The Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer is closely linked to the Government of China.
The continuing revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency’s spying activities took a new turn this week with reports suggesting the Agency cited national security concerns to hack into the servers of Huawei, a large Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer closely linked to the Government of China.
Although Huawei has long been under the scanner of U.S. authorities, with the House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee in 2012 calling for a national economic ban against the company, weekend reports in German newspaper Der Spiegel and The New York Times revealed that the NSA created ‘backdoors’ into Huawei’s networks and covertly accessed the emails of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei among others.
The latest exposé stems from the series of documents supplied to media by whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, now on temporary asylum in Russia after fleeing the U.S. last May.
Among the documents Mr. Snowden provided were some NSA Powerpoint slides from 2010, in which an analyst wrote, “If we can determine the company’s plans and intentions we hope that this will lead us back to the plans and intentions of the PRC [People’s Republic of China].”
However the NSA went beyond this spying programme, described as “Shotgiant,” in which it sought to discover the nature of any potential links between Huawei and the Chinese government.
It also sought to “exploit Huawei’s technology so that when the company sold equipment to other countries – including both allies and nations that avoid buying American products – the NSA could roam through their computer and telephone networks to conduct surveillance and, if ordered by the President, offensive cyberoperations,” the Times wrote.
With some of the documents supplied by Mr. Snowden and originally published in The Hindu revealing that India was among the ‘high priority targets’ of surveillance, the fact that Huawei’s products are used widely in India might cause renewed consternation in New Delhi over U.S. surveillance.
The NSA slides appeared to directly corroborate such concerns, as analysts were quoted saying, “Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products… We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products… [to] gain access to networks of interest [ around the world].”
Although the NSA began targeting Huawei in early 2009 the full extent of its surveillance penetration has not been fleshed out in this level of detail until now.
However the company has for years been “blocked at every turn,” from entering U.S. markets, and although in 2012 the House Intelligence Committee conceded that there was “no evidence confirming the suspicions about Chinese government ties,” it concluded that Huawei and another company, ZTE, “must be blocked from acquisitions, takeover or mergers in the U.S. and cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence.”
William Plummer, a senior Huawei executive told the Times that the company had no idea it was an NSA target, adding that in his personal opinion, “The irony is that exactly what they are doing to us is what they have always charged that the Chinese are doing through us.”