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US panel: China tech giants pose security threat

By Matthew Pennington

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Oct. 7 2012 5:55 p.m. MDT

In Washington, Huawei executive Plummer said Friday the company cooperated in good faith with the investigation, which he said had not been objective and amounted to a "political distraction" from cyber-security problems facing the entire industry.

All major telecommunications firms, including those in the West, develop and manufacture equipment in China and overlapping supply chains require industry-wide solutions, he added. Singling out China-based firms wouldn't help.

Plummer complained that the volume of information sought by the committee was unreasonable, and it had demanded some proprietary business information that "no responsible company" would provide.

In justifying its scrutiny of the Chinese companies, the committee contended that Chinese intelligence services, as well as private companies and other entities, often recruit those with direct access to corporate networks to steal trade secrets and other sensitive proprietary data.

It warned that malicious hardware or software implants in 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.

The committee concluded that Huawei likely has substantially benefited from the support of the Chinese government.

Huawei denies being financed to undertake research and development for the Chinese military, but the committee says it has received internal Huawei documentation from former employees showing the company provides special network services to an entity alleged to be an elite cyber-warfare unit within the People's Liberation Army.

The intelligence committee recommended that the government's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, bar mergers and acquisitions by both Huawei and ZTE. A multi-agency regulatory panel chaired by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, CFIUS screens foreign investment proposals for potential national security threats.

Last year, Huawei had to unwind its purchase of a U.S. computer company, 3Leaf Systems, after it failed to win CFIUS approval. However, Huawei employs 1,700 people in the U.S., and business is expanding. U.S. revenues rose to $1.3 billion in 2011, up from $765 million in 2010.

ZTE has also enjoyed growth in its sale of mobile devices, although in recent months it has faced allegations about banned sales of U.S.-sanctioned computer equipment to Iran. The FBI is probing reports that the company obstructed a U.S. Commerce Department investigation into the sales.

The intelligence panel says ZTE refused to provide any documents on its activities in Iran, but did provide a list of 19 individuals who serve on the Chinese Communist Party committee within the company. ZTE's citing of China's state secrecy laws for limiting information it could release only added to concern over Chinese government influence over its operations, the report says.

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