House Intelligence Committee investigates Chinese telecom firms

The House Intelligence Committee is conducting a remarkably detailed and bipartisan investigation of ties between the Chinese government and two Chinese telecom equipment giants, Huawei and ZTE.  These companies have been the objects of widespread security fears that their equipment would enable Chinese interception of US telephone calls, expanding American cybervulnerabilities from computer networks to all communications.

This_Phone_Is_TappedThe companies have dismissed the concerns, insisting that they should be treated like any other commercial competitor, and Huawei even demanded an investigation to answer the questions that have swirled around them for years.

About now, ZTE and Huawei must be feeling like John Jacob Astor, the first-class Titanic passenger who reportedly quipped, “I asked for ice, but this is ridiculous.”

The House investigation has gone far beyond the usual hearings where Congressmen ask four-and-a-half minute questions and get 30 second answers. The committee went to China and interviewed top telecom executives for hours at a time, then followed up with pages of specific questions on topics covered by the interviews. The questions are accompanied by several pages of discovery-style instructions on the scope of documentation to be supplied.

It isn’t clear that this investigation is going to have the effect Huawei originally hoped for. (“I remain concerned about the national security threat posed by the potential expansion of Huawei and ZTE into our telecommunications infrastructure,” Chairman Rogers said in releasing the questions.) But if the companies continue to cooperate we will learn a lot.  

And if they don’t?  Well, that will be educational too.

Photo credit: david drexler