- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A U.S. supercomputer laboratory engaged in classified military research concluded a recent deal involving Chinese-made components that is raising concerns in Congress about potential electronic espionage.

The concerns are based on a contract reached this summer between a computer-technology firm and the National Center for Computational Engineering at the University of Tennessee, whose supercomputers simulate flight tests for next-generation U.S. military aircraft and spacecraft, and simulate submarine warfare for the Navy.

The storage system for the contract calls for using software from U.S. cybersecurity firm Symantec installed over devices made by Huawei Technologies, a Chinese telecommunications giant that U.S. officials have said has close ties to China’s military. Huawei and Symantec formed a joint venture in 2008, with Huawei owning 51 percent of the shares of the enterprise.

Last week, four Republican senators and one member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence urged the Pentagon and Energy Department in a letter to review the contract for potential risks to national security.

The lawmakers’ request highlights tensions between the intelligence community and high-technology companies on how sensitive computer servers, microchips and software that are designed or produced in foreign countries can provide foreign intelligence services backdoor access to sensitive information systems.

Huawei made its presence at a wireless trade show in Las Vegas this year. Some in Congress fear the Chinese telecommunications giant, said to have ties to China's military, poses a risk to national security with its deal to supply components to a supercomputer lab that is a defense contractor. (Associated Press)
Huawei made its presence at a wireless trade show in Las Vegas ... more >

“Given Huawei’s close ties to the [Chinese] government and its military and intelligence sectors, its history of alleged corrupt practices and infringement on intellectual-property rights, and concerns it may act as an agent for a foreign government, Huawei is not an appropriate partner for advanced U.S. research centers - especially those working on critical or classified defense projects for the United States government,” the five lawmakers stated in an Aug. 9 letter to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Mary Schapiro, chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The lawmakers were Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn and Sen. James M. Inhofe, both of Oklahoma, and Rep. Sue Wilkins Myrick, a North Carolina Republican who chairs the House Intelligence subcommittee that oversees counterintelligence.

Huawei’s vice president for external affairs, William Plummer, said in an interview Tuesday that the concerns expressed by the lawmakers are misplaced.

“This letter is just the most recent chapter in what has become a tiresome book promoting fear about China and slandering Huawei as a proxy,” he said. “The fiction is growing old.”

Huawei was founded in 1988 by Ren Zhengfei, a former engineer for the People’s Liberation Army, the Chinese military. U.S. intelligence agencies suspect the company of having the capability of bugging microchips it seeks to install in U.S. networks and equipment that could give China’s government the equivalent of a listening post inside U.S. telecommunications architecture.

In 2008, the Treasury Department-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States blocked a proposed sale of the software company 3com to Huawei, based on national security grounds. Last year, representatives of the National Security Agency urged major telecommunications companies such as AT&T and Sprint to cancel a deal that would put Huawei firmware and hardware on the cell towers of the national 4G wireless network.

“My understanding is the ownership of Huawei is closely tied to the government of China,” said retired Air Force Col. John Toomer, who left the service this year as deputy director of the cyber and information operations directorate.

“We’ve had that fear for a long time, of having chips compromised by intelligence services,” he said. “You are inviting a risk by using chips manufactured by Huawei at such a sensitive facility.”

Mr. Plummer said in response to that allegation that his company should not be singled out.

“Cybersecurity concerns are real, they are global, they are agnostic to national borders and they apply equally to the entire information, communication, technology industry supply chain,” Mr. Plummer said. “It is incorrect to suggest that the gear of one vendor is somehow less secure than the gear of another.”

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