U.S. Fears Huawei Backed Spy Network In Africa (Update)

After it “may have been all-but-barred from doing business in the U.S.” due to allegations of espionage last fall, Chinese telecommunications company Huawei continues to thrive in the African cell phone market through sales of a low-cost smartphone.  But John Reed explains in Foreign Policy that the U.S. government believes that Huawei is building a dangerous spy network that could turn the African continent into “a giant laundromat for Chinese cyber-aggression,” accusations that Huawei denies:

“There’s a great deal of concern about Huawei acting to advance the interests of the Chinese government in a strategic sense, which includes not only traditional espionage but as a vehicle for economic espionage,” former Department of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff told FP. “If you build the network on which all the data flows, you’re in a perfect position to populate it with backdoors or vulnerabilities that only you know about, you’re upgrading it, each time you upgrade the network or service it, that’s an opportunity” to install spyware.

“That’s a strategic issue for the countries in Africa and a strategic issue for us,” added Chertoff.

Huawei spokesman William Plummer called such concerns “silliness,” noting that the company “did $35 billion in business last year, 70 percent outside of China. We will not compromise our commercial success for any government.”[Source]

Plummer added that “westerners accusing Huawei of rampant spying “are looking into the ‘mirror’ of the U.S. PRISM and related programs and assuming like activity by other states.” In the podcast “Huawei in Africa: how bad journalism affects the debate,” Editor of the China Africa Project Eric Olander further argued that Reed’s article lacked evidence and  “did nothing to advance the discussion about Huawei’s growing role in Africa.”