Last summer, a Chinese telecommunications giant founded by a former People’s Liberation Army (PLA) engineer was rebuffed in its effort to sell vast quantities of equipment to Sprint Nextel - an American company that provides communication services to the U.S. Defense Department and other government agencies. An interagency group known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) took a hard look at the proposal and, quite sensibly, rejected it on national security grounds.
Unbeknownst to CFIUS at the time, Huawei was making another, unscrutinized and problematic investment in the United States. It bought pieces of 3Leaf, a now-insolvent pioneer in “cloud computing” technology, including intellectual property with obvious military applications.
When this transaction serendipitously came to the Pentagon’s attention, alarm bells went off. CFIUS took a look at it as well and came to the same conclusion as it had with the Chinese company’s previous play with Sprint Nextel and two earlier initiatives - its effort to buy a stake in 3Com and bid to invest in some of Motorola’s assets: No way.
Huawei initially declared that it intended to appeal to President Obama to overrule his interagency experts. Perhaps in doing so, it was counting on his well-established proclivity to yield to Chinese demands. Perhaps the company was banking on the political influence of the prominent former American officials it had indirectly hired through a firm called Amerilink to tamp down their successors’ security concerns about Huawei. These advocates include a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. William Owens; a former House majority leader, Rep. Richard A. Gephart; and a former deputy secretary of defense, Gordon England.
Five days after floating this idea, however, the Chinese were persuaded to abandon their latest gambit. Huawei’s American guns-for-hire or perhaps Obama’s own advisers presumably impressed upon them that Mr. Obama could hardly afford to ignore CFIUS’ conclusions in order to do the PRC’s bidding.
Now, Huawei is trying a new tack. Its deputy chairman, Ken Hu, published last week an audacious open letter on the corporate website. Mr. Hu professes the company’s commitment to free enterprise and insistently denies any wrongful expropriation of proprietary information or ties to the PLA. He decries the “longstanding and untrue rumors and allegations” that, among other things, suggest the company would use access to U.S. computer networks for nefarious purposes. He goes so far as repeatedly to call on Washington to conduct a “thorough government investigation [that] will prove that Huawei is a normal commercial institution and nothing more.”
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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