Monday was another bad day for Chinese tech giant Huawei. The Washington Post dropped a major bombshell on the company regarding alleged (highly-illegal) dealings in North Korea, and Czech Radio added another involving activities in their own country. The news adds fresh and serious doubts about the company’s potential western footprint, and bolster’s Washington’s case that the giant is a threat to American national security and users’ privacy. President Trump met tech CEOs in the White House Monday, partially to discuss what to do about it.
The Post reported that Huawei was engaged in several activities and projects in North Korea for at least the last eight years. A former Huawei employee provided the Post with documents showing the firm “secretly helped” North Korea “build and maintain” its commercial wireless network. Their activities were highly secretive, using another state-owned firm to conceal them, and referring to the Hermit Kingdom as “A9” in internal documents. The Justice Department has been investigating links between Huawei and North Korea since at least 2016, and has famously charged the company (and its CFO, Meng Wanzhou) with violating Iran sanctions.
Meanwhile, Czech Radio also reported that employees in the local branch of Huawei “routinely collect sensitive data about officials and business people with whom they come into contact and share it with the country’s embassy.” The public broadcaster’s flagship station, Radiožurnál, was examining how the firm operates in the country. Two former managers confirmed close links between the company’s workers and Chinese intelligence. Western governments— including the United States— have frequently raised concerns about this very practice, despite Huawei’s repeated denials. Czech President Miloš Zeman, however, said Huawei was being tarred without evidence, as part of unfair business practices against the firm.
Meanwhile, President Trump met with the CEOs of seven technology firms, including Google, Qualcomm, and Broadcom Monday, to discuss trade practices and national security issues. The executives requested “timely licensing decisions” from the Department of Commerce regarding Huawei, and the President agreed. Trump has taken a number of executive actions since May against the firm. He signed an executive order, declaring a national emergency and banning American companies from using information and communications technology from anyone considered a threat to national security. The Commerce Department added Huawei to its “Entity List,” effectively blacklisting the firm from American companies without government approval. Several American companies then divested from the company, removing their hardware and software from Huawei’s smartphones.
For western governments long suspicious of the Chinese firm, Monday’s reports corroborated many of their worst fears. Already charged with sanction-busting vis-a-vis Iran, Huawei using American technology to build wireless infrastructure in North Korea would violate several U.S. laws. Intelligence officials have also long suspected the use of “back doors” in its products, or other means by which Huawei collects user data and delivers it to the Chinese government. While no such back doors have yet been found, the reports of more conventional data insecurity in the Czech Republic are no less harmful to the firm and its reputation. The revelation sparked another rare moment of bipartisanship in Washington, with Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) introducing multiple pieces of legislation targeting the firm. “At every turn,” they said in a statement, “we learn more and more what a malign actor Huawei is.” If recent events are any guide, there may be more turns in store.