Huawei and ZTE respond to U.S. security concerns with “I know you are, but what am I?” defense

ZTE Logo NeonLast week, Huawei and ZTE were going about their business as usual, but this week, they’re the focal points of a report published by the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, accusing them of being threats against US national security.

The report, which is the result of 12-months of research, concludes that the two Chinese companies cannot be trusted, and could be embedding software capable of spying on US citizens in its telecommunications hardware. The recommendation is to block all US company acquisitions by Huawei and ZTE, and that companies should not use their products.

Now that the report has been released, it’s easy to see why the committee feels this way, as both Huawei and ZTE failed to provide a lot of information, documentation and answers to a variety of questions. Hardly the response of those with nothing to hide. However, there are two sides to every story, and Huawei and ZTE have now responded to the accusations, publishing statements of their own that — naturally — tell a slightly different one to that of the report.

Huawei starts out by saying “The United States is a country ruled by law, where all charges and allegations should be based on solid evidence and facts. The report … failed to provide clear information or evidence to substantiate the legitimacy of the Committee’s concerns.”

The company says it “hoped to ensure the investigation would be fact-based and objective in its review” and that it “cooperated with the Committee in an open and transparent manner,” but “despite our best effort, the Committee appears to have been committed to a predetermined outcome.”

Huawei accuses the Committee of ignoring its proven track record of network security in the United States, and to the “large amount of facts we have provided,” as well as using “many rumors and speculations to prove non-existent accusations.”

It closes with “we will continue to do the best we can to provide our customers with safe, convenient and equal access to information and communications services.”

ZTE makes a recommendation of its own

ZTE has also published a statement on its website. It takes a different approach to Huawei, perhaps because it got off comparatively lightly in the report, by talking about its “vendor-neutral” Trusted Delivery Model; a service where its hardware, software and firmware is examined by an independent US government laboratory. ZTE says it offers this to all its global partners, including 140 governments.

The most interesting part of ZTE’s statement comes later though, beginning with a quote from the company’s director of global public affairs. He says “It’s noteworthy that, after a year-long investigation, the Committee rests its conclusions on a finding that ZTE may not be ‘free of state influence.’ This finding would apply to any company operating in China.”

He continues with “Virtually all of the telecom infrastructure equipment now sold in the US and throughout the world contains components made, in whole or in part, in China.” Here’s the cheeky part: “Particularly given the severity of the Committee’s recommendations, ZTE recommends that the Committee’s investigation be extended to include every company making equipment in China, including the Western vendors. It’s the only way to truly protect US equipment and US national security.”

One could take this section of the statement as being a wry attack on the document’s hypocrisy, or those already wearing tin-foil hats could interpret it as “it doesn’t matter what you do, we’re listening anyway,” presumably followed by a maniacal laugh.

The fallout from the damaging report has already claimed it first victim too, as Cisco has ended a sales partnership with ZTE, after it launched an enquiry into the Chinese company for selling Cisco-branded products in Iran, breaking international trade embargoes.

Who will be next?