James Comey Says 'Dozens' Of Terrorists Have Eluded The FBI Thanks To Encryption

from the 0-999-TERRORISTS-UNSURVEILLED dept

The administration won't back FBI Director James Comey's push for encryption backdoors. Neither will Congress, at least not at this point. (But just give 'em one terrorist attack…) Former intelligence officials have written off backdoored encryption as a lost cause, if not a genuinely bad idea. But Comey continues to peddle his "gone dark" future to whoever will listen. In this case, it was the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

The Committee wanted a ballpark estimate of the "going dark" problem. Comey delivered, with an answer both incredibly vague and completely underwhelming.

The De­part­ment of Justice has in the past de­murred when asked to ap­prox­im­ate the scale of what of­fi­cials of­ten call the “go­ing dark prob­lem.” But pressed by com­mit­tee chair­man Ron John­son on how many ter­ror sus­pects his agents have ac­tu­ally lost track of be­cause of en­cryp­tion, Comey on Wed­nes­day gave the closest thing to a stat­ist­ic that the de­part­ment has pub­licly shared.

“Prob­ably the best num­ber I can give in an open set­ting is dozens,” Comey said.
It's a great answer, if you like unverifiable claims that suggest anywhere from 24 to hundreds of terrorists are now operating beyond the reach of subpoenas and national security letters. (Although you'd think if it was hundreds, Comey would have said hundreds.) This answer is about as precise as the "0-999" bands the government forces private companies to use when reporting government requests for user data. What it isn't, however, is a ringing endorsement of Comey's "going dark" narrative. Not that one committee member didn't try to help out Comey with his story.
John­son seemed taken aback at the re­sponse and moved on to ask an­oth­er ques­tion. Later, he re­turned to the FBI dir­ect­or’s an­swer.

“I’m a little con­cerned about num­bers, but I will say, I’m sur­prised if it is only a couple dozen people who have been in­spired by so­cial me­dia and then moved in­to en­cryp­ted ac­counts,” John­son said.
Whatever the number actually is, it's high enough for Comey. And high enough for Johnson. And, coincidentally, it's also the same (approximate) number of potential ISIS recruits the FBI has managed to "disrupt," according to Comey.
FBI counterterrorism agents followed dozens of potential militants around the United States full time over the summer and disrupted activities pursued by many of them, FBI Director James Comey told a congressional committee on Thursday.
Comey also told the committee this:
He said Islamic State militants had become expert at attracting potential recruits through social media pitches, and had mastered how to coax promising recruits into using private communications channels.

“When they find a live one, they will move them off Twitter, and move them to an end-to-end encrypted messaging app,” Comey said. He said without a court order, the FBI could not read such encrypted message traffic.
This statement makes it sound as though "going dark" isn't a problem with technology, but a problem with paperwork. Either the FBI's used to getting this stuff without it, or having suspects fall off the social media grid makes obtaining court orders a little more difficult. Either way, it doesn't exactly sound like punching holes in encryption is the only way the FBI can stay abreast of the latest in terrorist chatter.


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  • icon
    Ehud Gavron (profile), 13 Oct 2015 @ 7:59am

    The FBI can't read its own emails?

    The only ISIS recruits the FBI finds are the ones it creates. Surely it can read its side of those emails.

    Perhaps the FBI and Director Comey should remember that the FBI's mission is to investigate and solve CRIMES not terrorism. We have other agencies that do that.

    E

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:32pm

      Re: The FBI can't read its own emails?

      Terrorism is the use of fear to affect policy.

      Director Comey is using fear to affect policy.

      We may have other agencies to combat terrorism, but in this case the FBI is conveniently close by.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Blackfiredragon13 (profile), 13 Oct 2015 @ 2:38pm

      Re: The FBI can't read its own emails?

      They kinda "forget" that stuff, same you "forget" you were the one who broke an extremely valuable that has run through your family so that your relatives won't go and put your severed hea on a pike.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 13 Oct 2015 @ 11:56am

    Inconceivable!

