The “Huawei threat” is in the news a lot. A good example is this recent Washington Times’ story–Pentagon Fears Listening Posts From China.
Today the Huffington Post, whose coverage of China tends to be so strident that one might wonder if Arianna Huffington is testing out a “Yellow Peril 2.0” theme, has a critical article about Texas Governor Rick Perry–Rick Perry, the Man from Huawei.
I have a theory as to why Huawei is so mistrusted. The accusations about it may be true; I have no way of verifying them. But an article from the Sept 2011 Issue of Vanity Fair about plans in the late 90s to build a telecom network in Afghanistan–9/11: The Tapping Point–may shed light on what the US government is worried about:
“…electronic modifications concealed within the circuitry would have allowed every call and every e-mail emanating from Afghanistan to be relayed without interference to N.S.A. headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. “This project was a dream,” says one former senior F.B.I. counterterrorism specialist who knew about the scheme at the time…
By building extra circuits into all the new network’s equipment, it would be possible to ensure that anytime anyone used a phone in Afghanistan the call could be monitored at a “duplicate exchange” at Fort Meade. The N.S.A. would capture the name of the subscriber and the number being called, and the call would be digitally recorded or, if desired, heard by American intelligence officers live, in real time. “The capability we would have had would have been very good,” a former N.S.A. official says of Operation Foxden. “Had this network been built with the technology that existed in 2000, it would have been a priceless intelligence asset.”
Is the mistrust of Huawei in part rooted in the fact that the US government knows exactly how telecommunications and networking services can be compromised, and assumes that any country with the capability would want to do the same? And is that really an incorrect assumption? Why wouldn’t any country do this if it could, no matter who the shareholders are in the telecommunications and networking firms?
Huawei has hired Burson-Marsteller to perform a corporate image makeover, including generating warm and fuzzy articles like Bloomberg Businessweek’s recent At Huawei, CTO Matt Bross Tries to Ease U.S. Security Fears. The firm has also ramped its DC lobbying efforts, all to no avail. CFIUS and the military/intelligence services are unlikely to be swayed by Huawei’s lobbying and public relations dollars.