Snowden’s Latest: NSA Targeted Huawei

As Michelle Obama spoke out last week in China in support of freedom of expression and Barack Obama prepares to meet with Xi Jinping in the Hague on Monday, David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth of the New York Times reveal that the National Security Agency created “back doors” into the networks of Huawaia giant telecommunications company the United States has accused of espionage:

But even as the United States made a public case about the dangers of buying from Huawei, classified documents show that the National Security Agency was creating its own back doors — directly into Huawei’s networks.

The agency pried its way into the servers in Huawei’s sealed headquarters in Shenzhen, China’s industrial heart, according to N.S.A. documents provided by the former contractor Edward J. Snowden. It obtained information about the workings of the giant routers and complex digital switches that Huawei boasts connect a third of the world’s population, and monitored communications of the company’s top executives.

One of the goals of the operation, code-named “Shotgiant,” was to find any links between Huawei and the People’s Liberation Army, one 2010 document made clear. But the plans went further: 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 N.S.A. could roam through their computer and telephone networks to conduct surveillance and, if ordered by the president, offensive cyberoperations.[Source]

Martin Pengelly at The Guardian follows up on the New York Times report:

 The report comes from a document provided by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and disclosed by the New York Times and Der Spiegel. It will add to embarrassment in US government circles, in light of an October 2012 US House of Representatives intelligence committee report which said US firms should avoid doing business with Huawei and another Chinese telecoms company, ZTE, because they posed a national security threat.

[…] At the time of the 2012 House report’s release, intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers said in comments broadcast on the CBS programme 60 Minutes: “Find another vendor [than Huawei] if you care about your intellectual property; if you care about your consumers’ privacy and you care about the national security of the United States of America.”

In July 2013 Huawei rebutted such claims – the former CIA director General Michael Hayden also said he believed the company supplied information to the Chinese government – calling them “racist”. The same month, the UK government opened a review of the firm. In October 2013, the company’s deputy chairman, Ken Hu, denied ever having been told to spy on customers. [Source]

Jonathan Shieber at TechCrunch reports on Huawei’s reaction to the revelations:

Luckily for concerned netizens and corporations a spokeswoman for the U.S. assured the Times that any spying was only done for national security purposes.

“We do not give intelligence we collect to U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line,” White House spokesperson Caitlin M. Hayden told the Times. “Many countries cannot say the same.”

Meanwhile, the unintended comedy of the situation was not lost on Huawei, whose spokesman issued the following statement to Spiegel:

“If it is true, the irony is that exactly what they are doing to us is what they have always charged that the Chinese are doing through us,” [said Bill Plummer, Huawei spokesman]. “If such espionage has been truly conducted, then it is known that the company is independent and has no unusual ties to any government and that knowledge should be relayed publicly to put an end to an era of mis- and disinformation.” [Source]

Read more about Huawei via CDT.