from the corporate-surveillance dept
Over the weekend, Der Spiegel and the New York Times published another leaked document, this one detailing the NSA's breach of Huawei's servers. The end game, however, seems to be less targeted at monitoring the company for its supposed spying efforts (via its hardware) than to install NSA backdoors in hardware used by countries that would prefer not to "buy American."
The agency pried its way into the servers in Huawei’s sealed headquarters in Shenzhen, China’s industrial heart, according to N.S.A. documents provided by the former contractor Edward J. Snowden. It obtained information about the workings of the giant routers and complex digital switches that Huawei boasts connect a third of the world’s population, and monitored communications of the company’s top executives.Much of this is unsurprising. The government has long held (even though it has failed to produce any proof) that Huawei is used by the Chinese government to spy on other countries via subverted hardware, so it would make sense for the NSA to have the company under surveillance. But what's happening here seems to exceed the bounds of defensive surveillance and head into corporate espionage territory.
One of the goals of the operation, code-named “Shotgiant,” was to find any links between Huawei and the People’s Liberation Army, one 2010 document made clear. But the plans went further: to exploit Huawei’s technology so that when the company sold equipment to other countries — including both allies and nations that avoid buying American products — the N.S.A. could roam through their computer and telephone networks to conduct surveillance and, if ordered by the president, offensive cyberoperations.
As Karl Bode pointed out in an earlier story about the US government warning Americans away from Huawei network equipment, many of the Huawei spying allegations can be traced back to its main competitor, Cisco. Marcy Wheeler at emptywheel sees the NSA's Huawei spying as little more than a way for it to protect some of its main collection points.
[T]he articles make it clear that 3 years after they started this targeted program, SHOTGIANT, and at least a year after they gained access to the emails of Huawei’s CEO and Chair, NSA still had no evidence that Huawei is just a tool of the People’s Liberation Army, as the US government had been claiming before and since. Perhaps they’ve found evidence in the interim, but they hadn’t as recently as 2010.If there's been no evidence uncovered that Huawei equipment is being deployed with Chinese government-friendly backdoors, then the NSA is engaged in self-serving corporate espionage, one that keeps Cisco -- and consequently, the NSA -- in wide circulation.
Nevertheless the NSA still managed to steal Huawei’s source code. Not just so it could more easily spy on people who exclusively use Huawei’s networks. But also, it seems clear, in an attempt to prevent Huawei from winning even more business away from Cisco.
I suspect we’ll learn far more on Monday. But for now, we know that even the White House got involved in an operation targeting a company that threatens our hegemony on telecom backbones.
Even if you believe this is exactly the sort of thing our intelligence agencies should be doing, it's hard to ignore the inherent hypocrisy of the government's words and actions. Even Jack Goldsmith, who has previously argued that the US needs an "invasive NSA," had this to say about the latest leak.
The Huawei revelations are devastating rebuttals to hypocritical U.S. complaints about Chinese penetration of U.S. networks, and also make USG protestations about not stealing intellectual property to help U.S. firms’ competitiveness seem like the self-serving hairsplitting that it is.While the revelations that the NSA is surveilling a foreign company deemed untrustworthy by government officials are hardly surprising, the whole situation is tainted by the US government's hardline against Huawei. Many accusations have surfaced over the last decade but have remained unproven, even as the US government has locked Huawei out of domestic contracts and persuaded other countries to seek different vendors. This isn't passive monitoring being deployed to detect threats. This is an active invasion of a private company's internal network in order to subvert its hardware and software, all of which will likely benefit its largest competitor, either directly or indirectly. The NSA isn't Cisco's personal army, but their mutual goals (widespread Cisco deployment) are so closely aligned, the agency might as well be.
If the NSA has found any evidence that Huawei is operating on behalf of the Chinese government, now would be the time to make that information public. With Michelle Obama's goodwill tour of China underway, it's hardly beneficial for our surveillance hypocrisy to be on display (again).