National Security

My Way Or the Huawei

The U.S. government's recent accusations against two Chinese companies are seriously overblown.

The U.S. House Intelligence Committee released a much-publicized report on Monday accusing two Chinese companies -- Huawei and ZTE, the world's second- and fourth-largest telecommunications-equipment suppliers respectively -- of providing opportunities for the Chinese government to spy on the United States. The report labeled both corporations national security threats and recommended that U.S. companies cease doing business with them.

Much of the media coverage of Huawei and ZTE is certainly eyebrow-raising. Yes, it's clear the Chinese government holds tight control over two of the countries' most successful private companies, and Huawei and ZTE executives have numerous ties to the government, like all companies in China in sensitive industries. The United States is also undoubtedly the victim of a huge volume of cyberattacks originating from the Chinese mainland.

Although the report -- at least the unclassified version -- is full of sound and fury, it is almost devoid of anything conclusively connecting Huawei and ZTE with the charges levied against them. The 11-month investigation, which Huawei requested, starts from the presumption of guilt and works backwards from there: All its conclusions are based on the suspicion of wrongdoing. As 60 Minutes reported two-thirds of the way into its segment on Huawei this past Sunday, almost as an afterthought, "[T]here's no hard evidence" that any of the espionage allegations are true.

It seems that the House intelligence committee's response to potential cybersecurity threats has been to circumvent the Bill of Rights using "national security" as an excuse, while the committee avoided the most effective solutions -- like examining the two companies' code and vulnerability testing all foreign-made communications equipment -- that would make the nation's communications infrastructure safer.

Even before the investigation started, the U.S. government has been unofficially pressuring companies to refuse business with Huawei, calling into question whether Huawei and ZTE have ever been afforded due process. According to Sunday's 60 Minutes report, former Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke called the head of Sprint in 2010 when they were close to signing $5 billion contract with Huawei and convinced Sprint to back out of the deal. (The Wall Street Journal has also reported on the phone call.) When the head of small U.S. telecommunications company, United Wireless, bought equipment from Huawei he couldn't get anywhere else, he received a visit from two federal agents who were "not pleased" with his business ties, according to 60 Minutes.

The consequences for ignoring the issues surrounding Huawei and ZTE are serious, and the U.S. government should prevent government agencies from entering into contracts that could harm the United States. And the U.S. government has good reason to fear the Chinese government's connection to Huawei and ZTE from past experience: Even if their equipment is perfectly safe now, it could be turned against the United States in the future.

But the U.S. government, along with House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, have effectively blacklisted Huawei and ZTE, even though the two companies have not been convicted of -- let alone charged with -- any crimes. Rogers even called into question the patriotism of any company doing business with Huawei, telling 60 Minutes, "If I were an American company today... and you are looking at Huawei, I would find another vendor if...you care about the national security of the United States of America."

In September, two other members of the House Intelligence Committee, Republicans Sue Myrick and Frank Wolf, went further, taking the extraordinary step of pressuring DLA Piper, one of the largest business law firms in the world, to drop ZTE as its client, citing the "threats your client may pose to the national security of the United States."

The tactic of aligning one's attorneys with the crimes its clients are accused of committing is antithetical to the legal traditions in the United States and the 6th Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to legal representation. It dates back to another conflict between two nations, when founding father John Adams insisted on representing in court the British soldiers accused of committing the Boston Massacre.

Incredibly, despite an 11-month investigation the committee did not actually test any piece of Huawei or ZTE's equipment, according to the House report. This did not prevent Committee members from accusing both companies of installing in their products "backdoors" -- bits of code that would allow China to monitor transmissions over the equipment. As Forbes writer Andy Greenberg pointed out, the most effective solution would be to test "for the backdoors and bugs that Congress believes Huawei and ZTE may have installed and apply those tests to all the networking equipment that comes through the door." ZTE even suggested that a third party conduct a "thorough review and analysis of software codes" and run "vulnerability scans and penetration tests" of their systems, similar to how the British government tests Huawei products. Yet the intelligence committee refused to even test the equipment as part of its investigation.

