Exclusive: US investigating Chinese company Huawei over equipment near missile silos

WASHINGTON, July 21 (Reuters) – The Biden administration is investigating Chinese communications equipment maker Huawei over concerns that U.S. cell towers fitted with its equipment might pick up sensitive information from military bases and missile silos that the company could then send to China, it said. Two familiar people said. With the command he said.

Authorities are concerned that Huawei (HWT.UL) may obtain sensitive data about military exercises and the readiness status of bases and personnel via equipment, said one of the people, who requested anonymity because the investigation is confidential and involves national security.

The Commerce Department opened the previously unreported investigation shortly after Joe Biden took office early last year, according to sources, following the implementation of rules to clarify the May 2019 executive order that gave the agency the authority to investigate.

The agency summoned Huawei in April 2021 to learn the company’s policy on sharing data with foreign parties that its devices could pick up from mobile phones, including messages and professional geo-data, according to the 10-page document seen by Reuters.

The Commerce Department said it could not “confirm or deny the ongoing investigations”. “Protecting the safety and security of American people from the collection of malicious information is vital to protecting our economy and national security,” she added.

Huawei did not respond to a request for comment. The company has vehemently denied allegations by the US government that it may spy on US customers and pose a threat to national security.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to the specific allegations. In an emailed statement, it said: “The United States government is violating the concept of national security and the authority of the state to do its utmost to suppress Huawei and other Chinese telecom companies without providing any conclusive evidence that they pose a security threat to the United States and other countries.”

Reuters was unable to determine what actions the agency might take against Huawei.

Eight current and former US government officials said the investigation reflects ongoing national security concerns about the company, which has already been hit by a slew of US restrictions in recent years.

For a timeline on the US government’s trade restrictions on Huawei, please click https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-CHINA/HUAWEI-TIMELINE/zgvomxwlgvd/

If the Commerce Department determines Huawei is a national security threat, it could bypass existing restrictions imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the US telecoms regulator.

Using broad new powers created by the Trump administration, the agency could block all US transactions with Huawei, require US telecoms companies that still depend on its equipment to remove it quickly, or face fines or other penalties, and a number of former lawyers, academics and officials. An interview with Reuters said.

The FCC declined to comment.

Technology war between the United States and China

Huawei has long faced allegations from the US government that it may spy on US customers, although authorities in Washington have not revealed enough evidence. The company denies these allegations.

“If Chinese companies like Huawei are given unfettered access to our communications infrastructure, they can collect any of your information traversing their devices or networks,” FBI Director Christopher Wray warned in a speech in 2020. option but to hand it over to the Chinese government, if asked to do so.”

Reuters was unable to determine whether Huawei equipment was able to collect and provide this type of sensitive information to China.

said Jim Lewis, a technology and cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, DC-based think tank.

One of the steps to address the perceived threat was a 2019 law and related rules that prohibit US companies from using federal subsidies to purchase Huawei communications equipment. It also tasked the FCC with forcing US carriers that receive federal subsidies to purge their networks of Huawei equipment, in exchange for compensation.

But the deadline for the so-called “rip and replace” to completely remove and destroy Huawei equipment won’t start until mid-2023 at the earliest, with additional opportunities for companies to get an extension. Repayments will only amount to 40% of the total required at the moment.

Towers close to the missiles

Cell towers equipped with Huawei equipment close to sensitive military and intelligence sites have become a particular concern of US authorities, according to the two sources and the FCC commissioner.

Brendan Carr, one of the Federal Communications Commission’s five commissioners, said the cellphone towers around Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana — one of three that oversee missile fields in the United States — are powered by Huawei technology.

In an interview this week, he told Reuters there was a risk that data from smartphones obtained by Huawei could reveal troop movements near locations: “There is a very real concern that some of this technology could be used as an early warning system if that were to be, God forbid, an intercontinental ballistic missile strike.”

Reuters was unable to determine the exact location or range of Huawei equipment operating near military facilities. Individuals interviewed by Reuters cited at least two other possible cases in Nebraska and Wyoming.

Crystal Rhoades, a commissioner with the Nebraska Communications Regulatory Authority, has informed the media of the danger posed by the proximity of Fierro-owned cell towers to silos for intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the western part of the state.

ICBMs carry nuclear warheads to targets thousands of miles away and are stored in underground silos near military bases. The Nebraska cell towers are located near a missile field overseen by FE Warren Air Force Base in neighboring Wyoming.

Viaero provides mobile and wireless broadband services to approximately 110,000 customers in the region. In a 2018 report to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opposing the commission’s efforts to limit Huawei’s expansion, it said that nearly 80% of its devices were manufactured by the Chinese company.

Rhodes told Reuters in June that this hardware could potentially enable Huawei to collect sensitive location information.

“A hostile country can see when things are online, when things are offline, the level of security, how many people are working in any building where there are really dangerous and sophisticated weapons,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said in July that it had not been updated on the ruptures and replacement efforts that Fierro has been in for more than two years, despite requesting updated information from the company in recent weeks.

At the time of the last call, the company said it would not begin removal efforts until FCC funds became available.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) advised companies on Monday how much funding requests they can repay.

Fierro did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Huawei also declined to comment.

In Wyoming, then-CEO of rural transportation company Union Wireless, John Woody, said in a 2018 interview with Reuters that the company’s coverage area included intercontinental ballistic missile silos near FE Warren Air Force Base and that its equipment included Huawei switches, routers and cellular sites.

“Almost all Huawei Gear Union devices purchased remain in our network,” Eric Woody, John’s son and acting CEO, said last month. He declined to say whether towers near sensitive military sites contained Huawei equipment.

FE Warren Air Force Base has referred suspension of Huawei equipment to the Pentagon. “We are constantly aware of activities near our facilities and locations,” the US Strategic Command, which is responsible for nuclear operations, said in a statement to Reuters. He indicated that “any concerns are at the level of the government as a whole” but declined to provide further details on what those concerns are.

New forces against external opponents

Rick Sufield, a former Justice Department official in the National Security Division who reviewed communications transactions, said the Commerce Department investigation may give an additional boost to the FCC’s campaign, but there was nothing new in targeting Huawei.

“. . .,” said Sufield, who represents US and foreign companies facing US national security reviews. He said he did not work for Huawei.

The Commerce Department uses the authority granted in 2019 that allows it to ban or restrict transactions between US companies and Internet, telecoms and technology companies from “foreign hostile” countries including Russia and China, in accordance with the executive order and related rules.

The two sources familiar with the Huawei investigation and a former government official said that Huawei was one of the first cases of the Biden administration using the new powers, which the Justice Department referred to commerce in early 2021.

The Justice Department referred requests for comment from Reuters to Commerce.

The subpoena is dated April 13, 2021, the same day the trade announced it had sent a document request to an unnamed Chinese company under the new powers.

Huawei is given 30 days to provide seven years’ worth of “records identifying Huawei’s business transactions and relationships with foreign entities located outside the United States, including foreign government agencies or parties, that have access to the United States or share in any capacity the user data that compiled by Huawei”.

Noting that “the focus of this investigation is the provision of mobile network and communications equipment … by Huawei in the United States,” it also requests that Huawei obtain a complete catalog “of all types of equipment sold” to “any communications provider in the United States” including the names and locations of the selling parties.

(Alexandra Alber reports) Additional reporting by Diane Bartz. Editing by Chris Sanders and Lisa Schumaker

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