The Biden administration is investigating Chinese telecommunications equipment maker Huawei over concerns that US cellphone towers equipped with its equipment could capture sensitive information from military bases and missile silos that the company could then forward to China, according to two people familiar with the matter.
- Authorities are concerned that Huawei may obtain sensitive data on military exercises and the readiness of bases and personnel through the equipment
- The investigation was launched by the Commerce Department shortly after Joe Biden took office early last year.
- Authorities subpoena Huawei to find out the company’s policy on sharing data with foreign parties
Authorities were concerned that Huawei could obtain sensitive data about military exercises and the readiness of bases and personnel through the equipment, one of the people said, requesting anonymity because the investigation is confidential and involves national security.
The previously unreported investigation was initiated by the Commerce Department shortly after Joe Biden became President of the United States early last year, the sources said, following the implementation of rules to flesh out a May 2019 executive order that gave the agency investigative powers.
The agency subpoenaed Huawei in April 2021 to learn about the company’s policy on sharing data with foreign parties that its equipment might capture from mobile phones, including messages and geolocation data, according to the agency. 10-page document seen by Reuters.
The Commerce Department said it could not “confirm or deny ongoing investigations.”
He added, “Protecting the safety and security of American people from the collection of malicious information is essential to protecting our economy and our national security.”
Huawei did not respond to a request for comment.
The company has strongly denied US government allegations that it could spy on US customers and pose a threat to national security.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to the specific allegations.
In an emailed statement, he said: “The US government is abusing the concept of national security and state power to go to great lengths to suppress Huawei and other Chinese telecommunications companies without providing any evidence. solid that they pose a threat to the security of the United States and other countries.”
Reuters could not determine what action the agency might take against Huawei.
Eight current and former US government officials said the investigation reflected lingering national security concerns about the company, which has already been hit by a host of US restrictions in recent years.
If the Commerce Department determines that Huawei poses a national security threat, it could go beyond existing restrictions imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the US telecommunications regulator.
Using sweeping new powers created by the Trump administration, the agency could ban all U.S. transactions with Huawei, requiring U.S. telcos that still relied on its equipment to quickly remove it or face fines or penalties. other sanctions, a number of lawyers, academics and former officials said.
The FCC declined to comment.
Previous bans on 5G technology
In 2018, Australia became the first nation in the so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network to ban Huawei from involvement in its 5G network due to “security concerns”.
The move to ban Huawei’s 5G equipment was later followed by the US, UK, New Zealand and most recently Canada, which issued a ban in May this year.
Huawei argued that with or without its involvement in Australia’s 5G rollout, the technology would be made in China, and banning it would slow rollout and reduce competition.
Huawei has long been dogged by US government allegations that it may be spying on US customers, although authorities in Washington have released little evidence.
“If Chinese companies like Huawei have unrestricted access to our telecommunications infrastructure, they could collect all of your information that passes through their devices or networks,” FBI Director Christopher Wray warned in a 2020 speech.
Reuters could not determine whether Huawei’s equipment was capable of collecting this type of sensitive information and providing it to China.
“If you can stick a receiver on a [phone] turn you can collect signals and that means you can get intelligence. No intelligence agency would pass up such an opportunity,” said Jim Lewis, a technology and cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington DC-based think tank.
Towers near missile silos
According to the two sources and an FCC commissioner, phone towers equipped with Huawei equipment near sensitive military and intelligence sites have become a particular concern for US authorities.
Brendan Carr, one of five FCC commissioners, said cell towers around Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana – one of three that monitor missile fields in the United States – were working with Huawei technology.
In an interview this week, he told Reuters there was a risk that smartphone data obtained by Huawei would reveal troop movements near the sites: “There is a real concern that some of this technology could be used as an early warning system if there were to be, God forbid, an ICBM missile strike.”
Reuters was unable to determine the exact location or range of Huawei equipment operating near military installations. People interviewed by Reuters reported at least two other probable cases in Nebraska and Wyoming.
New powers against foreign opponents
Rick Sofield, a former Justice Department official in the National Security Division who reviewed telecommunications transactions, said the Commerce Department investigation could give the FCC’s crackdown more teeth. but that there was nothing new about targeting Huawei.
“The U.S. government’s concerns about Huawei are widely known, so any information or communications technology company that continues to use Huawei products assumes the risk of the U.S. government coming knocking,” said Mr. Sofield, who represents U.S. and foreign companies facing U.S. national security reviews. , said.
He said he had not worked for Huawei.
The Commerce Department is using authority granted in 2019 that allows it to prohibit or restrict transactions between U.S. companies and internet, telecommunications and technology companies from “adversarial foreign” countries, including Russia and China, in accordance with the decree and related rules.
The two sources familiar with the Huawei investigation and a former government official said Huawei was one of the first cases of the Biden administration using the new powers, referred to Commerce in early 2021 by the Justice Department.
The Department of Justice referred requests for comment to Commerce.
The subpoena is dated April 13, 2021, the same day Commerce announced that a document request had been sent to a Chinese public limited company under the new powers.
It gives Huawei 30 days to provide seven years of “records identifying Huawei’s business transactions and relationships with foreign entities outside of the United States, including foreign government agencies or parties, that have access to, or who share in any capacity the United States”. user data collected by Huawei”.
Noting that “the subject matter of this investigation is the supply of mobile networking and telecommunications equipment…by Huawei in the United States,” it also requests from Huawei a comprehensive catalog of “all types of equipment sold” to “ any communications provider in the United States”. States”, including the names and locations of the parties to the sale