FBI director James Comey is caught in the middle of several political storms related to the bureauâÂÂs investigation into RussiaâÂÂs election meddling and his rebuke of President TrumpâÂÂs dubious claim that former President Obama tapped his phones.Â On March 20th,Â Comey is scheduled to testify before Congress, but Democrats on theÂ House and Senate IntelligenceÂ CommitteesÂ accuse him of withholding informationÂ about related investigations into Donald Trump's alleged ties to Russia.
Still, speaking at a cyber conference in early March at Boston College, Comey made clear that he has no intention of stepping down.Â FBI directors are appointed to 10-year terms.Â And if there's any speculation whether ComeyÂ will complete his,Â he was unequivocal. âÂÂYouâÂÂre stuck with me for about another six and a half years,âÂÂ he said.
Comey was speaking to an audience of business leaders, lawÂ enforcementÂ officials, academics and students at a cyber-securityÂ conference.Â He laid outÂ the bureauâÂÂsÂ strategyÂ forÂ combat cyber threats, which includesÂ going after state actors.
âÂÂThink, China, Russia, Iran, North Korea,âÂÂ Comey told this audience.Â
But he said successfully counteringÂ cyber threats depends on the American intelligence community being on the same page. âÂÂThe first thing we need to do is to make sure weâÂÂre clear inside the government on who has what responsibilities," Comey said.Â "And at the end of President ObamaâÂÂs administration he offered us the clarity that so many of us wanted that makes good sense.âÂÂ
With that statement, Comey seemed to be implying that the signals coming from the current White House are far less clear.Â
ComeyÂ warned that the threat of cyber-crime was growing and asked participants to assist the FBI in decrypting massive amounts of information that remain inaccessible.Â
âÂÂThereâÂÂs always been a corner of the room where the FBI operates where sophisticated actors were who had access to encryption,âÂÂ he added.Â
The ability to mask cyber crime has become more sophisticated since the Edward Snowden incident, said Comey, adding that cyber criminals, including pedophiles and increasingly terrorists, are protected by ubiquitous strong encryption software. Many experts believe that the FBIâÂÂs claims are overblown, but Comey said that in just three months the agency has received 2800Â devices resulting from a court order and âÂÂtwelve-hundred of those devices we could not open with any technique.Â Any technique.âÂÂ Â
But the main cyber question on the minds of many at the sold out conference is what will the FBI uncover about Russian interference in the US election?Â On that James Comey had no comment.
But he had quite a bit to say about cyber crime.Â Comey laid out a strategy to counter the threat, including the recruitment of more tech savvy students and experienced professionals:
Â âÂÂCome be part of this mission,âÂÂ he implored the audience.Â Â Â Â
Comey said sophisticated cyber-attacks are coming not just from state actors like Russia and China but from terror groups and criminals who are using ransom-ware to blackmail institutions or are just bent on destruction for destruction's sake.
Â âÂÂThink about the harm someone could do by an intrusion at a blood bank,âÂÂ he said.
Conference participant Katie Stebbins, the assistant secretary for Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Massachusetts,Â has thoughtÂ about this and says she is very worried about the implications.
Â âÂÂWe should all be concerned," she said. "Security is everyoneâÂÂs concerns.Â Those are life and death situations.âÂÂÂ
That's theÂ reason, she said, why she was attending the FBIâÂÂs cyber conference.Â Abuses of software and the internet are having a far-ranging, negative impact on entities as diverse as the Democratic Party andÂ Sony PicturesÂ andÂ individuals who open the wrong link in an email.Â Millions are being hacked.Â