Edward Snowden

'So much data that we don't know what to do with it': NSA 'spied on Chinese telecom giant Huawei'

Snowden leak claims US agency tried to learn if Chinese telecommunication firm spied for Beijing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 March, 2014, 6:46pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 8:04am

Chinese telecommunications and internet company Huawei defended its independence yesterday and said it would condemn any infiltration of its servers by the US National Security Agency if reports of such activities by the NSA were true.

The New York Times and German magazine Der Spiegel, citing documents leaked by former US security contractor Edward Snowden, reported that the NSA had obtained sensitive Huawei data and monitored the communications of its executives.

"If the actions in the report are true, Huawei condemns such activities that invaded and infiltrated our internal corporate network and monitored our communications," Huawei's global cybersecurity officer, John Suffolk, said.

"Corporate networks are under constant probe and attack from different sources - such is the status quo in today's digital age."

He defended Huawei's independence and security record, saying it was very successful in 145 countries.

The New York Times said one goal of the NSA operation, code-named "Shotgiant", was to uncover any connections between Huawei and the People's Liberation Army. But it also sought to exploit Huawei's technology to conduct surveillance through computer and telephone networks it sold to other nations such as Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kenya and Cuba.

The classified 2010 document stated: "Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products, we want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products - we also want to ensure that we retain access to these communication lines, etc." If so ordered by the US president, the NSA also planned to unleash offensive cyberoperations, the newspaper said.

The Times said other documents it obtained showed that the NSA "pried its way into the servers" of Huawei at its headquarters in Shenzhen and obtained data about how the company's routers worked.

The report comes after nine months of disclosures about NSA surveillance based on documents leaked by Snowden that have greatly diminished trust in the agency. It also comes as the administration of US President Barack Obama has sought to advance talks with China on reducing cyberconflict and industrial cyberespionage.

For years, the US has been concerned about Chinese hacking of industry to steal commercial and military secrets.

Huawei in particular has been a lightning rod for those concerns. In 2012, a US congressional report concluded that Huawei and another Chinese technology company posed a risk to US national security because of their ties to the Chinese government and recommended that US firms avoid using their equipment.

On Saturday, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said in a statement that the agency's activities "are focused and specifically deployed against - and only against - valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements".

She said the United States did not "steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of - or give intelligence we collect to - US companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line".

Additional reporting by The Washington Post