A report from Reuters said that there is no clear evidence that China’s largest telecom company, Huawei Technologies Ltd, had attempted spying for Beijing after the White House reviewed the alleged security risks stated in last week’s congressional announcement.
The White House-led review submitted its conclusion early this year declaring that Huawei’s involvement in the U.S. communication infrastructure can be risky situation as it can create some vulnerabilities that hackers can then exploit. The findings of this unreported review reinforces the congressional report that caution the U.S. government and private businesses against doing business with the Chinese firm.
However, the White House review can also dispute the claims of the congressional panel that Huawei has been caught spying for China.
Caitlin Hayden, the White House National Security Council spokesperson said: “The White House has not conducted any classified inquiry that resulted in clearing any telecom equipment supplier.”
According to people familiar with the issue, the White House had directed intelligence agencies as well as other government agencies in this classified inquiry about reports of suspicious activity by Huawei. They were also told to ask detailed questions of almost a thousand telecom equipment buyers around the country.
Huawei said it was not aware that it was being investigated previously but said the conclusion that it is not directly spying for China is no surprise at all.
The congressional panel composed of both Democratic and Republican leaders said that Huawei could potentially spy for Beijing using its installed gears on wireless network across the country. The committee was also quick to note the inability of Huawei’s leadership to give satisfying details about its relationships with the Chinese military and government.
Huawei’s chief executive, Ren Zhenfei, is a retired Chinese army personnel. The Chinese Commerce Ministry criticized the panel’s conclusion, calling it “groundless”.
Another Chinese firm targeted by the panel is ZTE, a smaller Chinese firm also dealing with networking gear around the world. It said that it has never been involved in causing any security problems in countries it operates.
“We believe our equipment is safe,” ZTE spokesman David Dai Shu said. “ZTE recognizes and fully respects the obligation to protect national security of all countries in which ZTE’s equipments are deployed.”
The report submitted by the House Intelligence Committee did not give any strong evidence that either or both ZTE and Huawei has spied for China. The panel also submitted a classified annex that it said gave “significantly more information adding to the committee’s concerns” on the risks the United States may have to deal with.
There had been speculations forming about the annex as the panel’s Chairman Mike Rogers and other intelligence officials provided some hints that indeed, Huawei is actively spying for its mother country.
Although no concrete evidence was found in the White House review, which interestingly, did not become a “smoking gun” earlier, government officials familiar with the matter said that U.S. agencies’ main concern is the capability for future spying or sabotage.
Former CIA analysts on China Chris Johnson said that U.S. officials had “a general sense of foreboding” after the White House-sponsored review on what can potentially happen if China will request assistance in engaging in espionage acts.
“If the Chinese government approached them, why would they say no, given their system?” he said.
Interviews conducted by Reuters on more several top ranking current and former U.S. government officials and contractors voiced unanimous agreement that the Chinese telecom firms can pose risks if allowed to install their equipment. Basically, the company can send critical malwares that filter large amount of communications information, or even shut down networks in times of conflicts.
Security analysts and cyber experts have raised issues about the many vulnerabilities on Huawei equipment that can be exploited by third parties or government agents. Poor programming and procedures on Huawei routers are said to be five times higher than routers of, say, Cisco, according to Felix Lindner, a network equipment security expert.