Why Huawei should worry Amer­ica

Pawtucket Times - - OPINION - By ELI LAKE

Bloomberg Opin­ion

When I heard the news of the ar­rest in Canada of Wanzhou Meng, Huawei’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, my thoughts turned to Al Capone.

Capone was tar­geted for run­ning Chicago’s un­der­world but was ul­ti­mately brought down for tax eva­sion. Cana­dian au­thor­i­ties de­tained Meng on what ap­pears to be Huawei’s eva­sion of U.S. sanc­tions against Iran. These are se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions, but U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have an even greater con­cern: that China’s largest tele­com com­pany will al­low the Chi­nese state to mon­i­tor the elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tions of any­one us­ing Huawei tech­nol­ogy.

This is why lead­ers of U.S. spy agen­cies in Fe­bru­ary urged Amer­i­cans not to use Huawei or ZTE phones. This is why Aus­tralia ef­fec­tively banned Huawei from help­ing build its 5G wire­less net­work this year. And this is why, in Oc­to­ber, Sens. Marco Ru­bio of Florida and Mark Warner of Vir­ginia warned Canada’s prime min­is­ter that Canada’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in joint in­tel­li­gence ac­tiv­i­ties with the U.S., the U.K., Aus­tralia and New Zealand may be cur­tailed if Canada al­lows Huawei to help build or main­tain the coun­try’s 5G wire­less net­work.

In some ways these con­cerns about Huawei are old news. In 2012, the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee re­leased a com­pre­hen­sive re­port on Huawei and ZTE that con­cluded these com­pa­nies would give China’s mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence agen­cies ac­cess to the U.S. telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion net­work. “Insert­ing ma­li­cious hard­ware or soft­ware im­plants into Chi­nese-man­u­fac­tured telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­po­nents and sys­tems headed for U.S. cus­tomers could al­low Bei­jing to shut down or de­grade crit­i­cal na­tional se­cu­rity sys­tems in a time of cri­sis or war,” it said.

Un­til re­cently, though, it was dif­fi­cult to say defini­tively that Huawei acts as an agent of the Chi­nese govern­ment. Yes, the com­pany’s founder (and Meng’s fa­ther), Ren Zhengfei, was a tech­ni­cian for the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army be­fore found­ing Huawei in 1987. And the Chi­nese govern­ment has in­vested tens of bil­lions of dol­lars in Huawei, giv­ing it a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage in the global mar­ket­place.

Not un­til China passed its Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Law and a re­lated cy­ber­se­cu­rity law in 2017, how­ever, did it be­come clear that Chi­nese com­pa­nies like Huawei are now obliged to as­sist the Chi­nese state when it comes to es­pi­onage. Many na­tions have statutes that re­quire a com­pany’s co­op­er­a­tion with law en­force­ment on na­tional se­cu­rity grounds. But the new Chi­nese laws would also com­pel cor­po­ra­tions to as­sist in of­fen­sive in­tel­li­gence oper­a­tions. Co­op­er­a­tion, says an anal­y­sis in Law­fare, would mean hand­ing over ac­cess to “key busi­ness and per­sonal data (which must be stored in China), pro­pri­etary codes, and other in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty.”

In some ways the Chi­nese are fol­low­ing the U.S. lead. As doc­u­ments dis­closed by for­mer con­trac­tor Ed­ward Snow­den re­vealed, the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency had a pro­gram to pay U.S. tele­com com­pa­nies for ac­cess to their cus­tomers’ data. The NSA has a long his­tory of co­op­er­a­tion with the first gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can tele­com com­pa­nies, such as AT&T, which gave the U.S. and its English-speak­ing al­lies a huge tech­ni­cal in­tel­li­gence ad­van­tage over the Soviet Union.

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