Smartphones made by the Chinese company Huawei are being sold to soldiers at U.S. military bases in Germany. These sales raise national security concerns, as U.S. intelligence officials and lawmakers have repeatedly accused Huawei of spying for the Chinese regime, to which it is closely tied.
Stars and Stripes, a U.S. military-affiliated newspaper, first reported that the Chinese-made Huawei phones are being sold by TKS, a subsidiary of Vodaphone, to American services members through Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) stores across several bases in Germany.
Service members who purchase these Huawei phones are only supposed to use them privately, since they are not among the secured communication devices approved by the Pentagon for official use. However, simply by carrying these phones, soldiers, even if they only use the phones for their private communications, run the risk of falling under Chinese surveillance.
An AAFES spokesman said that it would continue to allow Huawei phones to be sold at the stores until the Pentagon explicitly tells it not to, since there is currently no regulation barring their sale.
A House bill introduced by Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) in January would explicitly bar government contractors from using Huawei and ZTE equipment.
Many U.S. intelligence officials and congressional lawmakers consider Huawei devices to pose a national security threat to Americans who use them. In February, the heads of the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency, and others testified before a Senate hearing, and all of the witnesses at the hearing said that Americans should not use Chinese smartphones manufactured by Huawei and ZTE.
“We’re deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks,” said FBI Director Chris Wray. “It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information, and it provides capacity to conduct undetected espionage.”
Just last week, a new U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report said that, on average, 51 percent of the parts for IT equipment supplied to the U.S. government comes from China. The report says this reliance on Chinese parts constitutes a great risk to U.S. national security, economic competitiveness, and the privacy of American citizens.
Huawei was targeted prominently by the report, which said that the company has extensive ties with the Chinese regime. Ren Zhengfei, the founder of the company, was a former officer in the People’s Liberation Army. He continues to run the company today.
Huawei has consistently denied the allegation that its devices could be used by the Chinese regime for spying and has always maintained that the company is owned by its employees. However, U.S. officials have continued to warn Americans not to use Huawei phones.
In 2016, it was discovered that Adups, a Shanghai-based company that sells firmware to smartphone manufacturers like Huawei and ZTE, had inserted a backdoor in the firmware provided to American phone manufacturer BLU Products that would send a user’s text messages to a Chinese server every 72 hours. Huawei insisted that Adups was not one of its suppliers.