Intelligence

Pompeo: Huawei deals threatens info-sharing with allies

5G (dencg/Shutterstock.com) 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said countries that fail to heed warnings about Chinese telecommunications provider Huawei are putting their security and information-sharing relationships with the U.S. at risk.

In a Feb. 21 interview with Fox News Business, Pompeo said the U.S. has been trying to sell allies on the risks posed by using the Chinese telecommunications firm's products in building out their 5G networks or in government systems.

"If a country adopts [Huwaei technology] and puts it in some of their critical information systems, we won't be able to share information with them, we won't be able to work alongside them," Pompeo said. "In some cases, there's a risk we won't be able to co-locate American resources, American embassies and American military outposts."

Pompeo's comments come the same week as the United Kingdom and Germany distanced themselves from a U.S. campaign to freeze Huawei out of the 5G market.

The U.S. has long contended that Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE are essentially private arms of the Chinese government and would be compelled to spy on other countries at the behest of Beijing.

The U.S. campaign has had some success, with countries like Australia, Japan, Canada and New Zealand following the U.S. lead in banning Huawei tech from government networks or 5G infrastructure, but the lower costs Huawei can offer to countries and private companies and the inability to convince allies like the U.K. and Germany may illustrate the limits of such a strategy.

Acquisition provisions in appropriations bills going back to the Obama administration have made it difficult if not impossible for federal agencies to procure technology equipment manufactured by companies with links to the Chinese government or the People's Liberation Army.

Many national security officials have also expressed concerns that Huawei equipment may have backdoors installed that would facilitate Chinese surveillance and espionage. Pompeo said the U.S. was privately sharing knowledge of Huawei's risk "that America has gained from its vast network" of intelligence with allies as part of the campaign.

A 2012 report from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence identified connections between Huawei and ZTE and China's government. It did not conclude, however, that the Chinese government or military used backdoors in Huawei or ZTE gear to conduct espionage. That assessment has yet to be publicly contradicted by U.S. officials.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Geng Shuang said Feb. 21 that in a globalized world, countries cannot develop 5G without relying in part on Chinese products and that "all countries can form their own judgments and make independent decisions that serve their own interests and follow the trend of the times."

The Trump administration's messaging has not been entirely consistent. On the same day Pompeo issued his warning to other countries, Trump tweeted that when it comes to 5G, American companies need to "step up their efforts or get left behind."

"I want the United States to win through competition, not by blocking out currently more advanced technologies," Trump tweeted.

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a senior staff writer at FCW, covering governmentwide IT policy, cybersecurity and a range of other federal technology issues.

Prior to joining FCW, Johnson was a freelance technology journalist. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, GoodCall News, Foreign Policy Journal, Washington Technology, Elevation DC, Connection Newspapers and The Maryland Gazette.

Johnson has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Hofstra University and a Master's degree in public policy from George Mason University. He can be contacted at djohnson@fcw.com, or follow him on Twitter @derekdoestech.

Click here for previous articles by Johnson.


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