I see that the US Congress is to investigate Chinese equipment suppliers Huawei and ZTE to see whether they present a threat to US national security. According to PC World, the House Intelligence Committee wants to:
“examine if Huawei’s and ZTE’s expansion into the U.S. market gives the Chinese government an opportunity to hijack the nation’s infrastructure to conduct espionage. U.S. lawmakers worry that the networking equipment sold could secretly contain Chinese military technology to spy and interfere with U.S. telecommunications.”
Huawei has many links to the Chinese Government and its security apparatus. As Jeffrey Carr summarises the key facts as follows:
- The company’s founder Ren Zhengfei was an engineer in the PLA prior to forming his company.
- The company’s chairwoman Sun Yafang worked for the Ministry of State Security and while there helped arrange loans for Huawei before joining the company as an employee.
- The government of China is Huawei’s biggest customer; specifically the State-owned telecommunications services.
- Huawei equipment is used to intercept communications in China for state-mandated monitoring.
Nevertheless, despite this its products are already widely used in the UK’s infrastructure particularly given its role in providing key components to BT. I have expressed concern about this before and back in 2006 Newsweek recorded the Conservative Party’s concerns, saying:
“Political conservatives in Britain expressed the same security concerns about Huawei last spring. In April, the company won a $140 million contract to build part of British Telecom’s “21st Century Network,” a major overhaul of its equipment. But when rumors began circulating that the Chinese company might then bid on Marconi, a landmark electronics and information technology firm that was being put up for sale, a Conservative Party spokesman sounded the alarm. The Tories asked the British government to consider the implications for Britain’s defense industry of a Chinese takeover of Marconi. In the end, Huawei didn’t make an offer, and the Swedish telecom giant Ericsson is in the process of buying Marconi.”
Huawei continue to try and expand their access to the UK infrastructure market – see, for example, their wooing of Mayor Boris Johnson with an offer to provide mobile phone infrastructure for the Underground in time for the London Olympics. In August, they recruited the former Government chief information officer, John Suffolk.
Their latest move to gain respectability is to sponsor a charity Christmas concert in support of The Prince’s Trust at the Royal Festival Hall next month, to which they have invited large numbers of senior Government officials and Parliamentarians.
No doubt, Huawei will say they are much-maligned, but I do wonder whether a UK Parliamentary Committee shouldn’t be following the lead of the US House Intelligence Committee and launch an investigation into the company’s growing influence in the UK and any possible implications for security.