Are Telecom Companies Helping China Spy on America?

The Republican and Democratic intelligence leaders in the House have intensified their probe into whether Chinese telecom companies are poised to spy here for the People's Republic.

Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), respectively chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, recently returned from meeting leaders of Huawei and ZTE to dig deeper into the companies' links to the Chinese government.

Huawei is the second-largest supplier of mobile telecommunications infrastructure equipment in the world; corporate partners include Motorola, T-Mobile, and Cox Communications with items such as modems and cable boxes. It also owns 51 percent stake in a joint venture with Symantec, and bid for a Sprint contract in 2010.

The concern with the piqued interest in American investment is that the companies' equipment is manufactured to allow unauthorized access by the Chinese government. The Wall Street Journal reported last fall that Huawei's telecommunications equipment in Iran had added surveillance capabilities, something the company denied.

In March, the Australian government, on advice of its national security service, reportedly decided to keep Huawei out of the bidding process to work on its national broadband network.

ZTE Corporation, founded as a state-owned enterprise with ties to China's aerospace ministry, is the world's fourth-largest manufacturer of mobile phones. Its Score mobile phone can easily be accessed remotely, sparking concern about handset security. In 2010, the company sold Iran's state-owned telecommunications company equipment for spying on phone and online communications.

Intelligence committee investigators have already traveled to Shenzhen, China, twice to probe the risk to America's infrastructure.

Rogers and Ruppersberger returned from their meetings with more questions, releasing today letters sent to the company heads asking for additional information and documents.

“I remain concerned about the national security threat posed by the potential expansion of Huawei and ZTE into our telecommunications infrastructure,” Rogers said.

“I appreciate the cooperation from Huawei and ZTE thus far, and look forward to receiving more information about their activities as well as the influence of the Chinese government in their operations," he added. "We must get to the bottom of these issues before the companies have further access to our market."