For years, the US government has been very vocal about its distrust of Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei, pointedly blocking acquisitions and takeovers that would allow the company to gain more ground on US soil and urging some foreign governments to adopt the same stance. They believed – and still do – that Huawei had direct ties with the Chinese government, and would insert backdoors into their products to spy on Americans.
Despite all this, and in light of all the recent revelations about NSA spying activities, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that all the while, the US intelligence agency has been burrowing deep in precisely that company’s networks.
According to The New York Times, the NSA has managed to compromise the servers in Huawei’s Shenzhen headquarters, to get their hands on source code and other information about the company’s popular networking equipment, and to monitor the communications of the company’s CEO Ren Zhengfei and Chairwoman of the Board of Directors Sun Yafang.
The operation was code-named “Shotgiant,” and dates back to 2009, Its ostensible goal was to discover whether Huawei had links with the People’s Liberation Army (Huawei’s founder and CEO used to be a PLA engineer).
But another, probably even more important goal was to find a way to compromise the company’s technology, as it is used around the world.
“Many of our targets communicate over Huawei produced products,” the NSA document shared by Edward Snowden said. “We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products to gain access to networks of interest.”
Huawei is the largest telecommunications equipment maker in the world – it produces networking equipment, smartphones and tablets, fiber optic cable, and more – and is a direct competitor to US’ Cisco Systems.
The US government has repeatedly stated it does not perform economic espionage, and that they do not share intelligence they collect with US companies “to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”
Unfortunately, they have lost much of its credibility in the last year or so, and this latest revelation is just one more nail in that coffin. While it would be naive to think that the US are doing what other governments do not, the thing with all these revelations is that they tear down the image the US government has been building of itself for decades.
Der Spiegel has also published a report about these same documents, and they say that along wit Huawei, the US intelligence agency targeted also former Chinese President Hu Jintao, the Chinese Trade Ministry, banks, as well as other telecommunications companies.
Also, that the Shotgiant operation was aided by the White House intelligence coordinator and the FBI.
It’s interesting to note that none of these documents finally say whether Huawei is tied to the PLA or the Chinese government.
“If such espionage has been truly conducted, then it is known that the company is independent and has no unusual ties to any government and that knowledge should be relayed publicly to put an end to an era of mis- and disinformation,” commented Huawei spokesman Bill Plummer.
“If it is true, the irony is that exactly what they are doing to us is what they have always charged that the Chinese are doing through us.”