Huawei Busted Helping African Governments Spy On The Press, Political Opponents

from the ill-communication dept

While the Trump administration’s war on Huawei may be largely fueled by evidence optional protectionism, that certainly doesn’t mean Huawei is an ethical company. Like any good telecom and networking giant, it can routinely be found helping governments engage in behavior that’s less than, say, moral. For example a damning report emerged this week in the Wall Street Journal (paywall, here’s a non-paywalled video report and a fairly decent alternative take) showcasing how Huawei technicians have helped African leaders intercept encrypted transmissions of their political opponents:

“Technicians from the Chinese powerhouse have, in at least two cases, personally helped African governments spy on their political opponents, including intercepting their encrypted communications and social media, and using cell data to track their whereabouts, according to senior security officials working directly with the Huawei employees in these countries.

Yeah, gross. The “help” included helping government officials gain access to protected WhatsApp data from political opponents, which was then used against them:

“The Huawei engineers, identified by name in internal police documents reviewed by the Journal, used the Israeli-made spyware to penetrate Mr. Wine?s WhatsApp chat group, named Firebase crew after his band. Authorities scuppered his plans to organize street rallies and arrested the politician and dozens of his supporters.”

Granted, the investigation did not turn up evidence that this spying was occurring on behalf of Beijing, or replicated in other countries like the US. Nor did it indicate that any kind of intentional flaw or backdoor in Huawei gear was used to gain access to this confidential data (the cornerstone of the effort to ban Huawei from international networks). But the report does a great job showing how most telecoms are happy to throw ethics in the toilet if it means cozying up to governments when it’s profitable to do so.

In this case, Huawei’s “help” even included helping African governments access the phones and Facebook pages of bloggers running a pro-opposition news site that had been previously critical of the government. The fusion of telecoms and law enforcement is obviously of particular note when that fusion results in attacks on the press, usually disguised as something else. Enter that ever-menacing but nebulously defined villain known as “fake news”:

Zambia?s ruling party spokesman, Antonio Mwanza, said Huawei technicians, based inside the Zambia Information & Communications Technology Authority, or Zicta, regulator, were helping the government combat opposition news sites.

?Whenever we want to track down perpetrators of fake news, we ask Zicta, which is the lead agency. They work with Huawei to ensure that people don?t use our telecommunications space to spread fake news,? he said. Ugandan officials said that Huawei representatives have stopped attending technical briefings since the Journal submitted questions to the Chinese company. China?s Foreign Ministry said in a written statement that it is common practice for countries to cooperate on policing. ?Some African countries have enthusiastically built ?safe cities? in order to improve the lives of their people and their business environments,? the ministry said. ?To equate this positive effort with ?surveillance? smacks of ulterior motives.?

That said, none of this is historically unique. Telecoms are, again, routinely grafted to governments, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies in problematic ways. Just ask AT&T, who is so tightly wired to the NSA, you can’t tell where the telco ends and the government begins. Similarly the US has a long history of partnering with companies to provide IT support and telecoms gear to a huge variety of dictators who then utilized that technology to help track and kill political opponents, dissidents, and even students. The press and public moral indignation at this kind of behavior tends to be… inconsistent and colored by patriotism.

And while Huawei is clearly not ethical, you’d be hard pressed to find a telecom giant that is. The US blackballing of Huawei is still based on a lot of unproven allegations of wholesale spying on Americans at China’s behest, something that would drive (and has driven) US companies bat-shit crazy when the shoe is on the other foot. And while the US war on Huawei is partially based on some genuine security concerns, it’s also heavily driven by a protectionist bid by companies like Cisco that simply don’t want to have to compete with cheaper Chinese kit. The exact percentage breakdown of this equation has yet to be seen.

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Comments on “Huawei Busted Helping African Governments Spy On The Press, Political Opponents”

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bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Here's the narrative. Let's justify it now.

I know this is Zof, but I don’t see why this particular comment was flagged. It’s perfectly reasonable, not apparently trollish or offensive, and it’s even positive. The fact this comment was hidden is only going to give the many trolls who whine about being flagged as censorship—despite the fact that the reason should be obvious to anyone who can read—more ammo without justification.

keep chinese out says:

you have been warned

The chineese are on a unique world trashing crusade and will kill anyone that gets in the way, thats the true reason for banning huiwai. They are grafted onto the chinese government and we dont have to prove that, just point to the ties that all chinese companies have with government and follow the money. Its all been documented but noone here wants to accept that. Chinese are coming to get us all in concert with the russians. We need to get these chinese out of our countries for good all of them. That trump is trying to do this is good, stop being un patriotic and start using your brains. chinese are very bad stop trying to defend their shit ways.

Bloof (profile) says:

Re: you have been warned

America on the other hand just want what’s in everyone’s best interests, the government has no interest in undermining democracy or putting a thumb on the scales for it’s corporations, just ask the peoples of Latin America. I’d start with the generations who lived through the multiple American backed far right regimes… Well, the ones who weren’t just dragged off and murdered.

The push to kill Huawei outside of china is protectionism, not the defense of democracy. Trump loves despots and corrupt regimes as long as they buy American and/or say nice things in fancy letters.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: muslims are the same

Dude, the OP in this thread is clearly a bigot, and he’s clearly wrong, but if you need an example of a Muslim killing someone, there was 9/11.

To be clear, that isn’t something reserved to Muslims. Christians, Jews, Hindus, pagans, atheists, whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans… all races and creeds have committed deadly acts at some point in history, and they continue to do so now.

Anonymous Coward says:

As already stated in the piece, US companies do this anyway. It would be far more helpful if we were to have that constantly pointed out, as there are so many articles written, with proof about them and there is still NO evidence at all that Huawei is doing the same in the USA or, particularly, in any other of the ‘5 Eyes Countries’.
For what it’s worth, in my opinion, it’s another example of a spoiled brat, in charge of a country when he shouldn’t even be in charge of a company, blaming another company for producing equipment that cannot, to date, be equalled in the USA or anywhere else, in quality, reliability or at the same or cheaper price. Just like the hissy fit he’s just had because Denmark wont entertain selling Greenland to him! How ridiculous is that!

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I love finger points, as has been pointed out..
1 finger pointing over there, and 3-4 pointing BACK AT YOU..
Ask the CIA/FBI/Others in the USA, its not hard to monitor 1 person.. Our own agencies have been doing this for years and years.. And dont think SHORT TERM, we are talking about 60+ years here. it DONT require the internet/cellphones.

the Hard thing to do, as was mentioned before is to Monitor Everyone. Its the Amounts of data. Getting data on a few isnt to hard as you only have a few devices and places to be and monitor. AND now we are carrying around a device that CAN monitor everything we do, including Listen into Offline conversations..

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