Republicans urge Biden administration over use of Chinese communications equipment near US military installations
Top Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are pressuring the Biden administration to use Chinese-made telecommunications equipment near sensitive US military installations, indicating what the powerful committee could pursue if the GOP claims the House in November.
Rep. James Comer, the ranking member, and Rep. Glenn Grothman, the top Republican on the panel’s national security subcommittee, are demanding a classified briefing from the Pentagon on the security of the military network and its ability to protect against threats. foreign espionage threats the equipment may pose. The committee is also seeking a briefing from the Federal Communications Commission on its still incomplete initiative to remove the equipment, according to letters sent Tuesday by the two agencies and obtained exclusively by CNN.
CNN previously reported that an extensive FBI investigation dating back to the Obama administration ultimately determined that Huawei-made equipment atop cellphone towers near US military bases in the rural Midwest was capable of capturing and disrupting some very restricted Defense Department communications, including those used by US Strategic Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear weapons.
Huawei equipment is used by many small telecommunications companies across the country and in 2020 Congress approved $1.9 billion to fund an FCC program to ‘rip and replace’ it amid fears that it could be used to spy on Americans. But two years later, none of that equipment has been retired, and rural telecommunications companies are still waiting for federal reimbursement money.
“Committee Republicans are concerned that Huawei cellular equipment near military installations poses a serious threat to the Department’s network and operational security,” the two lawmakers wrote to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. “It is troubling that Huawei equipment has not been removed from US networks, raising questions about whether it can gain access to Department networks and provide the CCP with a significant informational advantage.”
Lawmakers are asking for both briefings no later than Oct. 25.
It is unclear whether the intelligence community has determined whether any data was indeed intercepted and sent back to Beijing from these towers. Sources close to the issue say that from a technical standpoint, it is incredibly difficult to prove that a given data packet was stolen and sent overseas.
The Chinese government strongly denies any attempt to spy on the United States. Huawei, in a statement to CNN, also denied that its equipment is capable of operating in any communications spectrum assigned to the Department of Defense.
But senior intelligence officials have publicly warned that China leverages a variety of different tools to gather data and intelligence and exert influence on a wide variety of targets in the United States.
“The services continue to collect our classified information,” Michael Orlando, acting director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Agency, told an intelligence conference in Georgia earlier this month. “But we’ve also seen them target any government agencies that don’t have classified information. We see them targeting all sectors of our economy.
“We see a multitude of tools that [China] used the full range of government efforts to acquire our talent, technology and data,” he said.
How to deal with the perceived risk posed by Huawei technology has plagued administrations on both sides for years.
After the results of the counterintelligence investigation were reported to the Trump White House in 2019, the FCC ordered that telecommunications companies that receive federal subsidies to provide cellular service in remote areas — companies as the supplier around US military assets in the Midwest – must “rip and replace” their Huawei and ZTE equipment.
But for three years now, that equipment has remained in place – frustrating some national security hawks who say it poses an unacceptable risk.
“The fact that Huawei communications equipment remains in the United States is a threat to our national security since we know that the CCP uses this company’s technology for massive surveillance operations,” Comer said in a statement. “Congress has provided resources to remove Huawei infrastructure from the cellular network and the FCC must act quickly to resolve this national security nightmare.”
According to the FCC and some of the companies subject to the “rip and replace”, the problem is funding: since its launch in 2019, the program estimated cost jumped to $5.6 billion from initial estimates of around $2 billion.
Even though the remove and replace program struggles to allocate adequate reimbursement funds, the commission is now set to ban all future telecommunications equipment produced by Huawei and ZTE from the US market under a growing crackdown on perceived national security risks in China, CNN previously reported. .
A vote approving the measure is expected before mid-November, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Asked for comment, an FCC official confirmed the existence of the proposal and told CNN that, if approved, it would update the agency’s rules regarding its list of vendors considered unacceptable risks to national security.
All electronic devices that can emit radio frequencies must go through an FCC authorization process before they can be sold in the United States. The long-established process aims to keep devices that may cause harmful signal interference away from the US market. But under the proposed order, the FCC would, for the first time, apply a national security interest to the equipment authorization process, the person said.