We've noted for some time how Chinese hardware vendor Huawei has been consistently accused of spying on American citizens without any substantive, public evidence. You might recall that these accusations flared up several years ago, resulting in numerous investigations that culminated in no hard evidence whatsoever to support the allegations. We're not talking about superficial inquiries, we're talking about eighteen months, in-depth reviews by people with every interest in exposing them. One anonymous insider put it this way in the wake of the last bout of hysteria surrounding the company:
"We knew certain parts of government really wanted” evidence of active spying, said one of the people, who requested anonymity. “We would have found it if it were there."
Never mind that almost all U.S. network gear is made in (or comprised of parts made in) China. Never mind that years of reports have shown the United States spies on almost everyone, constantly. Never mind that reports have emerged that a lot of the spy allegations often originate with Huawei competitor Cisco, which was simply concerned with the added competition. Huawei is a spy. We're sure of it. And covert network snooping is bad. When China does it.
Worries over Huawei bubbled up again recently when the U.S. government pressured both AT&T and Verizon to kill off plans to sell Huawei phones here in the States. It should be noted that Huawei phones are already available here, and the company has worked with several U.S. companies to gain a foothold in the U.S. market (like when it partnered with Google on the Nexus 6P). It should also probably be noted that in the modern era, you can't really differentiate between where a company like AT&T ends and the NSA begins, given the telco's extreme enthusiasm for spying on American citizens itself.
This week, hysteria concerning Huawei again reached a fevered pitch, as U.S. intelligence chiefs, testifying before Congress over Russian hacking and disinformation concerns, again proclaimed that Huawei was spying on American citizens and their products most assuredly should not be used:
"At the hearing, FBI Director Chris Wray testified, “We’re deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks." Purchasing Huawei or ZTE products, Wray added, “provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage."
Which values would those be, exactly? Would it be the values, as leaked Edward Snowden docs revealed, that resulted in the NSA hacking into Huawei, stealing source code, then attempting to plant its own backdoors into Huawei products? Or perhaps it's the values inherent in working closely with companies like AT&T to hoover up every shred of data that touches the AT&T network and share it with the intelligence community? Perhaps it's the values inherent in trying to demonize encryption, by proxy weakening security for everyone?
News outlets, semi-oblivious to their own nationalism, quickly ignored the NSA's hypocrisy when it comes to worrying about values and regurgitated the intel chiefs' concerns. Few could also be bothered to note that numerous investigations have culminated in bupkis, the NSA has routinely and consistently been caught doing precisely what they accuse Huawei of, or that American companies tend to drum up hysteria on this front simply because they're afraid of competition (protectionism we routinely and justly accuse China of).
Focusing on Huawei also seems semi-myopic, given the fact that Chinese hardware can already be found in an absolute ocean of products available here in the States, many of which are made by U.S. hardware vendors. It also ignores the fact that if somebody really wants to hack us, all they need to do is spend five seconds hunting down one of a million poorly secured internet of broken things devices, which create millions of new easily-exploited attack vendors annually in businesses and residences nationwide.
None of this is to say it's impossible that Huawei has helped the Chinese government spy, much like our own companies here in the States. But if you're going to discuss this subject, you can't have an honest conversation without highlighting our own hypocrisy on this front, given it's abundantly clear that we're perfectly OK with unethical behavior, backdoors, and spying with negligible oversight and accountability -- provided the United States is the one doing it.