Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., argued on Tuesday that the U.S. should not share intelligence or equipment with countries that use Chinese 5G technology.
During Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Graham addressed the security threat posed by China. Graham said he hoped that “the policy of the United States, Democrats and Republicans, will be that if you buy their [China’s 5G] stuff, because of the way they do business, you’re going to lose access to information and technology coming from America.” Graham said “there’s no way in hell” that U.S. allies should be using 5G technology from Chinese companies.
The hearing was focused on opportunities and threats posed by emerging fifth generation cellular network technology, known as “5G,” which is poised to revolutionize internet speed, broadband access, and global communications. The U.S. government widely suspects that the Chinese-based companies like Huawei and ZTE, technology firms that are global leaders in telecommunications and in 5G, are working hand in hand with the Chinese government and are giving China’s surveillance state access to hardware and to networks around the world.
Senate Republicans and Democrats, as well as the witnesses on the panel, appeared to be in broad agreement about the threat posed by these Chinese firms.
Robert Strayer, the deputy assistant secretary for Cyber and International Communications and Information Policy at the State Department, focused on the cybersecurity element. He said that “because of the essential role that vendors play in networks and their maintenance, they could be ordered to undermine network security, to steal personal information or intellectual property, to conduct espionage, to disrupt critical services, or conduct cyber attacks.”
Strayer said an important part of any “risk-based security approach” needs to be “a careful evaluation of hardware and software equipment vendors and their supply chains” while pointing out that this is nearly impossible to ensure with Chinese firms because “under Chinese law, including its National Intelligence Law, Chinese citizens and organizations are required to cooperate with Chinese intelligence and security services.” Thus, Strayer said: “We are concerned that China could compel actions by network vendors to act against the interests of our citizens or citizens of other countries around the world.“ He further warned that “if Chinese companies built the underlying 5G infrastructure, they will be in an even better place to facilitate these activities in the future.”
Graham rhetorically asked Strayer, “Under the criteria you just outlined … based on the way China does business, how could an ally possibly buy anything [5G-related] from China and fit within the criteria?” Following up, Graham asked, “If they [U.S. allies] adopt the risk-based framework, they’re not buying from China, do you agree with that? Is that your policy?”
Strayer answered simply: “Yes.”
“So what we’re saying, what we’re telling the world, is that if you buy Chinese 5G stuff, you’re not doing business with us,” Graham said.
Driving this point home, Graham said: “I want everybody to understand, if you’re an ally of the United States, this criteria we’re asking you to consider, there’s no way in hell China can meet those criteria because of the way they govern. So the policy of the United States, Democrats and Republicans, I hope, will be that if you buy their stuff, because of the way they do business, you’re going to lose access to information and technology coming from America.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the committee’s ranking member, also emphasized the potential threat posed by Chinese 5G technology and other advanced Chinese telecom equipment. “The root of our concerns with Chinese firms like Huawei is not their growth, but requirements placed on them by the Chinese government,” Feinstein said. “I find this deeply troubling, and I think every nation ought to think long and hard about the consequences of opening their internal telecommunications networks to this kind of data extraction and possible espionage.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently expressed similar sentiments when discussing U.S. intelligence-sharing relationships with the United Kingdom and other European allies who are considering the use of Huawei’s 5G technology. “We don’t believe you can have those technologies in your systems and still have a trusted network,” he said. “We’re happy to continue to look at technology and see ways we might achieve that, but the United States for its part will only participate in trusted networks. We will only share America’s information with those networks that we are confident aren’t under the control of China or China’s government.”
The Justice Department has increased its scrutiny of China’s activities in recent years, launching a “China Initiative” in 2018 and charging an increased number of people in China-related espionage cases, cracking down on China-based hacking schemes, prosecuting Chinese efforts to steal trade secrets, and more. The DOJ has additionally turned its sights on Huawei’s alleged criminality. Aside from charging the company and its connected entities with a host of financial crimes, the U.S. government is also seeking the extradition from Canada of Huawei’s chief financial officer Wanzhou Meng. She faces federal charges for an alleged scheme to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Obama’s former deputy attorney general, James Cole, is representing Huawei in that criminal case. Obama’s former senior director for cybersecurity policy for the National Security Council, Samir Jain, recently registered as Huawei’s lobbyist.