PARIS -- If the UK allows Chinese multinational Huawei to participate in building a new-generation cellular communications network, the CIA is going to take its ball and go home. That's the message Mick Mulvaney, U.S. President Donald Trump's acting chief of staff, delivered in a speech at the Oxford Union last week just before his meeting with British officials.
Mulvaney and Trump are concerned that your selfies and your mom's Facebook rants about the neighbor could be laughed at by some military intelligence officer in Beijing via secret backdoors installed in Huawei equipment. Those who don't know any better say they're thankful that the U.S. government is looking out for them.
Yes, it would be a noble gesture if the CIA hadn't beaten the Chinese to the possibility of peering at the direct messages you exchange with your high school ex.
A Washington Post report earlier this month revealed that the CIA teamed for years with the West German BND intelligence service on a decades-long spying operation. The two intelligence agencies secretly owned a Swiss company called Crypto AG that sold encryption machines to more than 120 governments worldwide. The machines were rigged with backdoors so that codes could easily be broken. The Swiss government has launched an investigation into the alleged CIA front company's activities.
It's probably best to just assume that all governments are spying online and behave accordingly to minimize your exposure if you're concerned about it. Meanwhile, the U.S. government will keep prattling on about Huawei in an attempt to negate a Chinese competitive advantage on the global economic playing field.
All the noise about national security is meant to obscure the panic that the U.S. can't compete with Huawei's technology at a time when the entire world is on the verge of upgrading to 5G networks. Economically speaking, the U.S. has no goalie and no players on the ice, leaving China free to score into an empty net -- over and over again, all over the world.
Attorney General Bill Barr recently suggested that the U.S. buy controlling shares in Huawei's only two 5G competitors: Finland's Nokia and Sweden's Ericsson.
"Putting our large market and financial muscle behind one or both of these firms would make it a more formidable competitor and eliminate concerns over its staying power," Barr said. "We and our closest allies certainly need to be actively considering this approach."
Barr's remarks have been poorly received here in Europe. The suggestion that the U.S. should buy controlling shares of two European multinationals is being viewed in the context of a longstanding U.S. effort to economically colonize Europe by buying its industrial know-how piece by piece and using it to further American interests. The recent use of U.S. anti-corruption laws to selectively prosecute European multinationals -- in some cases leading to the buyouts of the weakened firms -- have exasperated European industry.
The case of Alstom here in France is one example of a U.S. buyout that has led to European wariness. In 2014, the U.S. Justice Department extracted a record $772 million from the French power and transportation company to settle foreign bribery charges. A year later, Alstom's power division (and French nuclear assets and know-how) were sold to General Electric, the highly subsidized U.S. multinational and defense contractor sometimes jokingly referred to as "Government Electric."
Before anyone argues that Alstom (or France) deserved the punishment because it shouldn't have acted corruptly in the first place, consider that Nigeria, which ranked 146th of 180 countries on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index for 2019, enjoys $9 billion in bilateral trade with the U.S., which is also Nigeria's largest foreign investor. And despite Nigeria having a corruption ranking on par with that of heavily sanctioned Iran, which the U.S. considers a persistent global menace, the U.S. can't seem to find any corruption in Nigeria to prosecute. Funny how that works, isn't it?
National security threats blown out of proportion have become a tool for frustrated hustlers looking to sabotage deals. Huawei is the latest example, but we've seen it before. Just last year, America's NATO ally, Turkey, purchased the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, widely regarded as the best in its class as a result of Russia prioritizing electronic warfare research even after the Cold War. Trump responded by threatening Turkey with sanctions over what Washington described as a security vulnerability for NATO and for the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet. So much whining and complaining. How about just building a better F-35 jet without such vulnerabilities?
Countries grow stronger in a diverse, multipolar world where there are competing options. This concept lies at the very heart of capitalist philosophy. China and others are now playing the game that we've always wanted them to play. They've leveled up. Washington needs to stop whining about it.