Huawei Is a Security Threat and There's Proof, Says Hayden

Huawei is absolutely a threat and the U.S. has "hard evidence," former CIA and NSA head General Michael Hayden told an Australian newspaper.

Chinese telecom provider Huawei represents an unambiguous national security threat to the United States and Australia, Gen. Michael Hayden, the former director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and now a security consultant and director of Motorola Solutions, told the Australian Financial Review, according to a July 19 report.

In his first in-depth, on-the-record interview since leaving the CIA in 2009, Hayden said that despite Huawei's best efforts to ease his concerns, "God did not make enough briefing slides on Huawei to convince me that having them involved in our critical communications infrastructure was going to be okay."

This judgment, he said, was based not on prejudice but a "four-decade career as an intelligence officer."

Unable to give specifics, Hayden offered, "I recognize the danger of implants and backdoors in telecommunications networks. Beyond that, just a foreign firm gaining the intimate knowledge they would get by helping build a telecommunications network is a sufficient 'first principles' national security problem to give you serious pause before you even consider the presence of backdoors."

When asked to confirm that hard evidence exists that Huawei has spied on behalf of the Chinese government, Hayden said, "Yes."

"At a minimum," he continued, "Huawei would have shared with the Chinese state intimate and extensive knowledge of the foreign telecommunications systems it is involved with."

He added that China targets some companies as "national champions," and Huawei falls into that category.

"As an intelligence professional," he continued, "I stand back in awe at the breadth, depth, sophistication and persistence of the Chinese espionage campaign against the West."

The U.S. House Intelligence Committee released a paper in October 2012, following a nearly yearlong investigation, warning that Huawei and ZTE posed a national security risk and their telecommunications equipment shouldn't be used in critical infrastructure systems.

Huawei, which was founded by a former People's Liberation Army officer, aggressively disputed those claims, as well as Hayden's comments.

John Suffolk, Huawei's global cyber security officer, told Reuters in a statement that he is tired of "unsubstantiated, defamatory remarks" and those with so-called evidence should present it.

"Huawei meets the communication needs of more than a third of the planet and our customers have the right to know what these unsubstantiated concerns are," Suffolk said in his statement. "It's time to put up or shut up."

The U.S. government also does its share of spying on the Chinese, as documents revealed by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden revealed. According to the South China Morning Post, Snowden said that the NSA hacks Chinese cell phone companies to reads the SMS (short message service) data of Chinese citizens.

"I fully admit: We steal other country's secrets. And frankly, we're quite good at it," said Hayden. "But the reason we steal these secrets is to keep our citizens free and to keep them safe. We don't steal secrets to make our citizens rich. Yet, this is exactly what the Chinese do."

He added, later in the interview, "I don't think China is an enemy of the United States. There is no good reason for China to be an enemy. There are logical, non-heroic policy choices available to the leaders of both nations that will allow the relationship to remain competitive, if occasionally confrontational."

Follow Michelle Maisto on Twitter.