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.