US Telcos Threatened With Loss Of Government Contracts If They Do Business With Huawei

from the evidence-schmevidence dept

Last week we noted how AT&T was forced to scrap a partnership with Huawei to sell the company's smartphones here in the States, just hours before it was set to be announced at CES. The reason? Apparently a few members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees fired off a letter to the FCC demanding that they pressure US telcos into avoiding Huawei. The letter, which nobody has published, allegedly accuses the company of being little more than an intelligence proxy for the Chinese government.

There are several problems with this. While it's certainly possible that Huawei helps the Chinese government spy, there's been no hard evidence of this. In fact, numerous investigations (including one eighteen months long) found no evidence of any spying whatsoever. What inquiries did find is that these allegations pretty consistently originate with U.S. hardware vendors like Cisco, who routinely enjoy playing up the threat simply because they don't want to compete with Chinese hardware vendors. You know, the very same thing we routinely (often quite accurately) complain about China doing.

Despite no real evidence, a new Reuters report indicates this new pressure is much greater than just AT&T's smartphone partnership. In fact, the report suggests that the government is now urging all US telcos and ISPs to avoid using any Huawei gear whatsoever if they want to continue winning government contracts (and as an NSA BFF, AT&T has plenty of contracts to protect). From the report:

"The lawmakers are also advising U.S. firms that if they have ties to Huawei or China Mobile, it could hamper their ability to do business with the U.S. government, one aide said, requesting anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

One of the commercial ties senators and House members want AT&T to cut is its collaboration with Huawei over standards for the high-speed next generation 5G network, the aides said. Another is the use of Huawei handsets by AT&T’s discount subsidiary Cricket, the aides said.

And while Reuters mentioned that there have been investigations, it oddly forgets to mention what the outcome of those investigations were (again, zero evidence of spying). Also ignored is the fact that Chinese networking hardware is absolutely everywhere in the States, including being embedded in many of the products sold by U.S. manufacturers. If China wants to spy on America, it only need turn to the ocean of poorly secured IOT devices, the lion's share of which are now made in China by companies with a complete and total disinterest in anything even vaguely resembling security standards.

Similarly and comedically ignored is the fact the United States government engages in this kind of behavior all of the time. You might recal the NSA was caught intercepting Cisco hardware to install surveillance technology a few years ago. The Snowden documents also revealed how the NSA hacked into Huawei and stole company source code as early as 2007, all in the hopes of planting backdoors in network hardware used by countries who avoid buying American gear. Everyone but the most ardently myopic patriots realize that the United States' credibility on this subject was dismantled decades ago.

This latest wave of hysteria comes simultaneously and not-coincidentally as Representatives Michael Conaway and Liz Cheney introduced a bill banning US carriers from doing any business whatsoever with Huawei or ZTE Corp (two guesses on which companies are pushing for that law). Again, it's perfectly possible that Huawei helps the Chinese government spy. But if that's the case, it shouldn't be too difficult to provide some hard evidence supporting this position. Unless, of course, this is all little more than an adorable little stage play concocted simply to protect US hardware vendors from having to actually compete.

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Filed Under: china, fcc, fud, house intelligence committee, surveillance, threats
Companies: at&t, huawei


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  1. icon
    Ninja (profile), 18 Jan 2018 @ 4:15am

    I'm no fan of China but there is plenty in the backstage to justify such arbitrary actions. Back when the developed world was deep into the financial crisis they produced themselves the BRICs started forming an alliance to be more autonomous. One of the results of this was an international bank that was born to be an alternative to the world bank and the IMF. Europe and the US got incredibly nervous about the initiative because at the time the BRICs were in quite good shape and there was a real risk they'd lose the control of the world order that was established post 1945. The attacks against the alliance came from all sorts of places including the traditional media but if you go to the alternative journalism you will find a much better picture even if there are plenty of problems to solve in the bank to use that initiative as an example. Sadly the current Brazilian govt is but a puppet of the economic powers and started attacking the alliance as well.

    In any case, I do think we need to be very cautious about China and Russia given some of their actions. But then again wouldn't it be true to the US and Europe as well? I just wanted to throw some middle ground in the discussion.

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