This is why that despite charges of "national security," the rhetoric of the Intelligence committee smacks of economic protectionism. While Huawei and ZTE have far closer ties to the Chinese government, U.S.-owned Cisco, the greatest likely benefactor from this report, manufactures many of its own parts in China. In fact, all major U.S. networking companies source from China and present many of the same "supply chain risks" the report warns about.

There is no doubt the installation of backdoors into communications equipment is a justifiable worry. They will not only facilitate privacy abuses and Chinese cyberattacks, but also give criminals an easier avenue of attack. Unfortunately, the United States is looking to the do same thing itself. FBI Director Mueller complained to Congress in September that Internet communications providers "are not required to build or maintain intercept capabilities" and asked Congress to pass a surveillance bill that would force telecommunications companies -- plus services like Facebook, Google, and Skype -- to install government-friendly backdoors in all its software.

As Wired's Kim Zetter explained, "In practice, this means that all carrier-grade networking equipment sold worldwide comes with built-in capabilities to wiretap citizens, no matter what country they live in. Computer security experts have long pointed out that such capability can be hijacked by others to intercept communications."

Former Commerce and State Department official James Lewis, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argued on 60 Minutes that the real difference in Huwaei and ZTE's case is China's state control. In the United States, "companies are used to throwing their weight around, telling the government what to do," he said. "In China, a company is a Chia Pet. The state tells them what to do, and they do it."

Yet AT&T, Verizon, and Bell South -- at the time the three largest telecom companies in the United States -- showed all the spine of a Chia Pet and famously bowed to pressure in the aftermath of 9/11,when they handed over billions of phone and emails records as part of the National Security Administration's warrantless wiretapping program. The companies were in such clear violation of federal law that Congress later handed the telecom companies full, retroactive immunity for assisting the government.

This is why the report's final recommendation is its best one: transparency. More transparency from telecommunications companies, both in their equipment's capabilities and their policies and procedures for interacting with governments, is vital in keeping citizens' privacy, and in guaranteeing the safety of U.S. infrastructure. That principle should be applied to Chinese companies, American companies, and every company in between.

INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images

National Security

Solving the Okinawa Problem

How many Marines do we still need in Japan?

In recent weeks the U.S. Marine Corps has begun to deploy the V-22 Osprey to Okinawa, Japan. The Osprey flies like a propeller plane but can take off and land like a helicopter, providing more speed than the latter but more tactical flexibility than the former. It has also reignited the long-standing debate between Japan and the United States over the future of the Marines' presence on Okinawa. Critics have called the airplane unsafe and demanded its redeployment back to the United States. While flight data do not confirm this specific allegation, policymakers in Tokyo and Washington do need to realize they have an even bigger problem -- and search for a new, less intrusive way of basing Marines on this small island at the southern end of the Japanese archipelago.

The question of the Marines on Okinawa has been contentious for some two decades now. Numbering between 15,000 and 20,000 at a time there, they have constituted more than a third of the U.S. military presence in Japan, on an overpopulated island that itself represents well under 1 percent of the Japanese landmass. On top of those Marines, another 10,000 or so Air Force personnel continue to be based at the Kadena Air Base on Okinawa as well. The Marines have been resented locally not only for their sheer numbers, but for Air Station Futenma, which is surrounded by residential neighborhoods and schools in the city of Ginowan. The occasional accident there has put anxiety into the hearts of many who fear a worse accident in the future; moreover, as Okinawa is one of Japan's only prefectures actually growing in population, local officials want the land for other purposes.

