In the ongoing US-led fight to clip telecom giant Huawei’s wings, the main line of attack centers on the presumed national-security risk posed by the Chinese firm.
But as Washington urges governments around the globe to shun Huawei, the same question is repeated: Where is the evidence that Huawei poses a risk?
It turns out that even in the US, companies that rely on Huawei’s products are asking that question. And amid reports that the Donald Trump administration is prepared to ban all Huawei gear, people are concerned about the consequences, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
“We’ve obviously been in touch with the administration to make sure they understand whatever they do in that [order] doesn’t have the unintended consequence of hurting rural America,” Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association, was quoted as saying. “What nobody in the administration or government or Congress seems to have looked at is how pervasive is all this gear in our networks.”
While large US carriers have for years forgone Huawei’s equipment under political pressure, small rural firms have long depended on the Chinese company.
“I’ve never seen anything publicly that Huawei has done anything wrong,” said James Groft, the head of service provider James Valley Telecommunications. “I would feel better about this if [the federal government] had assurances there is something credible, and not fearmongering.”
So why isn’t the US government providing the “something credible” that American executives, along with others around the globe, are looking for?
According to one US security official, it’s because they don’t really know what the risks are.
“Right now it’s difficult … to really make a set of visceral examples that I think the public would understand,” John Costello, director of strategy, policy and plans at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said at an event in Washington last week.
“Once we have a better understanding and can give better concrete examples that we think the public would digest, I think you’ll see more from us on that,” Costello continued.
While Washington figures out how to explain that Huawei is a risk, the Trump administration will be hard at work making sure countries don’t use its equipment, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on Monday.
Speaking while on a visit to Hungary, Pompeo said the US might have to scale back cooperation with any nation that uses Huawei gear.
“We have seen this around the world, it also makes it more difficult for America to be present; that is, if that equipment is co-located in places where we have important American systems, it makes it more difficult for us to partner alongside them. We want to make sure we identify them the opportunities and the risks associated with using that equipment. And then they’ll get to make their decisions,” Pompeo said.