The White House Denies Ordering a Secret Report Clearing Huawei of Espionage

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Cue the conspiracy theories: an 18-month, Reuters says it got its hands on "a White House-ordered review of security risks posed by suppliers to U.S. telecommunications companies" that cleared Chinese telecom giant Huawei of allegations of actively spying on the U.S. government. But we're not quite sure what to make of the report, since the White House has denied ordering the report in the first place. "The White House has not conducted any classified inquiry that resulted in clearing any telecom equipment supplier," White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told Reuters. It's hard to tell if Hayden's comments mean that the White House hasn't yet cleared Huawei of espionage or if Hayden is denying that the White House was involved in the review on Huawei, or some combination of both.

But what we do have is Reuters touting an 18-month classified review on Huawei, the world's largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment in the world (and is poised to get even bigger) and its espionage capabilities. "[I]ntelligence agencies and other departments conducted the largely classified inquiry, delving into reports of suspicious activity and asking detailed questions of nearly 1,000 telecom equipment buyers," writes Reuters's Joseph Menn, who is getting his information from two anonymous sources who are insistent that the request came from the White House. 

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According to Menn, the report states that although there are vulnerabilities in Huawei's telecommunications equipment, there is no evidence that the company is actively spying on the U.S. for China. "We knew certain parts of government really wanted [evidence of active spying] ... We would have found it if it were there," one of Menn's anonymous sources said.

But that might not be the full story. It's important to take into account that the study concluded earlier this year, and a lot can happen in that window of time. "For example, it is unclear if security vulnerabilities found in Huawei equipment were placed there deliberately. It is also not clear whether any critical new intelligence emerged after the inquiry ended," wrote Menn.

And the findings, though similar, aren't to be confused with The House Committee on Intelligence's investigation into Huawei, which 60 Minutes reported on October 7. "If I were an American company today, and I'll tell you this as the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and you are looking at Huawei, I would find another vendor if you care about your intellectual property," Republican Congressman Mike Rogers told 60 Minutes. As Menn reports, Rogers's and the House's investigation "noted the potential for spying through Huawei gear installed to manage traffic on wireless networks. The committee also criticized Huawei's leadership for failing to provide details about its relationships with Chinese government agencies." 

That said, Huawei is gigantic. It's hoping to be to be a pioneer and build the next generation of digital networks in the U.S., and if it were in cahoots with China that would be devastating in terms of national security, intellectual property, and the economic growth. Just last year, the U.S. Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive found that China was the world's "most active and persistent" perpetrators of economic spying and estimated $50 billion in losses in 2009 "due to lost intellectual property and counterfeiting, through all means of theft, including cyber break-ins."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.