Mystery Lobbying Group Using Huawei Security Hysteria To Target Sprint, T-Mobile Merger

from the ill-communication dept

So a few months back, a group mysteriously calling itself "Protect Amerca's Wireless" popped up on the internet and began attacking the Sprint, T-Mobile merger. The campaign, which has all the usual signs of astroturf, takes particular aim at both companies' use of Huawei network hardware -- gear that the organization insists "could give countries like Saudi Arabia, China, Germany, and Japan direct access to our networks through the use of foreign-made networking equipment and billions of foreign money."

In short, the mystery group is piggybacking on the recent hysteria surrounding Huawei to try and scuttle the merger, which is certainly a problematic merger, but largely for employment and competition reasons.

Like most policy and political influence efforts, the campaign doesn't list its funders on its website, simply insisting it's an organic coalition of a few think tanks and some "foreign policy and national security professionals." I reached out to the group for more details on its financing, and was told (falsely) that the group couldn't tell me who finances it because as a 501(c)(3) it's prohibited by law from doing so.

So we've noted for a while that while some of the criticism of Huawei has been justified, much of it has been manufactured by Huawei competitors like Cisco.

And while recent allegations that Huawei may have tap-danced around Iranian sanctions may or may not be true, the claims that the company routinely spies on Americans for the Chinese government has never been publicly proven. In fact, an 18 month study by the White House in 2012 (the last time this hysteria crested) found no evidence supporting such allegations. Germany just this week stated it wouldn't join the Huawei vilification party until somebody provides, you know, actual evidence.

US press coverage of the Huawei story usually fails to mention any of this. Nor is it mentioned that the United States has routinely been busted doing far worse. The Snowden docs, for example, showed how the NSA broke into Huawei, stole source code, and implanted backdoors, something that seems kind of important in conversational context. It's a solid example of how the US tech press isn't particularly keyed into its own nationalistic myopia. It also exemplifies the States' bad habit (both by government and the press) of pushing the idea that dubious and unethical behavior is only okay when we do it.

I'm still digging into who runs Protect America's Wireless (it's worth at least noting that former Rep. Mike Rogers, now an AT&T consultant, was at the outfit's launch). In the interim, it looks like both Sprint and T-Mobile believe are being told by the government that they'll likely have their competition-eroding merger approved if their owners (Deutsche Telekom and Softbank) are willing to remove all Huawei gear from their network and stop using the supplier moving forward:

"T-Mobile US Inc and Sprint Corp believe their foreign owners’ offer to stop using Huawei Technologies equipment will help with the United States clearing their $26 billion merger deal, sources said, underscoring the lengths to which Washington has gone to shut out the Chinese company."

Having watched the Trump FCC's other efforts to help blacklist Huawei, I'd be willing to bet that one of their only meaningful conditions affixed to their gushing approval of the deal will be promises by T-Mobile and Sprint that they won't use Huawei gear (omitted: the fact that neither currently does). This will help the FCC pretend that it hasn't abdicated its role as watchdog, with national security chatter obfuscating many of the terrible aspects of the deal (like the 30,000 potential job losses or the dramatic reduction in overall competition).

The duo get their unpopular merger, Cisco gets more business thanks to facts-optional protectionism, and consumers get bupkis. See how this game works?

Given all of the legitimately dubious things China routinely does, defending Huawei isn't exactly a hill I'm excited to die on. Still, I've been absolutely fascinated by the selective reasoning and hypocrisy as Huawei is increasingly blacklisted. It's particularly odd since the lax security in the internet of things and consumer network hardware space -- arguably just as big of a threat to national security -- receives only a tiny fraction of the same breathless attention by many of these same folks.

Huawei gets oddly singled out as some kind of unique bogeyman. In reality most major telecom operators, including US operators like AT&T, are every bit as sketchy as the allegations levied at Huawei. Dubious lobbying efforts? Check. Illegal and unethical efforts to screw consumers? Check. Massive corruption scandals? Check. Massive, legally-dubious wholesale domestic spying operations? You betcha. Most major telecom operators are government-pampered natural monopolies that don't have to play by the rules and more often than not win the most lucrative government contracts, thanks to their cozy relationship with intelligence.

