Michael Hayden, a former head of both the CIA and National Security Agency, believes Huawei is supplying to the Chinese government “intimate and extensive knowledge of the foreign telecommunications systems it is involved with,” according to report the Australian Financial Review published on Thursday. It’s another suggestion that the Chinese hardware vendor could be contributing to its native country’s intelligence-collecting efforts, but Huawei is not taking this latest accusation lying down.
U.S. intelligence agencies have clear evidence of such activities on Huawei, Hayden told the newspaper. He also said Huawei approached “people like me to endorse their presence in the U.S.” and that he had heard from others in the intelligence community that Huawei presents “a national-security threat.”
A Huawei spokesman shot back a vigorous response to the report, published by the Verge:
This is tired nonsense we’ve been hearing for years, trotted out anew as a flimsy bright and shiny object to distract attention from the very real compromising of global networks and information that has been exposed in recent weeks. Misdirecting and slandering Huawei may feel okay because the company is Chinese-based – no harm, no foul, right? Wrong. Huawei is a world-proven multinational across 150 global markets that supports scores and scores of American livelihoods, and thousands more, indirectly, through $6 billion a year in procurements from American suppliers. Someone says they got some proof of some sort of threat? Okay. Then put up. Or shut up. Lacking proof in terms of the former, which seems clearly the case, this is politically-inspired and racist corporate defamation, nothing more.
Suspicion of Huawei isn’t new. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. has shown interest in banning Huawei equipment from Sprint networks. Elected officials in the U.S. have called for sanctions. That’s on top of allegations of wrongdoing made in an October 2012 report from the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — back doors that let the company inspect packets traveling along networks, for example. That sort of data could get to Chinese government because of close connections between the company and the government.
Indeed, as the Australian Financial Review pointed out, the CIA has noted that Sun Yafang, chairman of Huawei, was once an employee of China’s Ministry of State Security.
To be sure, the U.S. is not exactly an innocent bystander. It has conducted plenty of spying. One of Hayden’s former employers, the NSA, has operated the PRISM program since 2007, and it looks like the government has also spied on foreigners.
The Huawei revelations could only add tension to the relationship between the U.S. and China, as more reports trickle in about attacks on American universities, companies and other institutions.