The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has listed two Chinese government-related telecommunications companies as approved suppliers for companies taking part in the Obama administration’s multibillion-dollar program to expand broadband Internet service around the country.
Huawei Technologies and ZTE, both state-owned Chinese firms, were included in a USDA list of safe and approved telecommunications equipment providers for the broadband expansion program.
Both companies were the target of a letter from six members of Congress that was sent to President Obama on Monday warning that there are significant risks to U.S. computer network security from security gaps in the broadband initiative.
China is viewed as one of the most aggressive nation-states engaged in international hacking. Last year, Google pulled its operations out of mainland China after a sophisticated cyber-attack against it and other U.S. companies.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced last month that USDA is providing loans to develop broadband networks in rural parts of the country.
The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided $7.2 billion for investment in broadband development for both USDA and the Commerce Department. USDA currently is in charge of several billion dollars of those funds to be used to develop broadband networks.
"Broadband investments are an essential part of the Obama administration’s effort to ‘win the future’ by out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building our global competitors," Mr. Vilsack said in a statement.
Five senators and one senior House Republican stated in the letter to Mr. Obama that companies like Huawei and ZTE pose threats to U.S. communications security in the broadband initiative.
"We are concerned that these initiatives provide an opportunity for the introduction of potentially harmful technology to U.S. broadband infrastructure," the lawmakers stated. "We are particularly concerned that these companies, such as Huawei and ZTE, could benefit from this federal investment in broadband technology and receive taxpayer funds in exchange for equipment or services that could undermine U.S. networks. These companies received extensive support from the Chinese government, which increases the risk that the companies will feel obligated to follow its instructions."
Huawei was blocked from merging with 3Com in 2008 by the Treasury Department-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States and the National Security Agency advised some U.S. companies not to buy Huawei equipment, the letter said.
The letter stated that efforts to limit Huawei’s access to U.S. telecommunications networks were insufficient and in particular noted that USDA did not examine its use of broadband funds from a national security standpoint, citing the two companies’ inclusion on the approved vendor list.
"American companies providing broadband access may not be aware of the potential threats that accompany bids from Huawei and ZTE," the letter said. "If the government agencies funding their work are so unfamiliar with the threat posed by those companies and are not evaluating applications [for loans] from a national security perspective, U.S. networks may be exposed to significant risk."
USDA spokeswoman Dane Henshall did not answer directly when asked about the department’s listing of the Chinese companies.
"Companies and products listed in the USDA’s ‘List of Material Acceptable for Use on Systems of USDA Rural Development Telecommunications Borrowers’ meet requirements of the USDA RUS Technical Standards Committee and do not include companies or products restricted by law," she said.
A U.S. national security official close to the issue said: "I know sometimes the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing in our government, but this is ridiculous."
The letter was signed by Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona; Saxby Chambliss of Georgia; James M. Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both of Oklahoma; and Richard Burr of North Carolina; along with Rep. Darell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Gates, Holder criticized
The chairmen of the House Armed Services and Judiciary committees on Wednesday issued a harsh rebuke of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. over the issue of trying terrorists in military commissions rather than civilian courts.
Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, who heads the Armed Services panel, and Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in a letter to Mr. Gates and Mr. Holder that they applauded the announcement this week about the decision not to use civil courts to try the 9/11 terrorists.
"However, we are extremely concerned by the tone and focus of the announcement," they stated in the letter. A copy was obtained by Inside the Ring.
The chairmen stated that many U.S. troops died waging war against the extremists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks after Congress authorized the use of force in 2001. "The attacks of 9/11 are the reason why the military commissions were formed," they said.
"Instead of focusing on the path forward, Monday’s announcement focused on casting blame, averting responsibility and did nothing to evoke confidence moving forward," Mr. McKeon and Mr. Smith said. "The victims of 9/11, their families and the American people deserve better."
The chairmen said the Obama administration appears to believe that congressional views on the forum for 9/11 trials are "illegitimate and an affront to the American system of government."
"Yet Congress’ role is just the opposite – it is precisely the role of the legislative branch to engage in vigorous oversight and debate," they said. "No decision of this level of importance to our national security should go without question or scrutiny."
The lawmakers said now is not the time to personalize the debate or point fingers, the issue is about delivering justice.
"We must insure that this war-crimes trial is about the terrorists who murdered nearly 3,000 Americans and not about anything else," Mr. McKeon, California Republican, and Mr. Smith, Texas Republican, said, noting that it is time to focus on 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other terror suspects awaiting military tribunals.
The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific told Congress on Wednesday that forward-deployed ships, aircraft and troops are in the Pacific region to deter China’s growing military power and to reassure nervous U.S. allies about what he called the "troubling" buildup of forces by Beijing’s military.
Navy Adm. Robert Willard told the House Armed Services Committee that U.S. strategy toward China calls for a responsible China, while closely watching the large-scale force buildup that includes missiles and other systems designed to block U.S. access to the region.
China’s military buildup has been rapid, Adm. Willard said in his prepared statement.
"While force modernization is understandable in light of China’s growing regional and global roles and accompanying requirements, the scope and pace of its modernization without clarity on China’s ultimate goals remains troubling," he said. "For example, China continues to accelerate its offensive air and missile developments without corresponding public clarification about how these forces will be utilized."
Particularly worrying are China’s ballistic and cruise missile forces, including anti-ship missiles, stealth jets, anti-satellite and other space weapons and cyberwarfare systems.
China’s space weapons and cyberwarfare capabilities "can be used to not only disrupt U.S. military operations, but also to threaten the space- and cyber-based information infrastructure that enables international communications and commerce," the four-star admiral said. "Absent clarification from China, its military modernization efforts hold significant implications for regional stability."
China also is seeking to expand control over international waters and wants to deny the U.S. Navy access to areas near China, he said.
© Copyright 2011 The Washington Times, LLC.
About the Author
Bill Gertz is geopolitics editor and a national security and investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
Mr. Gertz also writes a weekly column …