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February 18, 2016

Apple and the U.S. government are gearing up for a public and legal battle over FBI Director James Comey's demand that Apple give the FBI a tool to break the passcode on San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook's iPhone, a tool Apple argues create a "backdoor" around the iPhone's security, putting customer privacy and safety at risk and setting a dangerous precedent in the U.S. and abroad. Google CEO Sundar Pichai sided with Apple on Wednesday, but Apple CEO Tim Cook also got a more surprising endorsement for his stand against the FBI: Gen. Michael Hayden, former NSA director (1999-2005) and CIA chief (2006-2009).

In a conversation with Wall Street Journal associate editor John Bussey posted Wednesday, Hayden said that he understands both sides of the unbreakable end-to-end encryption debate, but when it comes to demanding a backdoor, "I think Jim Comey's wrong." Comey's logic, Hayden said, "is based on the belief that he's the main body, and that you should accommodate your movements to the movements of him, which is the main body. And I'm telling you, with regard to the cyber domain, he's not — you are."

The entire debate over private encryption versus government access is like a "medieval morality play," Hayden said, and "if I were in Jim Comey's job, I'd have Jim Comey's point of view." But after taking part in these discussions inside the U.S. intelligence community since the 1990s, he told Bussey, he could win the pro–encryption argument on both national security grounds — "America is simply more secure with unbreakable end-to-end encryption" — and in a "slam dunk" when he includes the "broad health of the United States." Before you start hailing Hayden as a civil-libertarian hero, though, watch where he goes at the 6:30 mark. Peter Weber

9:55 a.m. ET
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard said Sunday it would seek "deadly and unforgettable" revenge against those responsible for an attack on a military parade that killed 25 people, including 12 guard members.

Tehran has accused Gulf Arab nations allied with the U.S. of supporting the gunmen in Saturday's assault, and Revolutionary Guard acting commander Gen. Hossein Salami again promised vengeance Monday. "You have seen our revenge before," he said in a televised speech before a funeral service for some of the attack's victims. "You will see that our response will be crushing and devastating, and you will regret what you have done."

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley pushed back Sunday on comments from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani linking the United States to the attack, suggesting it was provoked by Tehran's own policies. "I think what Rouhani needs to do is he needs to look at his own home base," she said on CNN's State of the Union. "He's oppressed his people for a long time," she continued. "I think the Iranian people have had enough, and that's where all of this is coming from."

The attack was claimed by both the Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement, an Iranian separatist group, and, without any evidence, the Islamic State. It targeted officials gathered on a viewing stand in the southwestern city of Ahvaz during an annual event held to remember the start of Iran's 1980-1988 war with Iraq. Bonnie Kristian

9:26 a.m. ET
Rod Lamkey/Getty Images

The latest battle in this year's U.S. vs. China trade war is the most brutal yet.

President Trump imposed new tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods Monday, The Washington Post reports. China has promised to respond to levies with fresh tariffs of its own, and immediately kept its word by imposing tariffs on $60 billion in American goods.

The escalating trade war, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration is "determined to win," has reached such heights that China is running out of American products to target, reports the Post. China's government accused the U.S. of "trade bullying," after canceling trade talks due to the rising economic tensions.

Trump has shown no sign of reining in the punitive duties. Pompeo predicted that "we're going to get an outcome which forces China to behave," but the Chinese government on Monday castigated the U.S. for "attempting to impose its own interests on China through extreme pressure." Trump has said that retaliatory tariffs would simply lead him to levy additional taxes on $267 billion in Chinese products. Once China runs out of American goods to hit, officials expect "qualitative" retaliation like slowing the process for visas and licenses.

Thousands of imports are now being taxed up to 10 percent, a cost absorbed by American consumers. Read more at The Washington Post. Summer Meza

8:57 a.m. ET

When Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was first accused of sexual misconduct last week by Christine Blasey Ford, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Ford should be heard. But now Conway's tone has changed.

Over the weekend, a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Ramirez told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh thrust his penis into her face at a party when they were both students at Yale University. Kavanaugh denies the allegation. Conway on Monday told CBS that the allegations are "starting to feel like a vast left-wing conspiracy."

Referring to Ramirez as the "second so-called accuser," Conway suggested to CBS that this is all a "smear campaign," also citing The New York Times' report that the paper spoke with dozens of sources and was unable to verify Ramirez's story.

Conway concluded that Kavanaugh is simply a victim of a "pent-up demand for women to get their day." Watch Conway's full interview below. Brendan Morrow

8:54 a.m. ET

On Sunday night, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh denied allegations in a New Yorker article by Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer that he had put his exposed genitals in the face of a fellow freshmen, Deborah Ramirez, during a drinking game in a Yale dorm. "The alleged event from 35 years ago did not happen," Kavanaugh said in a statement. "The people who knew me then know that this did not happen and have said so."

