Senators and Trump administration officials on both sides of the dais during Tuesday’s Intelligence Committee hearing raised concerns over Chinese telecommunications equipment companies Huawei and ZTE, two of the world’s largest cellphone makers, amid recent efforts waged by Republicans attempting to keep either from infiltrating U.S. markets.
Lawmakers and witnesses alike spoke warily of Chinese tech firms trying to expand their presence in the U.S. during Tuesday’s extensive hearing on worldwide threats, where six of the nation’s top intelligence and law enforcement officials, including the heads of the FBI, NSA and the director of national intelligence, spent hours answering questions involving foreign adversaries, both countries and companies.
“The focus of my concern today is China, and specifically Chinese telecoms like Huawei and ZTE, that are widely understood to have extraordinary ties to the Chinese government,” said Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican and committee chairman.
“Most Americans have not heard of all of these companies,” added Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the panel’s ranking Democrat. “But as they enter Western economic markets, we want to ensure they play by the rules. We need to makes sure that this is not a new way for China to gain access to sensitive technology.”
Facing questioning from Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, witnesses agreed that letting Chinese tech firms into the U.S. market could probe to be problematic.
“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,” FBI Director Chris Wray testified.
“That provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure, it provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information and it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.”
“I would say you need to look long and hard at companies like this,” agreed U.S. Navy Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency.
Mr. Cotton followed up by asking each of the witnesses if they would recommend Huawei or ZTE products to U.S. citizens. None answered affirmatively.
“Huawei is aware of a range of U.S. government activities seemingly aimed at inhibiting Huawei’s business in the U.S. market,” a company spokesman said afterwards. “Huawei is trusted by governments and customers in 170 countries worldwide and poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor, sharing as we do common global supply chains and production capabilities.”
ZTE officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Reuters reported.
“I don’t know where the United States’ sense of insecurity comes from. But I want to emphasize that in this world there is no such thing as absolute security. One country’s security can’t be put before another country’s security,” responded Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, according to Reuters.
Congress members quietly pressured AT&T towards cutting ties last month with Huawei and another Chinese firm over national security concerns, according to previous reports, and Mr. Cotton introduced a bill last week alongside Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, banning the U.S. government from buying or leasing telecom equipment from Huawei or ZTE.
“Huawei is effectively an arm of the Chinese government, and it’s more than capable of stealing information from U.S. officials by hacking its devices,” Mr. Cotton said in unveiling the bill. “There are plenty of other companies that can meet our technology needs, and we shouldn’t make it any easier for China to spy on us.”
“Chinese telecom companies, like Huawei, are directly linked to the Chinese government and communist party,” Mr. Rubio added. “For national security reasons, we cannot allow a foreign adversary to embed their technology in U.S. government systems or critical infrastructure.”
Previously the Trump administration banned government agencies from using products made by Kaspersky Lab, a privately owned Russian software company, citing similar security concerns. Kaspersky has denied aiding the Russian government and is currently challenging the ban in federal court.
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