There is a lot to say in defense of the Marine Corps, as well as the U.S. position, starting with the fact that these forces serve common alliance interests in a stable Asia-Pacific region. Washington has tried to work with Tokyo to relocate the base, the most recent proposal being to build an airfield on the shore of Henoko Bay farther north in a much less populated part of Okinawa. But Japanese national and local politics have repeatedly gotten in the way. In 2006, the United States and Japan agreed to relocate almost half the Okinawa-based Marines to Guam in the coming years to relieve pressure on Okinawa. And regarding the Osprey in particular, though it has suffered some famous accidents, as of August it had been statistically safer over its lifetime than the average Marine Corps aircraft. According to Marine Corps headquarters at the Pentagon, it has had a 20 percent lower rate of serious accidents per flight hour than the typical Marine helicopter or other aircraft -- though admittedly its two recent crashes merit further public discussion to relieve understandable anxieties on Okinawa.

All that said, the current relocation scheme appears stuck in the morass of Okinawan politics. This June, Governor Hirokazu Nakaima's ruling coalition failed to win a majority in the prefectural assembly election. That fact puts him on the defensive. Given the public discontent about the Osprey deployment, the governor has little choice but to push harder in resolving the Futenma issue -- without, alas, approving the Henoko site -- as well as opposing the Osprey deployment.

There is another problem with the Marine Corps' plan for the region, concerning the airfield construction plan combined with the partial relocation to Guam. None of this is the fault of the Marine Corps, which has sought in good faith to find a plan that works for all. Alas, in addition to the political challenges the plan faces, it is also now associated with a price tag estimated by the Government Accountability Office to be up to $30 billion, split roughly equally between Tokyo and Washington. This at a time when sequestration threatens to lop another 10 percent off future Pentagon budgets, on top of the nearly 10 percent cut already in effect from the 2011 Budget Control Act.

There is a cheaper, simpler, more promising way. It would bring more Marines home to the United States, where downsizing in the years ahead will free up space at stateside Marine Corps bases, and compensate by predeploying supplies in the broader Pacific region. This latter step would cost some money, but nowhere near the $30 billion saved by jettisoning the current plan, and it could be funded largely by Japan (since the United States would be helping the Japanese solve a local problem). Futenma would ultimately be closed, but first provisions would be made for limited Marine Corps use of other airfields on the main island of Okinawa and perhaps on smaller islands in the prefecture as well -- together with full access to such facilities in times of crisis or war.

Specifically, we would suggest leaving only 5,000 to 8,000 Marines on Okinawa and bringing the rest back to places like Camp Pendleton, California, rather than building new facilities for them on Guam. The United States would then station prepositioning ships with weapons and supplies for several thousand Marines in Japanese waters (to complement existing similar capabilities now already at ports in Guam) in order to allow the Marines who had been relocated stateside to return rapidly to the Western Pacific in a crisis. In addition, Marines based in the United States would rotate regularly to the Asia-Pacific region to conduct exercises with friends and allies, including Japan.

Regarding airfields, we would counsel the following changes. Follow through promptly on the commitment to close Futenma and return the land to local control. To replace some functions of Futenma, build a modest helipad inside an existing Marine Corps base on the northern half of the island, where Okinawa-based Marines do most of their training now, so the logistical implications may be minimal (or even net positive).

In addition, by agreement with Tokyo and the Okinawan prefectural government, the United States would seek authority to conduct some Marine Corps fixed-wing flights at the Kadena Air Base if necessary, provided the total number of takeoff and landings at that base decreases. To ensure that Kadena does not become busier on a day-to-day basis, the United States should base some Air Force planes now at Kadena elsewhere in peacetime -- like Misawa in northern Japan, or even Guam. Finally, Japan could build a second runway at Naha international airport, which would aid the island's economy in peacetime and provide more capacity for U.S. and Japanese military use in crises or war.*

This plan is win-win-win. It saves money for both allies. It actually improves U.S. responsiveness to possible regional crises. And it finally extracts the United States from the quagmire that the Japanese and alliance politics of this issue have become.

The United States and Japan have been bogged down by the Okinawa issue too long. The precious time and talent of policymakers have gone toward trying to solve a problem that has become almost insoluble. We need to look at this problem anew, address it, and finally move beyond it. The American defense budget crunch may be just the final impetus needed to motivate policymakers to fresh thinking and decisive action.

 

* Correction: The original version of this sentence incorrectly suggested that Naha international airport already has two runways.

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images