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.

Filed Under: china, competition, donald trump, nsa, surveillance, telco equipment
Companies: cisco, huawei


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 13 Feb 2019 @ 5:47am

    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.

    Pure coincidence I'm sure, I mean it's not like a government agency(and especially one during the Trump presidency) would deliberately pass rules to screw over the little guys in order to help the bigger companies.

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

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 13 Feb 2019 @ 6:55am

    Expected Response

    So if the US bans equipment from ONE company in China; and China responds with a ban on equipment from ALL US companies... and gets other countries to do the same...

    How did we "win" again? Are we Great yet?

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

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 13 Feb 2019 @ 7:29am

      Re: Expected Response

      If he somehow manages to undo Nixon's mistake of legitimizing China and allowing them to rise into a global superpower without first taking the time to mature into a responsible society, that will absolutely be a great win for pretty much the entire world.

      (Whether or not that actually happens is another matter entirely, but a guy can dream, can't he?)

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Feb 2019 @ 5:20am

      Re: Expected Response

      "How did we "win" again? Are we Great yet?"

      I was told there would be winning

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

  • identicon
    ryuugami, 13 Feb 2019 @ 7:20am

    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.

    Well, I think I figured out how the US Government knows there are spying backdoors in Huawei gear :D

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 13 Feb 2019 @ 7:24am

    Pat no attention to the fact the room is on fire, look over there they just threw a wrapper on the ground!!!!!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2019 @ 7:38am

    Subsidies?

    Why the fuck are telcos getting subsidies from the federal government? They're immensely profitable and Americans pay more than most of the developed world for telecommunications. What are we getting in return?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2019 @ 8:01am

      Re: Subsidies?

      Why the fuck are telcos getting subsidies from the federal government?

      Because the telcos then turn around and funnel a portion of it back to the same politicians that got it for them in the first place. Outside the government it's called money laundering. Inside the government it's called donations.

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

    • identicon
      TFG, 13 Feb 2019 @ 8:02am

      Re: Subsidies?

      We get the opportunity to be fleeced for extra money. It's such a wonderful system, isn't it?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2019 @ 9:34am

      Re: Subsidies?

      Because the telcos are defacto state actors, turning over any and all access requested in return for these "subsidies".

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2019 @ 7:41am

    Why stop with banning gear at the telecom level? Time to go balls deep on protectionism!

    Ban consumer phones from Huawei (and ZTE) as well! You wouldn't install anti-virus on a server while leaving your workstations unprotected. Why ban the telco equipment while leaving the rest of us phoning home to China? Make everyone march into their local store and submit their phones for confiscation, since it's such a risk to our country!

    As far as what folks who are now out a phone are to do? Buy a top-notch American-made cell phone!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2019 @ 7:43am

    Prioritizing cybersecurity

    the White House hopes to send a signal that future contracts for cutting-edge technology must prioritize cybersecurity.

    The ongoing cybersecurity threat and scandal related to telecommunications is location privacy. I'm not going to believe the above statement until they start funding and promoting technological ways to address that; legal methods would be a start but aren't going to work.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 13 Feb 2019 @ 3:41pm

      You just cannot make this stuff up...

      the White House hopes to send a signal that future contracts for cutting-edge technology must prioritize cybersecurity.

      This of course being the same White House that, unless something has changed in the last couple of months, can't even manage basic cybersecurity for what is almost certainly one of the most tempting intel targets in the US, the gorram president, because doing so would be 'too inconvenient'.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Feb 2019 @ 5:54am

      Re: Prioritizing cybersecurity

      Part of the problem is that is intrinsic with airwaves. The cell infastructure needs to know where a user is to send their data only there the alternative is sending their data /everywhere/. More bandwidth it squeezed into an area by shrinking the cells and adding more. The closest "viable" option would be allowing arbitrary activation of extra cells to spoof it as a feature and even that would have numerous giveaways.

      Legal is the side for location privacy in the same sense door locks keep only the honest and lazy out.

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

  • icon
    NoahVail (profile), 13 Feb 2019 @ 7:48am

    Shill I continue?

    After ~15yrs of reading Karl Bode's columns nearly every day, I'm more convinced than ever that he's the most needed columnist in America - or at the least, a model thereof.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2019 @ 9:36am

      Re: Shill I continue?

      Another fan I see. I don't think I have ever followed someone for more than a single article unless I was a true fan.

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

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 13 Feb 2019 @ 7:51am

    No holes in the Underlying Logic

    The Underlying Logic: "National Security" trumps the law. The constitution. And any international agreement you can think of.

    Sure, in the long term, we might learn that some of those laws and regulations were there for a reason. And, since we are replacing the rule of law with the rule of whoever has the biggest gun, there may be day when someone else has a bigger gun.

    But hey, that is in the long term, long after Trumps re-election. Long after the current politicians retire. And long after the current industry captains execute their stock options.

    Unless Napoleon was right: "China is a sleeping lion. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will shake the world."

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

  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 13 Feb 2019 @ 8:25am

    JUST Huawei?

    Makes no sense. Pretty much ALL cellphones are assembled in China or with parts from China or it's satellites.

    Bob Asprin had a good take on this decades ago with his Cold Cash War, only with Japanese manufacture and assembly.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 13 Feb 2019 @ 9:34am

    A pot called balck

    For all the finger pointing that goes on, we Seem to be the Pot calling the kettle black. A site was up to show internet data from different points around major locations in the world, and SOME were marked as hacks... Those from everywhere else were 1/2 of what the USA were doing..

    Its very entertaining to think this all started from 9/11..And hasnt ended with the death of those responsible.. But who is making the money??

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

  • icon
    hij (profile), 13 Feb 2019 @ 9:37am

    Hardware bad - software good

    When a Chinese company does it with hardware it is a bad thing. When google tracks and violates people's privacy via software that is being carried by individuals it is all fine and dandy. The FCC needs to be turned off and turned on again.

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

  • icon
    Vic B (profile), 13 Feb 2019 @ 11:27am

    Since the beginning of this anti Huawei and ZTE frenzy about 6 months ago I wondered a couple things: what specifically did they do to threaten US national security? and if they did something, are US manufacturers (Cisco in particular) not doing the same? I've been very surprised that no major news media (this article being the first) is asking those basic questions.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2019 @ 3:07pm

    I just hope that does not apply to batteries for older Hauwei devices. I have an old Huawei I used to store all the offline road maps for GPS, becuase none of the newer phones will let me store the maps on the SD card, and it takes something like 15 gigabytes to store maps for all of Alaska, Canada, Mexico, the lower 48 US states and DC, and all of Central America.

    As it is I have to use two different phones when on a road trip,the Huawei for the maps, and then a Samsung to store all of my MP3 music (about 13 gigabytes)

    I needs that old Huawei to store my offline GPS maps, as there is a lot of places where there is no data. There are places where there is voice, but no data, especuially in the radio quiet zones in Nevada and West Virginia to protect Area 51 in Nevada and a radio telescope in West Virginia, and the only cell service, if you can get it at all, is old fashioned analog voice service in the 800 MHz band, and only if you are in or near a town somewhere.

    So I hope that the ban on Hauwei phones does not keep anyone from selling the batteries for them.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2019 @ 4:15am

    The consequences can be even broader

    Just waiting for Chinese processor architectures, Chinese 5G radios, Chinese OSes. It won't take long.

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


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