WASHINGTON – The Chinese company Huawei can secretly tap into communications through the networking equipment it sells globally, a U.S. official charged as the White House stepped up efforts to persuade allies to ban the gear from next-generation cellular networks.
The U.S. national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, made the statement at an Atlantic Council forum Tuesday evening after The Wall Street Journal quoted him as saying Huawei can “access sensitive and personal information” in systems it sells and maintains globally. O’Brien did not provide any evidence to support the claim.
U.S. officials have long argued that Huawei is duty-bound by Chinese law to spy on behalf of the country’s ruling Communist Party. Huawei denies that claim.
The Pentagon meanwhile is likely to back new U.S. restrictions on Huawei, reversing earlier opposition to a proposal meant to further crack down on exports to the blacklisted company.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recently called Defense Secretary Mark Esper to discuss the issue and a meeting on it is expected next week, a source said. A higher-level meeting will take place on Feb. 28, when U.S. officials will discuss further curbing technology exports to China and Huawei.
The Trump administration has been lobbying for more than a year to persuade allies to exclude Huawei equipment from their next-generation 5G cellular networks.
Independent cybersecurity experts say the intelligence services of global powers, including the United States, routinely exploit vulnerabilities in networking equipment — regardless of the manufacturer — for espionage purposes. The United States and other countries require that “lawful intercept” capabilities be built into networks.
Many analysts consider Washington’s intense anti-Huawei lobbying efforts as being as much about seeking global technological dominance as deterring Chinese cyberespionage. They also note that the NSA has previously infiltrated Huawei equipment — as well as network devices of other manufacturers — as detailed in documents disclosed in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.