Huawei may or may not have actually been involved in spying. Maybe someday somebody will actually provide public evidence proving they do. In the interim, it's pretty clear a sizable chunk of the current Huawei hysteria is being generated by the same companies that don't want to compete with Huawei, a layer of protectionism the press should at least mention in passing during the next round of pearl clutching.

Filed Under: astroturf, mergers, michael rogers, secrecy, transparency
Companies: huawei, protect america's wireless, sprint, t-mobile


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  • identicon
    ryuugami, 18 Dec 2018 @ 6:43am

    countries like Saudi Arabia, China, Germany, and Japan

    So, a frenemy, a rival, and two of the closest allies? That kind of puts every single country on the planet in the "countries like" group.

    Or someone took the "digital Pearl Harbor" phrase literally, and expects WW2 to re-break out any time now. Digitally.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 18 Dec 2018 @ 7:14am

      Re:

      Judging from the rubbish I've seen spouted in the run up to various elections over the last few years, these kinds of groups do certainly seem to be aiming for the kind of mindset that hasn't realised the Cold War has ended yet, at the very least.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 18 Dec 2018 @ 7:29am

      Re:

      Technically, by the time the Pearl Harbor attack happened, WWII had been going on for quite a while already.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2018 @ 7:16am

    why lobby

    lobbyists lobby Potomac government bureaucrats ... because those bureaucrats have veto power on Sprint/T-Mobile merger.

    Remove that bureaucrat veto power and the problem goes away.

    In a just world, it should be no concern of the government if two private businesses wish to join.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 18 Dec 2018 @ 7:22am

    So far, it has been proven that Cisco spies on its customers.

    Or rather installs NSA-spybugs in its equipment. And leaves a lot of security holes for any other spy agency to install their own eavesdropping technology.

    While installing Huawei technology MAY bring a security risk, using Cisco guarantees it. Which, btw, might explain the US-government's enthusiasm for pushing Cisco technology at whatever cost. Even kidnapping chinese nationals under fluffy pretexts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2018 @ 7:30am

      Re: So far, it has been proven that Cisco spies on its customers

      well at least AT&T absolutely refuses to spy on ordinary Americans for the NSA

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2018 @ 7:49am

      Re: So far, it has been proven that Cisco spies on its customers

      We know the spies have bugged Cisco equipment. Was there really proof Cisco helped?

      Anyway, if being "accused of SPYING" is all it takes to kill a 5G phone business, I hereby accuse Apple of spying ("SPYING"). Qualcomm too, because why not? Or there's this bit of fun: Protect Amerca's Wireless is actually spying on people who go to its website. You can open the source and see it's sending data to Google and Facebook.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2018 @ 8:03am

    Not true!

    The duo get their unpopular merger, Cisco gets more business thanks to facts-optional protectionism, and consumers get bupkis.

    That's so not true! Consumers get poorer product, even worse support and more outrageous pricing.

    What's not to love about this merger?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    stine, 18 Dec 2018 @ 8:08am

    I think this is what you were looking for

    https://www.fiercewireless.com/wireless/mystery-group-protect-america-s-wireless-stokes-national-sec urity-fears-sprint-t-mobile

    which leads you to Consumer Choice Alliance, which also alleges to be a 501(c)3, but isn't listed on the IRS.gov website.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 18 Dec 2018 @ 8:13am

    Thou shalt not dare boycott or criticize Israel, we passed unconstitutional laws to make it so.

    Thou shalt not use Huawei gear, even though we stole and backdoored their source code years ago, and even with that level of access we still couldn't back up the claims they spy on us for China.

    Thou shalt not expect your leadership to do anything real, instead focusing on stupid things people pay them to believe.


    So let me understand... 'Merika told everyone not to trade with Iran or else, after they pulled out of a global agreement to stop the spread of nukes, and now we can just snatch foriegn nationals in other countries for breaking our rules because our law is global??

