The FBI and other federal agencies have spent years focused on counterintelligence efforts to stop the dramatic escalation of Chinese espionage on American soil over the past decade.
Since at least 2017, federal officials have investigated the purchase of Chinese land near critical infrastructure, shut down a high-profile regional consulate that the US government considered a hotbed for Chinese spies, and blocked what they saw as clear efforts to plant surveillance devices. listen near sensitive military and government installations.
According to the chain CNN, One of the most alarming things the FBI discovered has to do with Huawei’s Chinese-made equipment planted in cell towers near US military bases in the rural Midwest.
According to multiple sources familiar with the matter, the FBI determined that those teams were capable of capturing and disrupting highly restricted Defense Department communications, including those used by the US Strategic Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear weapons.
Although the general concern about Huawei equipment near US military installations is well known, the existence of this investigation and its conclusions have never been reported. Its origins go back at least to the Obama administration and it was detailed to the US network by more than a dozen sources, including current and former national security officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
According to multiple sources familiar with the investigation, There is no doubt that Huawei equipment has the ability to intercept not only commercial cellular traffic, but also the highly restricted airwaves used by the military and disrupt critical US Strategic Command communications. giving the Chinese government a potential window into the US nuclear arsenal.
This investigation was so secret and sensitive, CNN claims, that some high-level policymakers in the White House and elsewhere in the government were not informed of its existence until 2019. In September of that year, the Federal Communications Commission A rule is up and running that effectively banned small telcos from using Huawei and some other brands of Chinese-made equipment. “The existence of the investigation at the highest levels turned some pigeons into hawks,” a former US official consulted by the network ironically.
In 2020, Congress approved $1.9 billion to phase out Chinese-made cellular technology from Huawei and ZTE in wide swathes of the country. Two years later, however, none of that equipment has been recalled and rural telecommunications companies are still waiting for federal reimbursement money.
After his arrival at the White House, Biden ordered the Commerce Department to open its own investigation into Huawei to determine whether more urgent action was needed to kick the Chinese technology provider out of US telecommunications networks.
Notable among the concerns noted by national security officials is external communication from Huawei equipment that occurs when software is updated. They believe that this gap is exploited by the Chinese government.
Depending on what the Commerce Department finds, US telecommunications companies could be forced to quickly recall Huawei equipment or face fines or other penalties.
Such is the threat that this month the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center issued a warning to US companies and state and local governments about what it says are covert efforts by China to manipulate them in order to influence American politics.
And FBI Director Christopher Wray has just traveled to London for a joint meeting with senior British law enforcement officials to draw attention to Chinese threats.
The FBI, in fact, opens a new China counterintelligence investigation every 12 hours. “That’s probably 2,000 investigations or so,” Wray told the CNN. “And that’s not even talking about their cyber heists, where they have a larger hacking program than any other major nation combined, and have stolen more personal and corporate data from Americans than any nation combined.”
Chinese technology planted in the US
In his research, the FBI found a haunting pattern along portions of Interstate 25 in Colorado and Montana, and on arteries into Nebraska. This busy corridor connects some of America’s most secret military installations, including an archipelago of nuclear missile silos.
For years, small rural telecom providers have installed cheaper, Chinese-made routers and other technology atop cell towers along I-25. and elsewhere in the region. In much of these sparsely populated swathes of the West, these small carriers are the only option for cell coverage. Y many of them have turned to Huawei in search of cheaper and more reliable equipment.
At the end of 2011, Viaero, the largest regional provider in the area, signed a contract with Huawei to provide equipment for its upgrade to 3G. A decade later, it has Huawei technology installed in its entire fleet of towers, some 1,000 spread across five western states.
When Huawei equipment began to proliferate near US military bases, federal investigators began to take notice, they told the Times. CNN sources familiar with the matter.What was most worrying was that Huawei was routinely selling cheap equipment to rural suppliers in cases that appeared to be unprofitable for Huawei, but located their equipment near military assets.
With that fact in relief, began to “examine Huawei more from a commercial/financial point of view”, explained John Lenkart, a former top FBI agent focused on China-related counterintelligence issues. Officials studied where Huawei’s sale efforts were concentrated and looked for deals that “didn’t make sense from a return on investment perspective,” Lenkart said.
“A lot of counterintelligence concerns were uncovered based on” those searches, Lenkart said.
In examining Huawei’s own equipment, FBI investigators determined that it could recognize and disrupt DoD spectrum communications, even though it had been certified by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
“It is not technically difficult to manufacture a device that complies with the FCC and that listens to non-public bands, but then quietly waits for some activation trigger to listen to other bands,” said Eduardo Rojas, who directs the radioelectric spectrum laboratory at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. “Technically, it is feasible.”
But they also found another big concern along Interstate 25: In 2014, Viaero began mounting high-definition surveillance cameras on its towers to live stream weather and traffic.a public service that he shared with local news organizations.
With dozens of cameras placed along I-25, cameras provided a 24-hour bird’s eye view of incoming traffic and weathereven providing advance warning of tornadoes.But they also inadvertently tracked the movement of US military equipment and personnel, giving Beijing – or anyone – the ability to follow the pattern of activity between a series of closely guarded military installations.
The intelligence community determined that the live broadcasts posted were being viewed and likely picked up from China.
Furthermore, they believe it is possible that the Beijing intelligence service “directed” the cameras, that is, that they hacked the network and controlled where they pointed. At least some of the cameras in question were running on Huawei networks.
By the time the I-25 investigation was reported to the White House in 2019, counterintelligence officials were beginning to look for other places where Chinese companies could be buying land or offering to develop a piece of municipal property, like a park. or an old factory, sometimes as part of a “sister city” arrangement.
Federal officials were also alarmed by what the sources described as a series of espionage and influence activities in Houston and, in 2020, closed the Chinese consulate there.
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