The House intelligence panel has launched an investigation into the national security threat it sees from Chinese-owned telecommunications companies in the United States.
Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the panel, announced the decision Thursday in the latest U.S. effort to curb the activities and influence of Chinese technology firms. Many of those companies are perceived as little more than arms of the Chinese government.
“This investigation will look into the extent to which these companies provide the Chinese with opportunities for greater foreign espionage, threaten our critical national infrastructure … and are involved in the theft of intellectual property” from U.S. companies, Mr. Ruppersberger said.
“The public has very little idea. The threat to our nation is real and present.”
A series of recent events has focused attention on the increasing thefts of cutting-edge technology and other intellectual property by cyber-intruders, many of them based in China.
Earlier this month, the Office of the U.S. National Counter-Intelligence Executive, the nation’s spy-catching agency, said in its annual report that “Chinese actors are the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage.”
The use of computer-based spying “is already a larger threat than more traditional espionage methods,” the agency added.
Mr. Ruppersberger said the investigation would include briefings from telecommunications providers and security experts and interviews with key U.S. government officials.
The probe will also use a series of hearings to determine “whether our intelligence community is appropriately focused on discovering and countering the full extent of Chinese penetration” of critical U.S. computer networks, the lawmaker said.
The announcement of the investigation follows a report last week from China Telecom that it will seek to sell mobile- phone services in the United States next year. That move may be subject to regulatory approval from federal agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission or the Department of Justice, according to Bloomberg news.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence did not mention China Telecom, but it did name two other large Chinese telecommunications firms: Huawei and ZTE.
The United States has cited national security for repeatedly blocking Huawei from acquiring American companies.
The firm’s founder and CEO is a retired Chinese military officer who worked in the area of information and cyberwarfare. Some observers believe Huawei maintains close links to the Chinese military.
Neither Huawei nor the Chinese Embassy responded to a request for comment.