Huawei can extract data via back door, warns US official

Remark comes as US tries to persuade allies against letting Chinese firm build networks


WASHINGTON • Huawei has the ability to secretly retrieve sensitive information in next-generation wireless networks and other systems it maintains around the world, a top White House official has said.

The comment from National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien is one of the sharpest public denunciations of the Chinese company by the Trump administration. It comes as the United States is reeling from the decision by Britain to allow Huawei to build part of its fifth-generation, or 5G, network.

US intelligence officials have long said privately that Huawei has so-called back doors that could allow the company to obtain data that flows on the networks it builds and maintains. But publicly, officials have spoken mostly about the potential that Huawei could provide Chinese officials with access to all kinds of data, without offering concrete proof.

Mr O'Brien said on Tuesday that the US had evidence that Huawei could "access sensitive and personal information" in the systems it maintains around the world.

"This is alarming because Chinese companies, by law, must comply with directives of the Chinese Communist Party," he said. "Strategically, we see a company that can use its position in the market to advance the aims of the Chinese Communist Party."

Huawei has insisted that it does not answer to the Chinese government and it would not spy on its customers.

The Trump administration has spent the past year trying to pressure its allies, with limited success, to prevent Huawei from building their next-generation wireless networks. The effort has included warning other countries that Huawei poses a risk, and threatening them with a loss of access to American intelligence if they allowed the Chinese telecommunications company into their networks.

Until recently, US officials had been unwilling to share technical details with allies. But that stance has changed in recent weeks, as American officials have sought to persuade German and British officials of the danger of Huawei.

On Tuesday, lawmakers said allies should reconsider their decisions to allow the Chinese company into their new networks.

"The freedom-loving world can't sit back and let surveillance state communists infect our infrastructure," Senator Ben Sasse said.

The US decision to share more information about Huawei's back door with allies was first reported on Tuesday by The Wall Street Journal.


Strategically, we see a company that can use its position in the market to advance the aims of the Chinese Communist Party.

US NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER ROBERT O'BRIEN, referring to Chinese telecommunications company Huawei.

Carriers in most countries have ways to give law enforcement officials access to parts of the network. But Huawei maintains access to those back doors, and can get data from them even without the permission of carriers, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Mr Ian Prior, a spokesman for 5G Action Now, an interest group, said: "We simply cannot risk allowing Huawei - and by extension the Chinese government - having back-door access to our telecommunications networks."

The effort to understand security vulnerabilities in Huawei's equipment goes back years ago when the National Security Agency infiltrated Huawei's systems.

The effort was to determine if the People's Liberation Army was the true owner of Huawei, and to delve into the technology of its switching systems, including any back doors.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2020, with the headline 'Huawei can extract data via back door, warns US official'. Subscribe