    Ooooh China is spying on us *booga booga*!!!
    Why would they bother hacking gear when they could Google the super secret CIA website & get access to all of the data our government 'accidentally' gathered about us non terrorist folk that they warehouse until they need an excuse??

    I miss the old days when we used facts & actual evidence and not just threats of calling someone unamerican and a terrorist lover to make law & policy.

    All of Huawei's gear could be compromised... are they ending up with more data than we're already sucking up on citizens?
    Ooooh maybe we got pissed because Huawei tightened security & we were unable to steal the newest source code so we could spy on more people.

    OH NOES CHINA WILL STEAL OUR IP!!!!
    I for one really want them to steal the Sharknado IP and lock it away in the Chinese 'Disney" Vault for another 50 years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 18 Dec 2018 @ 8:19am

    Typical...

    ...misdirection through assumption.

    "could give countries like"....

    "Speeds up to forty terabits per nanosecond!"

    "could be used for education..."

    SOP for boilerplate justifications.

    As to the 501(c)3, IIRC, full financial disclosure is a requirement. There's allowance for donations under a low-limit and another for anonymous donations.

    "Cisco does it too!" is just the old "His brother was worse" non-argument. It neither justifies nor condemns.

    Spying? Maybe. But we only seem to hear NSA claims about spying in any context anymore. Since the military uses a ton of electronics, I'd expect to hear the evidence from any of the Military Intelligence agencies, CSS, or the DoD itself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 18 Dec 2018 @ 8:25am

    My theory is that due to previous attempts by the NSA and other Western agencies to infiltrate their hardware, Huawei has actually become more secure. The NSA/CIA, etc. haven't been able to crack it, so they now have to demonize it so that US telecoms won't/can't use it and must use the NSA/CIA friendly Cisco and other equipment. The propaganda machines are working overtime for their NSA overlords to kill any chance of Huawei equipment being used.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2018 @ 9:13am

      Re:

      The USA legally requires telcos to provide certain backdoors (CALEA). There would be no need to single out Huawei if their hardware were incapable of that; they'd be automatically ineligible, and we'd have heard about it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2018 @ 9:29am

      Re:

      Our national "security" agencies have been known to intercept deliveries of router hardware and install their little backdoors before they get delivered. This was reported on extensively for Cisco routers but what's to stop them from doing it to any others? And who's to say they aren't already doing that if we know they do it to Cisco products?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        bob, 18 Dec 2018 @ 11:20am

        Re: Re:

        And who's to say other countries aren't doing the exact same thing as the NSA/FBI with products originating in their own respective countries.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 18 Dec 2018 @ 1:16pm

    Could backfire on Cisco

    Population China 1400 million, population US 327 million.

    Blocking Huawei in the US might look like a good move in the short term. A better move might be for companies like Cisco to try to be actually competitive in the global market.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    NoahVail (profile), 18 Dec 2018 @ 1:57pm

    Digging

    I'm thinking that Protect America's Wireless is built by folks from New Paradigm Strategy Group.

    The only contact info found on the PAW site is for:
    Carli Kientzie carli@npstrategygroup.com
    https://npstrategygroup.com/team/carli-kientzle/
    and
    Regan Page regan@npstrategygroup.com https://npstrategygroup.com/team/regan-page/

    Also npstrategygroup.com & protectamericaswireless.org share same GoDaddy IP.

    That's all I got.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2018 @ 6:28am

    The Huawei story explained simply

    Translate "using brand X network equipment could lead to foreign power Y compromising your network" to "if you use brand X the five eyes alliance will not be able to compromise your network".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Johnny Shade (profile), 19 Dec 2018 @ 1:40pm

    Info

    So I did a Whois on "protectamericaswireless.org"

    Registrant=
    Organization: Domains By Proxy, LLC
    Mailing Address: , Arizona US
    registered through GoDaddy

    check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domains_by_Proxy
    What an interesting read

    If any of the Shadowdancers or Anonymous can add any more info to this story, I'd be interested.

    "The correct way to remove astroturf is to use liberal amounts of Napalm"

    Just MHO

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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