Huawei And ZTE ‘Should Be Banned From US’, Says Committee

Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE should not be allowed to sell their wares in the US, as they pose a genuine security threat, a US committee is to warn today.

The Intelligence Committee of the US House of Representatives, the lower house of  Congress in the US, has reportedly drawn together a report, which warns that state influence over the two firms means they will be used for espionage efforts.

“China has the means, opportunity and motive to use telecommunications companies for malicious purposes,” the committee said. It claimed classified and unclassified information had indicated neither Huawei nor ZTE could “be trusted to be free of foreign state influence”.

Huawei and ZTE ‘security threat’

They “thus pose a security threat to the United States and to our systems,” the committee said. The panel claimed to have received credible allegations from industry experts, as well as current and former Huawei employees, claiming it may be guilty of bribery and corruption.

The Intelligence Committee has been looking into Huawei and ZTE in earnest this year. In September, it announced an open hearing on national security threats posed by the two firms, where it quizzed officials from both firms.

Huawei in particular has struggled to gain acceptance in the US, thanks to its ties to China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei did work as an engineer in the PLA, reportedly in the IT research division, but did not hold military rank, according to Huawei.

The company has a number of partnerships with US firms, including one with the world’s biggest security vendor Symantec.

ZTE’s technology has allegedly been sold to repressive regimes for use in surveillance projects. It is under investigation by the FBI for allegedly selling such surveillance kit to Iran.

Both Huawei and ZTE have strongly denied claims they are an espionage threat. Huawei spokesman William Plummer told Reuters the claims were groundless.

“Baseless suggestions otherwise or purporting that Huawei is somehow uniquely vulnerable to cyber mischief ignore technical and commercial realities, recklessly threaten American jobs and innovation, do nothing to protect national security, and should be exposed as dangerous political distractions from legitimate public-private initiatives to address what are global and industry-wide cyber challenges,” he said.

ZTE said it “profoundly disagrees” with claims it is in any way influenced by the Chinese government.

Huawei has been welcomed in the UK, however, where it provides much of BT’s infrastructure, and kit for EE’s network, including the some of the backbone of its 4G services, which will go online later this month.

Last month, Huawei announced a £1.3 billion investment in the UK, including plans to increase its workforce to over 1,500 by 2017, up from the 800 it currently employs (Prime Minister David Cameron is pictured with Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei).

The company also runs a centre in the UK where all products used in government, whether Huawei’s or not, are tested for security. That facility, the Cyber Security Evaluation Centre, employs a large number of ex-UK intelligence workers, some from GCHQ.

Huawei has employed a number of prominent ex-government staff members including, John Suffolk, former government CIO, who now runs global security for the company.

Yet it still comes up against certain barriers. A source close to the company recently told TechWeekEurope Huawei was continuing to find it difficult to sell to UK government because of the vendor’s connections in China.

In Australia it has been banned from supplying into a national broadband infrastructure.

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Thomas Brewster

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

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