- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2020

The U.S. government’s battle against Huawei spilled into public view last week, with a leading Department of Defense official locking horns with Huawei’s chief security officer at a cybersecurity conference in California.

The government’s dispute with Huawei over the Chinese company’s 5G network capabilities has largely been limited to closed-door meetings in boardrooms and governmental agencies, but the confrontation is becoming more visible.

As Huawei has gained ground in the battle for control over the fifth generation for wireless technology, the U.S. has increasingly warned of the cybersecurity risk posed by Huawei. The feud between the American government and one of the world’s leading telecom suppliers and phone manufactures boiled over at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, where Defense Department official Katie Arrington sparred with Huawei’s Donald “Andy” Purdy onstage.

“Yes, you do have to assume some risk in your supply chain … we know that, but when you have a product that could take over, run, manipulate, the most critical things in our country, why would you not want to be sure that company has all the right philosophical endeavors? To which, they don’t. Period,” Ms. Arrington said of Huawei. “You can talk all you want, you can talk about will you make this trade-off, will you make that trade-off? I don’t want to be in a world, to your point, Andy, where I wake up one morning and the banks don’t work and the traffic lights don’t work.”

Mr. Purdy replied by asking a question relating to whether several nations already have the technological capability that the U.S. was warning Huawei and the Chinese could exploit.

“But Katie, is it true or is it not true that at least five nations of the world have the power to virtually implant hidden functionality in hardware and software and launch later a virtual attack?” Mr. Purdy asked.

Ms. Arrington and Mr. Purdy talked over one another, while fellow panelist Bruce Schneier of Harvard Kennedy School interjected with an answer of the names of countries, which include both American allies and adversaries. Neither Ms. Arrington nor Mr. Purdy responded to Mr. Schneier.

“The bottom line is we’re a democracy,” Ms. Arrington said. “We’re different.”

She continued to needle Mr. Purdy and fired barbs at Huawei such as, “Their programmers are where Microsoft was 25 years ago.”

Mr. Purdy largely ignored the criticism and countered that he thought the U.S. government should look to talk with Huawei rather than freeze the company out entirely.

“Block Huawei if you must, but we need to do a whole lot more to make America safer and make America more competitive in the world,” Mr. Purdy said.

The government is doing more than simply blocking Huawei. On Thursday, the Senate unanimously approved legislation that would provide $1 billion to rural telecom providers to rip and replace Huawei technology.

The federal government also is taking new steps to collect information about Huawei in the U.S. On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission said it was beginning to collect information from telecommunications carriers about the use of Huawei and ZTE equipment and services in their networks.

While there is no clear whole-of-government approach to countering Huawei, the U.S. banned companies from using Huawei equipment in 2012 and President Trump issued an executive order in 2019 that essentially blocked the company from U.S. communications networks.

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