The chiefs of six US intelligence agencies have claimed that Chinese phones might be used for spying. Beijing hit back, stating that not a single object in the world is entirely safe and mocking the American “sense of insecurity.”
The concerns over the threat potentially posed by Chinese smartphones, namely produced by one of the main Apple rivals Huawei, were voiced on Tuesday during the Senate Intelligence Committee on worldwide threats. The chiefs of six intelligence agencies — the FBI’s Christopher Wray, the CIA’s Mike Pompeo, the NSA’s Michael Rogers, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Robert Ashley and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo — testified at the hearings.
The gathering focused on the usual “threats” to Washington, namely assertions relating to the alleged Russian attempts to interfere in various US elections and China’s alleged goal of replacing the US as “the most powerful and influential nation on Earth.”
One of the means Beijing allegedly uses to shake the US’ dominance is apparently an attempt to flood the American market with its smartphones.
“The focus of my concern today is China, and specifically Chinese telecoms like Huawei [Technologies Co Ltd] and ZTE Corp that are widely understood to have extraordinary ties to the Chinese government,” the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Senator Richard Burr said.
All the six intelligence chiefs supported such an assertion. When asked about their own preferences, none of them said they would use a Chinese phone supplied by the companies in question.
“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 stated, claiming that presence of any foreign companies opens vast possibilities for the sneakiest of espionage.
“That provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure,” Wray added. “It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.”
Huawei tried to enter the US market earlier this year through partnership with the AT&T telecom conglomerate. The deal to sell the Chinese phones through AT&T, however, has been called off. Reuters reported citing sources that the US lawmakers’ lobbying had contributed to the company dumping Huawei phones.
The failed deal was slammed by Huawei Consumer Products Division CEO Richard Yu, who accused the US carriers — who sell some 90 percent phones in the US markets — of depriving their customers of “the best choice.”
Not only big deals with large companies, however, appear to concern the Senate Intelligence Committee, but also potential “infiltration” through the Chinese acquisition of small-time US firms and innovative start-ups. FBI Chief Wray stated that the US needs a sort of “strategic perspective on China’s efforts to use acquisitions and other types of business ventures.”
The allegations produced during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing have been met in Beijing with some confusion and a shade of irony.
“If even the United States thinks it is surrounded by threats, what should other countries do?” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing. “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.”
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