The Pentagon and U.S. Cyber Command have blocked the use of telecommunications equipment produced by the global Chinese company Huawei Technologies over cyber spying fears, according to congressional testimony last week.
Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work was asked if the Pentagon employs Huawei equipment during an appearance before the House Armed Services Committee.
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"Absolutely not," Work said. "I don’t believe we operate any [Huawei] systems in the Pentagon."
Adm. Mike Rogers, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, also said Huawei is not used by his command and agency.
"For us, I think it’s a broader conscious decision as we look at supply chain and we look at potential vulnerabilities within the system that it’s a risk we felt was unacceptable," Rogers said.
Works said he agreed with the four-star admiral about the security risks.
However, the deputy secretary said he could not say if U.S. defense contractors are using Huawei equipment.
U.S. intelligence agencies and congressional investigators have said Huawei equipment has been found to have electronic back doors and other electronic features that allow remote access to networks.
"I’ll have to take that for the record sir," Work said. "I know of no defense contractors that are using Huawei equipment but I just don’t know."Huawei Technologies is a global Chinese telecommunications company that has tried several times to purchase U.S. companies or conduct joint ventures with American firms in a bid to break into the lucrative U.S. telecommunications market.
The company insists it is not owned by the Chinese government but has been linked by U.S. intelligence agencies to both the Chinese military and intelligence services. It was blocked several times by federal regulators over cyber spying concerns.
The U.S. officials were questioned about the use of Huawei equipment during a committee hearing Sept. 30 by Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala), chairman of the subcommittee on strategic forces.
Pressed to explain the exclusionary policy for Huawei equipment, Adm. Rogers, the Cyber Command chief, said: "This is a broader departmental issue. I mean the contracts we have we specify security standards that you have to meet. We specify the requirement to notify us. Again, I think we have to take it as a question. I don’t know if the current language specifies specific vendors. I know in some of the national security systems we are very specific about making that standard in the nuclear and other areas we are very explicit that that is not allowable."
Adm. William Gortney, commander of the U.S. Northern Command, bluntly accused China of cyber data theft on Wednesday and said he is skeptical of the recent U.S.-China cyber agreement reached at the summit meeting between President Obama and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
"They’re robbing our intellectual capital blind, the Chinese are," Gortney said at the Atlantic Council. "They can’t keep their industry moving without robbing our intellectual capital from our private industry and they’re robbing us blind."
On the agreement banning cyber economic espionage, Gortney said: "They’re going to have to show me they’re going to stop. I just don’t see it happening."
U.S. officials disclosed last year that Huawei sought to gain access to National Security Agency computer networks through a U.S. defense contractor.
The attempted cyber penetration was discussed during a meeting in August 2014 of an interagency security group.
Details of the attempted cyber attack could not be learned and the identity of the defense contractor was not disclosed.
A Huawei spokesman dismissed reports of the attempted hacking as "absurd" and defended the company as a "globally-proven and trusted $40 billion vender of commercial telecommunications gear" that would not risk an attempt to somehow access a government network.
NSA, the U.S. government’s premier intelligence-gathering agency, is known to be a major target of foreign intelligence services.
The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on the Chinese military described Huawei in 2010 as one of three Chinese telecom companies that "maintain close ties to the [People’s Liberation Army] and collaborate on R&D."
A 2012 report by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence warned that the U.S. government and private U.S. companies should avoid using Huawei equipment over cyber espionage concerns.
Documents disclosed by renegade NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the agency successfully conducted cyber intelligence operations on several foreign countries by penetrating Huawei equipment.
A Top-Secret NSA slide said Huawei’s equipment sold throughout the world "will provide the [People’s Republic of China] with [signals intelligence] capabilities and enable them to perform denial of service type attacks."