Huawei Network Security Becomes Issue in Sprint Softbank Merger

NEWS ANALYSIS: An agreement between U.S. law enforcement and wireless firms to drop Huawei from a list of acceptable  telecom vendors may look like paranoia, until you look a little deeper.

To say that government officials in Washington, D.C., are paranoid about Chinese spies would be incorrect. After all, as the saying goes, it's not paranoia if they really are out to get you. This is very much the situation in Washington, and it explains a lot about why a number of government agencies and members of Congress are insisting that Softbank and Sprint not use equipment from Chinese manufacturer Huawei when their merger goes through.

The pending agreement, which was reported in The New York Times March 28, makes it clear that approval of the merger hinges on meeting national security concerns. For its part, Softbank has reported that it has already excluded Huawei from wireless networks it builds in Japan. Sprint does not use Huawei in its own networks, but does in its Clearwire subsidiary. Sprint has agreed to replace the existing Huawei telecom equipment at Clearwire.

So what's fueling this heightened level of concern in Washington? The fact is that the Chinese government is already doing everything it can to infiltrate its spies into every walk of life in this region. There are restaurants in Washington's Chinatown that are owned indirectly by the Chinese government and are used as places to gather information as well as to serve as conduits for infiltration. These places, which have been raided by immigration agents on several occasions, serve as safe houses for Chinese staying in the U.S. illegally.

On March 25, a Chinese national was sentenced to prison for stealing secret navigation technology used in cruise missiles, drones and smart bombs. A few days before that, another Chinese national was caught at Washington Dulles International Airport by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI while trying to flee the U.S. with his luggage stuffed with hard drives and flash drives containing secret rocket and other weapons technology stolen from NASA, where he worked as a contractor. The same person had been suspected of illegally taking technology secrets to China on previous trips. This time, he was leaving with a one-way ticket.

A few months before that, an FBI sting caught Chinese spies in action trying to steal secrets in the Pentagon parking lot. A tape of the operation was broadcast on the CBS news program "60 Minutes," and resulted in prison time for the Chinese spy involved and for his American counterpart.

The Chinese intelligence effort seems to spare nothing in its efforts to penetrate the U.S. government. National Journal reporter Bruce Stokes told Washingtonian magazine that Chinese intelligence services impersonated him by spoofing his email.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...