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Expert Says NSA Can Open the San Bernardino Shooter’s iPhone

Apple logo reflected on the glass of its store.Photograph by Jewel Samad—AFP via Getty Images

Counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke thinks the FBI has ulterior motives in its encryption dispute with Apple (AAPL).

Clarke is a former White House official who served as the National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counterterrorism for a period during his 30 year career. In an interview on “Morning Edition” with NPR host David Greene, he said that he thinks if the FBI had asked, the National Security Agency could have already opened the encrypted iPhone belonging to San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, Newsweek reports.

The phone is at the center of a debate between Apple and the FBI regarding encryption. The FBI wants Apple to create a new software tool that would unlock the phone, a request that Apple argues is both unconstitutional and dangerous. Clarke expressed belief that the FBI’s motive in this debate isn’t simply that it wants to open the phone, because if that were the case it could approach the NSA.

“Every expert I know believes the NSA could crack this phone,” Clarke told Greene. “[The FBI and the Department of Justice] want the precedent that the government can compel a computer device manufacturer to allow [them] in.” This case could go to the Supreme Court and, if the FBI comes out victorious, set a legal precedent that would allow the agency to request similar services from tech companies in the future.

Clarke reminded Greene that the courts have previously ruled that computer code constitutes speech, supporting, so if the FBI forces Apple to write code to open the phone, it would be a violation of free speech.