    What exactly is FBI Director James Comey's definition of terrorist?

    He keeps using that word. I don't think it means what he thinks it means.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:39pm

      Re: Inconceivable!

      Anybody that isn't a patriot?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:50pm

        Re: Re: Inconceivable!

        Then how do you define "Patriot?"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:53pm

          Re: Re: Re: Inconceivable!

          Anyone who is a statist and/or fascist...

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Techanon, 13 Oct 2015 @ 10:08pm

          Re: Re: Re: Inconceivable!

          Anybody that isn't a terrorist.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 13 Oct 2015 @ 10:38pm

          Those in charge are always right, and they're always right because they're in charge

          That's easy.

          Do you agree with and support everything the government does and/or says?

          If yes, then you're a patriot.
          If no, then you're at the very least a potential terrorist, and need to be put under constant surveillance.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2015 @ 2:54am

            Re: Those in charge are always right, and they're always right because they're in charge

            Which is hilarious considering the DHS is teaching police that the founding fathers were terrorists and anyone that respects them cannot be trusted and does not deserve to have any rights

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bergman (profile), 14 Oct 2015 @ 6:32pm

        Re: Re: Inconceivable!

        The Sons of Liberty were patriots, and if faced with the world we live in and the governmental abuses we have, the Sons would already be shooting.

        By the modern definition of terrorist, most of the Founders of the country were terrorists. Under current US policy that anyone who violently rebels is not a legitimate nation even if they win, the US would not have recognized itself as a legitimate nation back in 1776.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 5:33pm

      Re: Inconceivable!

      Anyone that is not for him and his ideals is a terrorist.

      Same old thing as communist or whatever buzzword you want to use.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 11:59am

    Dozens of terrorists escaping surveillance and no bombs going boom, something doesn't add up here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 5:36pm

      Re:

      peaceful protesting and questioning your government about what it does is considered low level terrorism by the American government.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    MadAsASnake (profile), 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:00pm

    Why, exactly, would getting a warrant or court order be an issue? I mean if they are actually terrorists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:11pm

    I'm not sure if Comey is bothered by the dozens of terrorists more than the millions of US citizens, all of whom are potential terrorists in his opinion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:13pm

    If we can't read their messages how do we know they're terrorists? And if we know they're terrorists, why haven't they been arrested?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sigalrm (profile), 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:45pm

      Re:

      "And if we know they're terrorists, why haven't they been arrested?"

      Because the parallel construction experts can't come up with plausible scenarios fast enought?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:15pm

    Wow, terror groups in the US

    The only terror producing group that I am aware of operating on US soil is the government. What are you doing about them Mr. Comey? Aiding and abetting?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:39pm

      Re: Wow, terror groups in the US

      Maybe what he's really saying here is that only ~24 people in the US government have implemented end-to-end encryption for which his department doesn't have a key?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:20pm

    The solution is simple.

    Stop teaching your fake terrorist how to use it!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:22pm

    Yeah, okay...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:36pm

    Dozens?

    Then why hasn't there been dozens of bombs and other terrorist acts happening due to those dozens of terrorists that have eluded the FBI due to encryption.

    Methinks a far better question to ask Mr Comey is
    "How many terrorist act were not prevented due to encryption?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 13 Oct 2015 @ 1:46pm

      Re: Dozens?

      Actually, a better question would be how many potential crimes ranging from financial fraud to personal, religious or other persecution, stalking and whatever else have been avoided due to encryption. Crimes that would have taken place if Comey had the situation he wanted.

      I somehow think that the average American is more at risk from more general fraud and abuse than they are from terrorism, yet he wants protection from these things removed to make his job easier to perform without having to follow due process.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:39pm

    Comey is a lying idiot , how this guy got employed by anyone let alone our country is a mystery to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:48pm

      Re:

      Because it's not about what you know, it's about who you know.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 13 Oct 2015 @ 6:38pm

      Re:

      He was employed because he's a lying idiot, not in spite of it. Finding someone who can lie well, no matter who they're talking to, is a valuable thing when you've got no truth, only lies to peddle.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:43pm

    Is that analogous to the "dozens of terrorists" that the FBI has "already caught"?

