you’re doing.” And there is now a serious wedge between the U.S. government, on the one hand, and Silicon Valley, on the other—not because these companies suddenly care about privacy. They don’t care about privacy at all. It’s because they perceive it as being within their self-interest to demonstrate a commitment to privacy. And that has created a real difficulty for the NSA and for its allied agencies around the world to be able to intrude into people’s private communications.

The other interesting aspect of this is that in the 1990s, after the Timothy McVeigh attack on the Oklahoma City courthouse, the Clinton administration—what may be the first Clinton administration—actually initiated the campaign to demand a law that said that no one was allowed to sell encryption products unless it included a backdoor for the U.S. government to enter. And now, 20 years later, after that campaign was defeated—ironically, by the Republicans in the Senate on privacy grounds, who said, “We are not going to let the government have a backdoor into our encryption”—you have Hillary Clinton exploiting these terrorist attacks to insinuate—although she hasn’t said it outright—that there needs to be, quote, “greater cooperation between Silicon Valley and the government,” by which she can only mean greater cooperation to allow U.S. intelligence agencies access to overcome encryption and to enter people’s private communications. And so, ultimately, the question is: Do you think there should be ever any way for people, human beings, to communicate without the U.S. government being able to access that? That really is the critical question we face. And politicians like Hillary Clinton are trying to exploit the fear of terrorism to get people to say there should never be any communications out of the reach of the U.S. government.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you see is the difference between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, and also the effect that Bernie Sanders is having on Hillary Clinton’s positions?

GLENN GREENWALD: It’s interesting, because if you look at Bernie Sanders’ political career, questioning and challenging and opposing U.S. militarism and imperialism was at one point a central plank of his political identity. That was why he went to Nicaragua and Cuba and talked about U.S. interference in those regions. For whatever reason—and there may be valid reasons—he has shifted his focus away from foreign policy to income inequality and the control of the political process by Wall Street and by banks. And to the extent he talks about foreign policy and civil liberties, it’s often in this very kind of tepid way, very minor differences with the standard Democratic platform. He’s recently become again clearer and sort of more aggressive about critiquing U.S. foreign policy, as we heard in the clip that you played earlier of his criticisms of Israel. He’s become more, I think, categorical and vehement about condemning Clinton’s hawkish positions. But the difference hasn’t been all that great, because his foreign policy message has been muddled.

And to the extent that he has changed Hillary Clinton’s posture politically as a result of his primary challenge to her, there’s this common perception that he’s dragged her to the left and made her become more liberal. You know, I think it’s really critical to understand that politicians—and this is the lesson we ought to have learned from Barack Obama—what they say in political campaigns doesn’t necessarily correspond to what they actually do in—once they obtain power. And so I think the effect on Sanders has been to make Clinton’s rhetoric in the Democratic primary be a little bit more left-wing, be a little bit more attentive to liberal constituencies. But I think you see her already, now that she’s confident she’s going to beat Sanders, already moving her rhetoric more to the center, and by the time she’s a general election candidate, will almost certainly revert to the kind of right-wing posture on foreign policies and civil liberties that she’s long had and the centrist approach to economics and domestic policies, other than social issues, where she tends to be a reliable liberal.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to ask about the controversy around Trump’s statements endorsing torture tactics. Last month, speaking to HBO’s Bill Maher, former NSA and CIA director, General Michael Hayden, said the military would refuse to follow Trump’s orders on torture and extrajudicial killings.

MICHAEL HAYDEN: Let me give you a punch line. All right? If he were to order that, once in government, the American armed forces would refuse to act.

BILL MAHER: What? Oh, well, that’s—that’s quite a statement, sir.

MICHAEL HAYDEN: It’s a violation—

BILL MAHER: I thought the whole thing was, you have to follow orders.

MICHAEL HAYDEN: You cannot—you are not committed. You’re not required.


MICHAEL HAYDEN: In fact, you’re required not to follow an unlawful order.


MICHAEL HAYDEN: That would be in violation of all the international laws of armed conflict.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Then, during the Republican presidential debate earlier this month, Trump said the military could not refuse his orders. He was questioned by Fox moderator Bret Baier.

BRET BAIER: What would you do, as commander-in-chief, if the U.S. military refused to carry out those orders?

DONALD TRUMP: They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me, believe me.

BRET BAIER: But they’re illegal.

DONALD TRUMP: Let me just tell you, you look at the Middle East, they’re chopping off heads. They’re chopping off the heads of Christians and anybody else that happens to be in the way. They’re drowning people in steel cages. And he—now, we’re talking about waterboarding.

BRET BAIER: But targeting terrorists’ families?

DONALD TRUMP: And—and I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say, “Do it,” they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Glenn Greenwald, your response first to what former CIA Director Michael Hayden said and then to Trump’s endorsement of torture?

GLENN GREENWALD: It was one of the most bizarre exchanges I think I’ve witnessed in a while. I mean, Donald Trump was absolutely, and Michael Hayden, what he said, is completely absurd. The idea that the U.S. military, in mass, refuses to follow orders if they constitute illegal conduct or war crimes is negated by the entire history of this country, including very recently. You do have isolated members of the armed forces who periodically refuse on grounds of conscience or legal and moral duty. They denounce certain tactics. They resign from the military. They refuse to follow orders. But overwhelmingly, the U.S. military has been continuously willing—and not just the U.S. military but also the CIA—to engage in all sorts of war crimes and illegal behavior. Who is it who instituted the worldwide regime of torture because they were told to by the Bush administration? Or who was it that instituted a policy of kidnapping people without trial from around the world and putting them into dark black sites outside of the reach of the Red Cross and other human rights organizations? Or who is it who carpet-bombed Cambodia and Laos and Vietnam? It’s this really self-pleasing fantasy to believe that the U.S. military and intelligence services would nobly refuse to follow the orders of their commander-in-chief if they constituted war crimes and other illegal conduct. But everything in U.S. history, including as recently as the war on terror, tells us that Donald Trump is absolutely right, that in fact they would follow orders.

As far as Trump’s, you know, specific advocacy of things like torture is concerned, we talked about this earlier, but the reality is, is that what he’s advocating, although he uses words for it that are non-euphemistic and therefore sound really extreme, even radical, is actually mainstream American political and military thought. The CIA, under the same General Hayden who said, “Oh, these are war crimes, and the U.S. military would never do it,” instituted and applied a policy of waterboarding while Michael Hayden ran the CIA. A lot of those techniques were terminated by the time he took over the CIA in 2005, but many of them persisted after that. And so, again, you have Donald Trump using language a little bit more honest and non-euphemistic, but he’s advocating policies that are very much within the mainstream of the United States. And polls show that Americans largely want torture to be used when it comes to people the U.S. government regards as terrorists.

AMY GOODMAN: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept. When we come back, the state of North Carolina is sued over its sweeping new anti-gay, anti-trans law. Stay with us.

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