China computer deal could threaten State security

Rep. Wolf’s letters, USCC letter

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A lawmaker’s complaints about potential security risks has led the State Department to alter its information technology procurement policies after it bought nearly 16,000 computers last fall from Lenovo, a Chinese company with connections to the Chinese government.

In multiple letters this month to top Bush administration officials, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) expressed concern that using the computers would put State’s and other departments’ classified networks at risk.

“As you must be aware, the Chinese have a coordinated espionage program against our government,” Wolf said. “These computers should not be used in the classified network.”

Wolf echoed the concerns of the U.S.-China Commission (USCC), a congressional watchdog entity that evaluates the effects of the United States’ trade relationship with China. In an April 25 letter, USCC officials said they saw dangerous parallels between the State deal and Lenovo’s purchase of IBM’s computer division in 2005.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States criticized the 2005 deal because of the Chinese government’s large investments and influence in the company.

The House Appropriations Committee has allotted $4.2 billion to State since 2002 to connect overseas posts with the department’s classified and unclassified networks, Wolf told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a May 4 letter. “I am distressed to learn that your department may be jeopardizing this investment in a secure IT infrastructure,” he said.

Richard Griffin, assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, met with Wolf and his staff May 17, according to a May 18 letter to Wolf.

State is changing its procurement process “in light of the changing ownership of IT equipment providers,” Griffin said. The changes, made in concert with the General Services Administration, will guarantee information security and compliance with federal procurement law, he said.

After consulting with federal security experts, State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security has recommended that the computers be used for unclassified purposes only, Griffin said. State is also performing extra inspections and verification tests on the systems.

According to the USCC letter, 15,000 of the computers would handle unclassified data. The remaining 900 would work in State’s classified network that carries information as high as the secret level, it states.

Those 900 computers would also connect to the Defense Department’s Secret IP Router Network system, DOD’s network for classified applications and databases and secure messaging, the letter states.

“This transaction will potentially give the Chinese access to Department of Defense intelligence information as well as the inner workings of the Department of State on issues ranging from human rights to Taiwan to arms control negotiations to countless other areas,” the letter states.

“The fact that these computers may be assembled outside of China or that the software is produced in the U.S. does not eliminate the opportunity for covert means to gain access to some of our nation’s most important data,” the letter continues.

Wolf outlined his concerns in May 4 letters to Rice; Joshua Bolten, President Bush’s chief of staff; John Negroponte, director of national intelligence; and Robert Mueller, the FBI’s director.

“This could be a problem,” Wolf said in a handwritten note at the bottom of his letter to Bolten. “Everyone remembers the problem with the American Embassy in Russia.” He included similar notes in his letters to Negroponte and Mueller.

Wolf was referring to the U.S. facility riddled with covert Soviet eavesdropping equipment during the Cold War.

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