    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130208/12264121921/fbi-stops-yet-another-its-own-terrori st-threats.shtml

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Fin, 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:51pm

    Has it occurred to then to infiltrate such a group, build their trust and learn who is behind this and who in the US is helping them.... You know old school stuff that still works the same as it did before encryption.... Or is that to much like doing what the public expect.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mark Wing, 13 Oct 2015 @ 12:57pm

    Encryption slightly hinders mass surveillance. That's all this is about. The Snowden documents showed that on the contrary to "going dark," our government agencies are enjoying surveillance capabilities they never dreamed of before 9/11.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 1:03pm

    Right. Because terrorists provide absolutely no other warning signs which can be detected by traditional law-enforcement methods.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Justme, 13 Oct 2015 @ 1:29pm

    Fear mongering.

    The level of fear mongering over this is insane! They need to accept one simple truth, regardless of any legal, social, or technical obstacle's you put in place; people who want to communicate privately will will find a way!

    So he is really just chasing his own tail. . . while advocating something that will make the majority of people less secure and not an anyway prevent people from communicating in a manner that is not accessible to law enforcement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 1:35pm

    Unlike a lot of people here, I think Comey is right about encryption making parts of the world go dark to the FBI. Everything is about trade-offs though and I think it would be pretty hard to argue that the problems with strong encryption are greater than the benefits of strong encryption.

    Comey isn't ever going to admit that. Like Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TDR, 13 Oct 2015 @ 1:42pm

    As we like to say here at Techdirt, Mr. Comey:

    [citation needed]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 1:44pm

    Us: So can you give us a single example of a terrorist attack that encryption would have stopped? It's not like terrorist attacks happen every day.

    Them: I can but that's classified information. Can you tell us why encryption is so important?

    Us: We can but that's classified information.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 3:24pm

    FBI counterterrorism agents followed dozens of potential militants...


    You have to be very careful here in the way the FBI describes 'potential militants'. Anyone using encryption is a potential. That's pretty much what DHS put out in their 'see something say something' definitions of potential terrorists activities.

    I'd not think it hard to come up with dozens under that description and be on the conservative side of the estimation. That doesn't mean these individuals are terrorists, it merely means the definition of the word has been adjusted so they can get satisfactory numbers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 4:11pm

    He said without a court order, the FBI could not read such encrypted message traffic


    Un, it's pretty clear that Comey said the FBI could not read such traffic with a court order.That's what they've been talking about over and over. So maybe rawstory has a typo here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2015 @ 12:29am

      Re:

      Then the FBI is lying. Because they would rather use "national security" to hide their 'evidence' than have it stand up to legal principles.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 4:15pm

    1) Terrorism
    2) Children
    3) File-sharing

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mark Wing, 13 Oct 2015 @ 4:17pm

    Setting aside the utter pointlessness and futility of his give-up-your-rights-or-the-terrorists-win all-or-nothing ideology, all this is really just fueling innovation.

    Attacks on encryption put evolutionary pressure on it, just like the attacks on copyright infringement have done and are still doing.

    The future of privacy is scary: trusted compilers compiling trusted software and executing trusted instructions on the tamper-proof CPUs, running on trusted computers connected to trusted networks. And then, still wondering if the eye of Sauron is watching you, or if those nude pictures of your girlfriend made it to the web--again.

