As Trump Prepares Ban On Huawei, Few Notice The Major Holes In The Underlying Logic
from the do-as-we-say,-not-as-we-do dept
During the Trump era, the government has dramatically ramped up claims that Chinese hardware vendor Huawei is a nefarious spy for the Chinese government, blackballing it from the U.S. telecom market. From pressuring U.S. carriers to drop plans to sell Huawei phones to the FCC’s decision to ban companies from using Huawei gear if they want to receive federal subsidies, this effort hasn’t been subtle.
This week, there are rumblings that the Trump administration is about to take things further with a total ban on Huawei gear anywhere inside of the United States. The news is to be formally announced ahead of the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, likely with a heavy emphasis on how the move will cement U.S. dominance in the “race to 5G,” a largely nonsensical concept drummed up by networking hardware vendor marketing departments.
The problem: there’s still no public evidence Huawei uses its network gear to spy on Americans, and much of the motivation for this assault on Huawei has been proven to be largely about protectionism, not national security.
There’s no doubt that Huawei, like AT&T here in the states, isn’t a shining beacon of ethical behavior. At the same time, the dulcet undertones justifying much of the blacklisting is based on the premise that the company spies on Americans. Yet nobody has provided evidence of that. In fact, one 18-month investigation into Huawei in 2011 (the last time we had a flare of up this hysteria) found that there was no evidence supporting that claim:
“We knew certain parts of government really wanted? evidence of active spying, said one of the people, who requested anonymity. ?We would have found it if it were there.”
Also ignored is that U.S. hardware vendors like Cisco have a very long history of trying to gin up hysteria on Capital Hill on this front among lawmakers who aren’t too keen on, well, facts:
“What happens is you get competitors who are able to gin up lawmakers who are already wound up about China,? said one Hill staffer who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. ?What they do is pull the string and see where the top spins.”
Also ignored in most tech press coverage of the moves against Huawei is the fact that the United States is guilty of most of the stuff we accuse Huawei of. In fact, Snowden docs revealed that the NSA (aka the United States) had broken into Huawei as early as 2007 in a bid to steal source code and covertly implant backdoors into Huawei products. Similarly you’ll recall how the NSA was also busted intercepting Cisco hardware in transit, taking that gear to a special facility, then outfitting it with backdoors. That sends a pretty clear message: unethical behavior is okay when we do it.
Also ignored is the fact that our own telecom operators don’t have stellar backgrounds on this subject either. AT&T, for example, is effectively bone-grafted to our nationwide intelligence apparatus, and almost certainly helps the United States spy on citizens all over the world. AT&T, a company just busted paying $600K to a dubious NYC fixer and confessed criminal, has a long history of turning a blind eye to all manner of frauds and cons being perpetrated on its own customers. Again, the message sent is: unethical behavior is okay when we do it.
Look, Huawei is no pillar of virtue, having been caught copying code and (depending on how the court battle goes) potentially violating sanctions. But a large portion of the justification for blacklisting them (in turn escalating an already troubling and costly trade war) is based on the idea that Huawei has been caught spying on Americans, something that hasn’t been publicly proven. And in filings with the FCC (pdf), small carriers say they’ll actively be harmed by a ban on this cheaper Huawei hardware, since the lower costs help them better compete with larger U.S. rivals.
In short, this subject is far more complicated than most press coverage suggests, and a little fuller context when it comes to discussing these moves doesn’t seem like too much to ask. Especially given that the American press and government would be positively apoplectic were foreign countries to ban our own network gear as punishment for our own, well-documented sins. Patriotism oddly blinds us to our own hypocrisy on this subject, lending some wonderful cover to U.S. companies who’ve been pressing all the right buttons in DC in a protectionist bid to avoid having to compete with cheaper Chinese gear.