FBI Director James Comey signaled he has no plans to resign despite once again being at the center of a political storm — this time over probes into Russian hacking of the 2016 election and his request that Justice Department officials reject President Donald Trump’s claims that his predecessor “tapped” his phones.
“You’re stuck with me for about another six and a half years,” Comey said Wednesday at a cybersecurity conference in Boston, referring to the time remaining in his 10-year appointment to the post.
Trump claimed — without offering evidence — in tweets on Saturday that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower in New York during the campaign, a charge refuted by Obama aides and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Comey wanted the Justice Department to publicly rebut the claim, according to a U.S. official who requested anonymity in order to discuss sensitive issues, but the department so far has remained silent.
Comey didn’t address the controversy during his speech, which was focused on cybersecurity threats, or in response to questions from the audience afterward.
But he said hacking attacks are moving beyond just stealing money and data to affect the U.S. economy and security. “They’re increasingly attacks on our fundamental rights — the rights guaranteed to us as free people especially here in this great country,” Comey said at the conference hosted by the FBI and Boston College.
Comey called on companies to report hacking attacks to the FBI and develop relationships with the bureau before attacks happen. “The majority of intrusions in this country are not reported to us,” he said.
Companies shouldn’t retaliate by trying to hack back against their attackers, Comey said. “Don’t do it; it’s a crime,” Comey said. “It’s not only against the law but it runs the risk of tremendous confusion in a crowded space.”
Comey also complained about the increasing ease with which smartphones and other devices encrypt the contents of their data.
From October to December 2016, about 1,200 of 2,800 devices seized by law enforcement couldn’t be accessed by FBI personnel due to encryption, Comey said. “The advent of default, ubiquitous strong encryption is making more and more of the room in which the FBI investigates dark,” he said.
WikiLeaks released documents and files on Tuesday alleging that CIA hackers have developed tools letting them break into devices to monitor conversations and messages before they can be encrypted.
Comey didn’t comment on the disclosure. But he said using hacking tools to break into phones isn’t always efficient or dependable. “While having other technical tools can be useful, it’s incredibly expensive and it doesn’t scale,” he said. “It can’t be used broadly because it’s perishable.”
(c) 2017, Bloomberg · Chris Strohm