FBI Director James Comey testifying before the House Judiciary Committee.
Photograph by Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
March 24, 2016

The U.S. government claimed more than a dozen times in court filings that it could open the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone only with Apple’s (aapl) help. “The undisputed evidence,” it asserted two weeks ago, “is that the FBI cannot unlock [Syed Rizwan] Farook’s phone without Apple’s assistance.”

That, we learned Monday, was not true.

On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal used an F word in a tough editorial questioning the government’s credibility. It called the showdown “reckless” and accused the Justice Department of rushing to “legal war with dubious theories.”

“Justice also fibbed,” it added a few paragraphs later, “by saying the Apple case is about one phone.”

That got FBI Director James Comey’s attention.

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“You are simply wrong to assert that the FBI and the Justice Department lied about our ability to access the San Bernardino killer’s phone,” he wrote in a letter to the editor Wednesday. “I’m not embarrassed to admit that all technical creativity does not reside in government. Lots of folks came to us with ideas” [about how to crack the San Bernardino iPhone].

 

 

OK, Director Comey. But you’ve changed the subject. The “fib” to which Journal was clearly referring was the government’s claim, made repeatedly in those same court filings, that it was only interested in cracking the San Bernardino case, not in setting a precedent. Nobody believes that anymore.

The whole thing stinks.

“When the FBI lies it’s a ‘fib,'” quipped Daring Fireball‘s John Gruber. “When you lie to the FBI it’s a ‘felony.'”

The late I. F. Stone, my favorite independent journalist of the Cold War era, had some choice words on that subject.

“All governments lie,” he wrote in In a Time of Torrent: 1961-1967. “But disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.”

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