Happy New Year, everyone. Moving into 2014, I think we have a much better idea about what is going on in the world of IT security and government skullduggery than we did this time last year, thanks to ex-contractor Edward Snowden, grudging investigative reporting and even more reluctant U.S. government oversight.
These disclosures about what the U.S. National Security Agency was doing with private data puts a rather interesting spin on the longstanding battle between the U.S. government and China’s IT giant Huawei, which has been trying to break into the American market for quite a few years now. Every time it tries for a significant deal over there, Congress steps in and torpedoes it in the name of national security. We’ve even seen Congress hold special hearings and conduct investigations into Huawei’s activities and alleged connections with
the Red Menace Commies Yellow Peril Maoists Beijing. Well, the worm has certainly turned.
Let me tee off the latest revelation, ’cause it deserves context. Huawei has been raked over the coals for years now by the U.S. government, accused in no uncertain terms of being in bed with the People’s Liberation Army. Some Congressmen have gone so far to say that no U.S. company should do business with Huawei because of security concerns.
In the interests of full disclosure, I have (consistently, I think) maintained that a) the U.S. government has absolutely no proof to back up these allegations; but that b) the nation’s IT infrastructure is definitely a matter of national security and that the government therefore gets a pass for being paranoid.
One of the undercurrents that the major media outlets rarely discussed when reporting on Huawei’s U.S. travails was the hypocrisy of Washington, which was on record during the Iraq War as working very carefully with American telecom/Net service providers to raid telephony and other data. While Huawei may/may not have a special relationship with Beijing, it has always seemed rather amusing that the U.S. would complain so vociferously about it when it was probably doing the same thing.
As it turns out, the NSA wasn’t actually doing what Huawei has been accused of doing. No, arguably it has been doing much worse. If you’re Huawei, does this piss you off or just make you shrug and say “Duh, of course.”?
The headline news is that the NSA has surreptitiously “burrowed its way into nearly all the security architecture” sold by the world’s largest computer networking companies, including everyone from U.S. mainstays Cisco and Juniper to . . .
Let me stop there for a moment. So the revelation here is not that the NSA has made deals with U.S. companies to steal data or otherwise compromise security. If so, that would put them on par with what Huawei and Beijing are allegedly up to.
No, the NSA has “burrowed” its way in there without the cooperation of these companies. This is the NSA telling us that is has no need of classic totalitarian fascism, with its quaint corporatist state; no, it can handle all that totalitarian stuff all on its own without the cooperation of industry, thank you very much.
And if you’re Huawei, that quote is pretty much a slap in the face. Remember, it was members of the U.S. Congress, including folks on the Intelligence Committee who knew what the NSA was up to, who were decrying the alleged nefarious espionage activities of Huawei, all the while knowing that the U.S. was doing much worse.
Moreover, if that revelation was a slap in the face, the rest of that quote, which I conveniently truncated for dramatic effect, is a punch in the nuts:
The headline news is that the NSA has surreptitiously “burrowed its way into nearly all the security architecture” sold by the world’s largest computer networking companies, including everyone from U.S. mainstays Cisco and Juniper to Chinese giant Huawei. [my emphasis]
So where does this leave Huawei and its dwindling efforts to get into the U.S.? Probably the exact same place it was in a week ago. The question of whether Huawei is in cahoots with Beijing is still unknown, still alleged, essentially a big meatball bouncing around out there tarnishing the company’s reputation.
On the other hand, we do what the NSA has been up to. Unfortunately, Beijing cannot just protect itself against American companies like Cisco (for example) because the NSA has hacked into everyone’s systems, including Huawei’s!
Huawei still has its public relations work cut out for it. However, the next time some blowhard Congressman starts talking shit about Huawei and the PLA, at least the Chinese firm has some excellent PR options. I would suggest having a spokesman do some television interviews, responding to questions with complete silence while holding up a large placard with either the word “Hypocrisy” or the acronym “N.S.A.” on it, or perhaps both. Says enough, I think.
And if the person holding up that placard was an American expatriate with the initials “E.S.,” well, wouldn’t that be delicious?