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Former CIA and NSA head says Huawei spies for China

Only chap to head both spook agencies rates company 'unambiguous national security threat'

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Michael Hayden, a former head of the CIA and the NSA, has openly accused Chinese networking giant Huawei of spying for China in a move likely to further inflame tensions between the US and China over state-sponsored hacking.

Retired four star general Hayden told the Australian Financial Review that "at a minimum, Huawei would have shared with the Chinese state intimate and extensive knowledge of the foreign telecommunications systems it is involved with. I think that goes without saying."

Asked "Does Huawei represent an unambiguous national security threat to the US and Australia?" General Hayden replied "Yes, I believe it does."

Hayden goes out of his way to point out these opinions are his own, rather than those of the Obama administration. But his own experiences of the company get a decent airing.

“Two or three years ago Huawei was trying to establish a pretty significant footprint here [in America]. And they were trying to get people like me to endorse their presence in the US,” he told the Aussie paper.

“I reviewed Huawei’s briefing paper. But God did not make enough slides on Huawei to convince me that having them involved in our critical communications infrastructure was going to be OK. This was my considered view, based on a four-decade career as an intelligence officer.”

Hayden, who headed up the NSA from ’99 to ’05 and was in charge at Langley from 2006 to ’09, isn’t exactly deviating from the US line on Huawei although he is the first high profile official, or former official, to publically accuse the Shenzhen firm of spying.

A US House of Representatives committee famously branded the handset and telecoms kit maker, along with its near neighbour ZTE, a national security risk in a high profile report in October 2012.

Aussie politicians responded by banning Huawei from bidding on the National Broadband Network (NBN) project.

The UK, on the other hand, has welcomed the firm with open arms, prime minister David Cameron even hosting founder Ren Zhengfei at Downing Street after he announced a £1.2bn investment in the country.

However, a parliamentary security and intelligence committee has since raised national security concerns with Huawei.

The firm sent El Reg the following response to Hayden’s accusations:

Huawei is a world-leading, proven and trusted ICT company. These tired, unsubstantiated defamatory remarks are sad distractions from real-world concerns related to espionage – industrial and otherwise – that demand serious discussion globally.

The remarks by Hayden - now a director of Motorola Solutions - will likely inflame an already tense relationship between the US and China.

Huawei, meanwhile, has continued its Australian charm offensive by extending its sponsorship of the National Rugby League team in the national capital, the Canberra Raiders, and pledging to help it play a game in Shenzen.

“As China’s most successful global company, Huawei would love to see Shenzhen Stadium filled with our 65,000 China-based staff – with all of them backing the Raiders!,” said Corporate Affairs Director Jeremy Mitchell.

Read whatever you like into the monopoly on seats for home fans. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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