My Take

Prize for cosy ties goes to US tech giants

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 June, 2013, 4:23am

In October, a US House of Representatives' committee in charge of intelligence issued a scathing report that warned American companies and government departments against doing business with China's two leading telecom companies, Huawei and ZTE, because of their alleged close ties to the central government and the military.

Little or no substantial evidence was offered against the companies. But Huawei's founder is a former PLA engineer and ZTE has officials who are Communist Party members, and it seems that this was enough to smear them in the eyes of the American public.

These alleged close ties may or may not exist on the mainland, but thanks to the exposure of Edward Snowden and others, we now know that close working relationships do exist between many of America's largest telecom and tech companies and the US intelligence community. Indeed, those who study the history of American technology know that their ties sometimes date back to their inception when the nascent technologies that eventually propelled them to commercial success were originally funded and conceived by the US military and intelligence agencies, from the first versions of the internet to Siri, the voice of Apple's iPhone.

Much was made about how the Chinese hacked into foreign, especially US, companies to steal trade secrets and intellectual property while the US only hacked Chinese sources to protect national security, which presumably is a higher goal. But actually the US government passes on sensitive and classified information to "trustworthy" companies to give them a commercial edge.

For example, in 2010, according to Bloomberg, Google's co-founder Sergey Brin was given temporary security clearance to sit on briefings by US intelligence officials after the search giant complained of being attacked by Chinese hackers. Before releasing fixes for bugs in its software, Microsoft often gives advance notice to US intelligence services. The vulnerabilities created by the bugs enable the spy agencies to exploit foreign networks.

Suppose all these were done by the Chinese; imagine the howls of outrage. Compared to these US tech giants, Huawei and ZTE may be paragons of fair play.