Chinese tech company Huawei was hacked by the NSA five years ago due to being considered a threat to national security, according to documents leaked to the media by Edward Snowden. The NSA first began targeting Huawei in 2009, and was able to gain access to their client list and email archives. According to information in Snowden’s documents, the government planned on gaining information about the plans of the Chinese government, as well as using hacked pieces of tech to spy on foreign rivals.
Once the NSA gained entrance to the sealed company servers, it began to monitor its top executives. Huawei is known for its complex routers which, according to the company, connect a third of the world’s population. The U.S. government hoped that by hacking into the servers they could discover intelligence that would tie Huawei to the People’s Liberation Army, as well as developing methods to use products manufactured by the tech giant to spy on Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kenya, and Cuba.
The revelations of hacking and spying on Huawei have left an unpleasant taste in the mouth of its chief executives. One such executive stated that it was ironic that the very activities the company was being accused of participating in were being carried out on them by their accuser, the U.S. government.
Huawei being hacked by the NSA and the accusation of being a threat to national security is not just an issue of safety, but it has consequences for the economy as well. There are some officials in the American government who believe that Huawei is nothing more than a front being used to mask the activities of the People’s Liberation Army. The U.S. House Intelligence Committee has accused Chinese telecommunications companies of being a threat to U.S. security, going so far as to discourage companies located in America from purchasing products from Chinese manufacturers. This has affected many American businesses, as customers in foreign countries have stopped purchasing products out of fear the companies have connections to the NSA.
While Huawei maintains their innocence against allegations of working with the People’s Liberation Army, the documents leaked by Snowden do not reveal if any actual ties were discovered during the intelligence gathering operation. Although no direct ties were found, China can still be considered a national security threat because they routinely hack into U.S. based companies and use the intelligence they gather for the economic gain of businesses in their own country.
Just last year, China reportedly hacked into several major U.S. based newspapers. China’s Defense Ministry has denied supporting any kind of hack attacks performed on U.S. businesses, stating that to do so is unprofessional. Many of the hacks that the Chinese are accused of come from hackers who attend state-funded universities, as well as private tech companies, giving China’s government the cloak of plausible deniability in any espionage activities. It is being reported that the NSA is currently tracking half a dozen of these hacking groups.
These revelations from Snowden’s leaked documents show just how deeply intertwined the intelligence community is in the foreign affairs of other nations. One has to wonder if all of the cloak-and-dagger dramatics, both in person and digital, would even be necessary if the U.S. held to a more noninterventionist foreign policy. Only time will tell what kind of ramifications, if any, the NSA hacking of Huawei will have on national security, or if any links will be found that give legitimacy to the notion the company is a threat.
Opinion By Michael Cantrell