Pentagon Bans Sale Of Certain Smartphones On Bases Amid Foreign Hacking Fears

Gear

The Pentagon has ordered retail stores on its bases around the world to cease selling all smartphones and devices made by two Chinese companies, citing security concerns.


It marked the latest salvo by the federal administration against Chinese or Russian companies that sell technology that could pose a national security risk or leave people using it vulnerable to hacking.

A Pentagon spokesman, Maj. David W. Eastburn, said all smartphones, modems, personal WiFi hotspots and other devices made by Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and ZTE Corp. had been removed from stores at military facilities.

“Huawei and ZTE devices may pose an unacceptable risk to department’s personnel, information and mission,” Eastburn said.

He declined to specify how the devices might be compromised: “For security reasons, I can’t get into the technical aspects of potential threats.”

The largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer in the world, Guangdong-based Huawei, vies with Apple Inc. to be the world’s second-largest smartphone maker, trailing only South Korea’s Samsung. Huawei was founded in the late 1980s by a former engineer from the People’s Liberation Army.

The second firm, ZTE, also based in Guangdong province, makes smartphones, tablets, and telecommunications equipment. In 2017, the company admitted shipping telecom equipment to Iran and North Korea and agreed to pay$1.19 billion in fines as part of an investigation into whether it violated trade sanctions. In March, the U.S. Commerce Department imposed a seven-year ban on ZTE buying technology from U.S. suppliers, including chips considered essential to some of its products.

Both companies have come under scrutiny on Capitol Hill, where Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Tom Cotton of Arkansas introduced a bill in February that would bar the U.S. government from contracting with any company that uses equipment or services from Huawei or ZTE. A similar bill was introduced in the House.

Rubio and Cotton are members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and privy to classified information.

“I’m pleased with the Pentagon’s decision,” Cotton said. “We should continue working toward zero use of Huawei and ZTE products in the U.S., but this a good step”

Soldiers view live-stream full-motion video from unmanned aerial vehicles via a smartphone at Fort Sill, Oklahoma on March 3, 2017U.S. Army/PEO C3T/Flickr

Rubio tweeted nearly two weeks ago that if either of the two Chinese companies were to receive a request from China’s intelligence services to use their cellular networks for espionage, they would have little option.

“They have no choice but to comply,” Rubio said. “This is a dangerous national security threat to U.S.”

Neither Huawei nor ZTE responded immediately for request to comment.

While the Pentagon’s action will have negligible impact on the two companies, it does mark a growing effort by the Trump administration to thwart efforts by China, and to a lesser extent by Russia, to hamper competition in the high-tech arena or gain tools for possible use in espionage.

Military exchanges worldwide sold 2,400 devices from Huawei and ZTE last year, Eastburn said, amounting to sales of about $112,500 for Huawei and $65,000 for ZTE.

Related: Your Favorite Fitness Apps Are Leaving US Military Bases Abroad Exposed »

A U.S.-based analyst of U.S.-China military relations, Maochun Yu, said the ban is part of a broader sea change in the way U.S. officials view China under the Trump administration.

“The ban itself may not be all that significant but it’s part of a seismic change,” Yu said, one in which U.S. policymakers view every aspect of the bilateral relationship through a national security lens, no longer accepting, for example, the shift of American manufacturing ability to China as merely an economic matter.

“Actually, it’s America’s loss of (control of) the defense supply chain, and that’s very deadly,” Yu said. “No defense official responsible for national defense would take that matter lightly.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. branch of Huawei said the company is “aware of a range of U.S. government activities seemingly aimed at inhibiting Huawei’s business in the U.S. market.” It said it was “committed to openness and transparency in everything we do.”

The Trump administration has gone beyond simply barring sales of a product or service.

In March, a national security panel that can halt corporate mergers blocked a Singapore-based chipmaker, Broadcom, from its $117 billion bid to buy Qualcomm, a major U.S. semiconductor maker out of concern it would hinder U.S. competition with China in high-tech development, specifically the drive to build high-capacity 5G wireless networks.

In a blow to a major Russian internet company, the Department of Homeland Security last September barred federal agencies from using antivirus software made by AO Kaspersky Lab, apparently out of concern it might make hard drives vulnerable to monitoring by Russian intelligence.

———

©2018 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

WATCH NEXT:

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider

If you're in the market for a bunker in the southwest, you're in luck. A decommissioned missile complex is now on sale outside of Tucson for nearly $400,000. The complex was home to an armed Titan II missile for 24 years, before it was decommissioned in the 1980s.

The structure is listed with Grant Hampton at Realty Executives. Now, the home is back on the market, and these photos show what lies underground in Arizona.

Read More Show Less

Connecting with the youths is all fun and games until Congress starts worrying you could accidentally expose the U.S. military to Chinese data collection, am I right?

Read More Show Less

A Florida Navy Reserve officer rescued a woman who was trapped in a sinking car, according to a report by CBS 47.

Read More Show Less

The Marine Corps will investigate whether another Marine has ties to a white supremacist group after he allegedly made racist comments on neo Nazi message boards that have since been taken down, according to a Marine Corps official.

Vice News reporters Tess Owen and Tim Hume first reported on Nov. 8 that at least three people who posted on the new defunct Iron March message boards were service members, but their story did not include any of the troops' names.

Newsweek reporters James LaPorta and Asher Stockler were able to independently confirm the identity of one of those service members as an active-duty Marine: Lance Corporal Liam J. Collins, an 0311 Rifleman assigned to 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the United States knows the location of the third in command to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who killed himself last month during a U.S.-led raid.

"We have our eye on his third," Trump said during the question-and-answer session following a speech at the Economic Club of New York. "His third has got a lot of problems because we know where he is too."

Read More Show Less