    Also, keep in mind some of these attacks on privacy are more insidious than they seem. One way to undermine encryption is to undermine the public's trust in it. You don't need a back door to do that. In fact, all you have to do is keep saying "back door" in virtually any context and many people will become apathetic and stop using it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 4:37pm

    New headlines for this article

    James Comey Says 'Dozens' Of Terrorists Have Eluded The FBI Thanks To Motor Vehicles.
    or
    James Comey Says 'Dozens' Of Terrorists Have Eluded The FBI Thanks To Aeroplanes.
    or
    James Comey Says 'Dozens' Of Terrorists Have Eluded The FBI Thanks To Pencils and Paper.
    or
    James Comey Says 'Dozens' Of Terrorists Have Eluded The FBI Thanks To Electricity.
    or
    James Comey Says 'Dozens' Of Terrorists Have Eluded The FBI Thanks To Books.
    or
    James Comey Says 'Dozens' Of Terrorists Have Eluded The FBI Thanks To Cross Border Traffic.

    All of the above and any other variations make just as much sense. The real reason is
    James Comey Says 'Dozens' Of Terrorists Have Eluded The FBI Thanks To Our Own Incompetence at Investigating Crime.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 5:03pm

    Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.
    Ben Franklin

    We have met the enemy and he is us.
    Walt Kelly

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 5:31pm

    Ignoring the amount of terrorists working for the FBI of course. be it directly or as paid informants.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 13 Oct 2015 @ 6:50pm

    What a unique and not in any way familiar problem...

    “When they find a live one, they will move them off Twitter, and move them to an end-to-end encrypted messaging app,” Comey said. He said without a court order, the FBI could not read such encrypted message traffic.

    It must be hard for the government spy agencies, I mean, it's not like encryption or private messaging has ever occurred before...

    “When they find a live one, they will move them off the phone/mail, and move them to in-person, private talks,” Comey said. He said without a court order, the FBI could not plant bugs to listen in.

    People, including criminals of various types, have been able to communicate privately without someone listening in before this point, and yet somehow society and the world yet remain intact. They don't get to outlaw and bar private communications just because they're not being allowed to satisfy their voyeuristic fetishes without the involvement of a court.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    saulgoode (profile), 13 Oct 2015 @ 8:58pm

    Was he misquoted (or paraphrased)?

    When they find a live one, they will move them off Twitter, and move them to an end-to-end encrypted messaging app,” Comey said. He said without a court order, the FBI could not read such encrypted message traffic.
    Without a court order, the FBI should not be reading message traffic whether it's encrypted or not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      GEMont, 15 Oct 2015 @ 11:04pm

      Re: Was he misquoted (or paraphrased)?

      "When they find a live one, they will move them off Twitter, and move them to an end-to-end encrypted messaging app,” Comey said. He said without a court order, the FBI could not read such encrypted message traffic."

      I would like very much to know just exactly how Mister Comey knows this to be true when he admits that he cannot follow the "live ones" and their "trainers" onto the "end-to-end encrypted messaging app, without a court order".

      Did the agency just get a court order.
      If that is so, then what is the problem?

      If that is not so, then how the hell does Comey know where the Terrorist Recruiters take their recruits?

      ---

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 9:06pm

    This going dark narrative has been a complete disaster for the USG because if you even look at it slightly closely the whole thing just crumbles into pieces.

    Encryption is a direct common sense result of a government breaking their own 4th amendment domestically and more broadly arbitrarily spying on the worlds global internet traffic.

    At this point if it's not encrypted, your doing it wrong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 9:39pm

    4th of July has been cancelled next year Comey has arrested 9000 firecracker slinging kids(terrorists) in the name of patriotism .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2015 @ 10:01pm

    Riding bareback on social media without encryption is just begging to be quantum inserted. The FBI loves inserting their junk into unencrypted connections.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    spodula, 14 Oct 2015 @ 12:40am

    FBI chief in talks out of his ass Shocker!

    more News at 11....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2015 @ 7:55am

    Court Order?

    "...without a court order, the FBI could not read such encrypted message traffic."

    A court order to do what...enhanced interrogate people? Encryption is uninfluenced by the orders of a court.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2015 @ 1:22pm

    Literally any made up story besides "we want to see what you're hiding". Keep up the fight for your job Comey...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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