Huawei is accused by CNN of posing potential threats to US nuclear missile systems. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese newspapers have blasted a recent CNN report claiming that Huawei gear used by rural telecommunications companies in the US poses threats to the country’s nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Citing US experts, CNN reported on Tuesday that China could “interfere with ICBM command and control” by taking advantage of rural US cellphone base towers that reply on Huawei’s equipment and technologies.

For instance, cell towers using Huawei-made radio transmitters and receivers in the northwestern state of Montana owned by Triangle Communications are located within 1.6 kilometers of a missile silo of Malmstrom Air Force Base, which is equipped with more than 100 Minuteman III ICBMs capable of delivering nuclear warheads to targets 10,000km away.

Cellular towers dispersed around these military installations beneath a vast prairie there could be weaponized against the missiles and become a new strategic capability for Beijing, according to CNN.

Many cell towers are close to a missile field in Montana. Photo: CNN screen grab
Huawei base station equipment. Photo: WeChat

Smaller telecom carriers such as Triangle Communications reportedly reply on government subsidies to operate in remote areas and they tend to procure cheap products from Huawei and the like to offset costs. The Rural Wireless Association in the US says a quarter of its members buy Huawei.

But Chinese telecom experts told the Global Times that a nuclear-weapon facility would always be purpose-built for isolation from outside interference and all communications would be encrypted. The newspaper accused CNN of tinfoil-hat fear-mongering.

It is very unlikely that signals for civilian communications can affect military operations, as the fact is that commercial networks are usually on the receiving end of interference from the military, rather than the other way around, the paper said.

Highly sensitive military assets and weapons of mass destruction typically have substantial system redundancy and a whole set of anti-interference and anti-hacking subsystems to ensure safety and effectiveness of their chains of communications.

Some Chinese netizens also ridiculed the US report, suggesting the Americans should immediately wrap all their missiles and nuclear warheads in tin sheets to isolate them from radio signals sent from Beijing via nearby cell towers.

Others say the CNN report is also a threat to the US national security as it exposed the location of a major missile base.

While admitting the US missile systems are unlikely to be penetrated by Huawei devices, the CNN report quoted security expert James Lewis with a Washington-based think-tank as saying “that doesn’t mean our opponents won’t try and figure out if they can do it.”

While suing the US federal government for locking it out of the market and from government and corporate procurement, Huawei has sought to allay public concerns by setting up a major network security center in Brussels, Belgium. The embittered Chinese tech giant has also vehemently denied it allowed back-door access for Beijing to eavesdrop on foreign networks.

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