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Podcast: Michael Hayden on why the US is safer with 'unbreakable encryption'

On this episode of The Cybersecurity Podcast, New America's Peter Singer and Passcode's Sara Sorcher interview Michael Hayden, a former NSA and CIA director, and Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill. 

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    Former director of the National Security Agency and CIA Michael Hayden.
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Apple's refusal to help the FBI access the iPhone of a San Bernardino shooter has become flashpoint in the long-simmering encryption debate.

The encryption debate has, so far, largely pitted tech companies and privacy advocates arguing in favor of stronger default security for consumer devices – against law enforcement and intelligence officials who want to ensure there are ways around it for their investigations. 

But retired four-star Gen. Michael Hayden, who formerly led the National Security Agency and CIA, breaks with many other fellow national security hawks on this issue. 

"American security – if you truly understand the rich, full meaning of security – is better served with unbreakable, end-to-end encryption," Mr. Hayden told New America's Peter Singer and Passcode's Sara Sorcher on the latest edition of The Cybersecurity Podcast.

The episode was recorded earlier this month and released Tuesday.

Since then, the Justice Department has sought to compel Apple to build new software to help investigators get around built-in security measures to access the content of the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, who, along with his wife, killed 14 people in a December attack. It has suggested Apple cares more about its own business and marketing strategy than the needs of national security.

Tim Cook, Apple's chief executive officer, insists complying with this request would amount to building a backdoor into his products that is simply "too dangerous to create" – that such a tool could be used to get around the default strong encryption and security measures on all sorts of Apple devices.

For his part, Hayden says he's sympathetic to FBI Director James Comey's complaints about "going dark" as encryption becomes stronger and more pervasive.

"I get that from time to time, [encryption] will make law enforcement more difficult," Hayden said. However, he stresses, "we are not required to organize our entire national life around the needs of American law enforcement." 

What's more, Hayden is also sympathetic to the concerns of American business – for national security reasons. 

Hayden also said he's learned from his past experience that the NSA "for the success of its security mission was more dependent on the health of the American computing industry than any transient, tactical operational advantage we might enjoy against one particular adversary." 

Hayden joined The Cybersecurity Podcast to talk about his new book, "Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror," which came out Tuesday.

Now a principal at The Chertoff Group, Hayden discusses the need to balance national security secrets and the public's right to government transparency, his reaction after Edward Snowden revealed details from mass surveillance programs he started, and why he's siding in favor of strong encryption for consumers.  

Also joining this episode is Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill, who talks about "Privacy Shield," the new agreement governing transatlantic data flow agreement between the US and European countries. They also discuss why Europeans think America is the "Wild West" when it comes to privacy policies, what more companies can do to ensure they are respecting consumers' rights, and what's at stake for privacy with the burgeoning Internet of Things.

The podcast is cohosted by Peter W. Singer, strategist at the New America think tank and author of "Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know," and Sara Sorcher, deputy editor of The Christian Science Monitor's Passcode. It is available for download on iTunes and on Stitcher

You can find more information about the podcast on Passcode's long-form storytelling platform. Bookmark New America's SoundCloud page for new episodes or sign up for Passcode below. 

On the last podcast episode, Chris Young of Intel Security talks about why the US needs a Cyber National Guard. He and Chris Wysopal of Veracode discussed hacker culture, the growing threat from the Internet of Things, and the suspected cyberattack on the Ukrainian power grid.

In a previous episode, White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel talked about the Obama administration's plans for sanctions to prevent online attacks, whether he's optimistic about the recent agreement between Washington and China to prevent cyberespionage, and how the White House reacted to the massive Office of Personnel Management hack. He was joined by John McAfee, the security pioneer who just founded his own political party – the Cyber Party – and is running for President of the United States.

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