That's a "blunt" and "unequivocal" denial, George Stephanopoulos told Farrow on Monday's Good Morning America. Farrow agreed, noting that he and Mayer included it in their article. But "it is not accurate to say that those who knew [Kavanaugh] at the time dispute this," he said. "We wouldn't have run this if we didn't have a careful basis of people who had heard at the time and found her credible."

Still, given the denials, "at any point when you were writing this story this close to the nomination, did you sort of want to push the pause button, say, 'Are we sure this is the right thing to do?'" Stephanopoulos asked. No, Farrow said. "The evidentiary basis for this, the number of witnesses who were told at the time, is strong. It's in excess of what we typically see in this kind of investigative reporting." The two eyewitnesses who denied the event, he added, were the ones "she alleged were egging Brett Kavanaugh on."

Farrow said Ramirez didn't reach out to Senate Democrats and wants to be fair to Kavanaugh. He also said Senate Republican staffers "were indeed aware of an allegation" last week "and were concerned about it and reached out to us about that." Peter Weber

8:10 a.m. ET
Thos Robinson / Getty Images

The first time Michael Moore directed a fiery documentary about an incumbent Republican president, it made for box office gold, but the filmmaker's second attempt came up short this weekend.

Fahrenheit 11/9, the new documentary in which Moore takes on President Trump, debuted with a low $3 million, putting it in eighth place, per Box Office Mojo. That might sound somewhat decent for a documentary, but it's fairly disastrous for one that opened in as many theaters as Moore's did. It played in about 1,700 theaters, giving it a per-screen average of just $1,800.

For comparison, Moore's 2004 George W. Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 opened to $23.9 million and a per-screen average of $27,000, Box Office Mojo reports. Calculating for inflation, that's the equivalent of $31 million today. What makes matters worse is that Fahrenheit 9/11 actually opened in fewer theaters: only 868.

Still, it seems those who did go see Moore's film liked it, as CinemaScore shows that a random sampling of moviegoers from across the country gave it an "A" rating. Brendan Morrow

6:57 a.m. ET
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The Indian Ocean island nation the Maldives held a national election on Sunday, and in an upset, opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih beat incumbent President Abdulla Yameen, 134,616 votes to 96,132, according to provisional results. Yameen, accused of increasing authoritarianism, conceded, saying: "The Maldivian people have decided what they want. I have accepted the results." The election had pitted not only Yameen against Solih, but also China against India. Yameen had accepted economic aid and investment from Beijing and moved the Maldives closer to China; Solih, known as Abu, is expected to bring the nation back into India's orbit.

Solih led a coalition including his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the Jumhooree Party, and the Adhaalath Party, running on a platform of democratic reform. "The message is loud and clear," he said after the results came in. "The people of Maldives want change, peace, and justice." Yameen, who has sharply cracked down on dissent in recent months, is the half-brother of former longtime autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was jailed in June. The Maldives, made up of 1,192 islands and 26 coral atolls, is one of the countries most at risk from rising sea levels tied to climate change. Peter Weber

5:59 a.m. ET

Democrats have opened up a 12-point lead in voter preference for which party controls Congress, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds. That's up from 8 points in August and 6 points the month before that. And there are some bad numbers for Republicans in the survey: Moderates and independents favor Democrats by more than 30 points, women 50 and older by almost 20 points, and voters in competitive congressional districts by 12 points, 53 percent to 41 percent. Fifty-nine percent of voters want to see "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of change.

But there are some warning signs for Democrats, too, the poll finds. First, Republicans have nearly caught up in interest about the midterms, with 61 percent rating their interest a 9 or a 10 on a 10-point scale, versus 65 percent of Democrats. That 4-point lead for Democrats is down from 16 points in July. Also, 73 percent of senior citizens — who tend to vote, and vote more for the GOP — are very interested in the midterms versus just 35 percent of voters age 18 to 34. Younger voters tend to vote more Democratic, when they vote, which isn't often, as Daniel Nichanian notes:

Men are also more interested than women, 60 percent to 56 percent, and white voters (61 percent) more interested than black (53 percent) and Latino voters (49 percent). When NBC and the Journal winnowed the overall congressional preference down to likely voters, the Democrats' 12-point lead shrank to 8 points. The poll was conducted Sept. 16-19 among 900 voters and it has an overall margin of error of ±3.3 percentage points, or ±4 points for likely voters. Peter Weber

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