Executives at Chinese telecommunications firms are bracing for a possibly unfavorable report from the House Intelligence Committee, which has been investigating whether the companies pose a national security risk to American computer networks.
The report is scheduled to be released on Monday (despite the federal holiday), nearly a year after the committee announced its probe into whether Chinese companies like ZTE and Huawei could provide “backdoors” for the Chinese government to spy on or even take control of networks in the United States.
In November of last year, Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., launched the investigation after an initial inquiry suggested that Chinese network components constitute “a rising national security concern of the highest priority.”
Executives at Huawei, one of the largest telecom firms in the world, are not optimistic that the committee’s final report will greatly differ from that initial conclusion, William Plummer, the company’s vice president for external affairs, told National Journal. A spokeswoman for the committee said the report will include "recommendations" but would not elaborate further.
Plummer said the investigation was born of “myth and innuendo” and unfounded political concerns.
“It’s politically driven, I get that,” he said. “But Huawei is Huawei. Huawei isn’t China. Any suggestion otherwise is really unfortunate.”
Lawmakers reject the charge that the investigation is motivated by political suspicion of China.
“We already know the Chinese are hacking into our networks,” the committee's ranking member, Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., said at a September hearing on the issue. “This is not political jousting or trade protectionism masquerading as national security.”
Huawei, which does 70 percent of its business outside of China, has too much to lose to collaborate with Chinese spies, Plummer argued. “It would be commercial suicide. It would just be stupid,” he said. “It’s a conspiracy that’s unbelievable. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Huawei has been operating in the United States for years, and Plummer says even an unfavorable report will be little more than a bump in the road for the company, which doesn’t need congressional approval for its business here. At worst, he said, the focus on Chinese-based companies is a distraction from cyberthreats to components and networks from every company.
Those arguments have yet to sway Rogers, who has been one of the most vocal critics of what he calls an “intolerable” level of cyberespionage coming from China. “Every piece of this equipment, every code of software, every update, provides that country a means to act against the United States," Rogers said at the September hearing.