Are the Chinese Spying on Our Spying?

Danger Room reports that our nation’s spooks have moved beyond their concern about Chinese chips and other “counterfeit” (read, sabotaged) parts in war toys to grow concerned about Chinese parts in our telecom system.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), and the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, announced on Thursday that their committee will look into the potential for Chinese telecommunications equipment — like commercial servers, routers and switches — to help China spy on the United States.

“The investigation is to determine the extent to which these companies provide the Chinese government an opportunity for greater foreign espionage, threaten our critical infrastructure, and further the opportunity for Chinese economic espionage,” Rogers tells Danger Room. “Through this investigation we will come to a better understanding of the threat so we are better prepared to mitigate.”

The concern is that Chinese companies could tamper with equipment for use in civilian communications infrastructure, allowing China to insert Trojan horses that eavesdrop on targets in the United States. Chinese companies already make a number of telecommunications products sold in the U.S., but several have bowed out of deals to acquire large stakes in American telecom companies after facing U.S. government pressure.

Rogers says the investigation is an outgrowth of a review he commissioned shortly after becoming chairman of the committee in January.

Now, I don’t think Rogers and Ruppersberger are wrong to be concerned. The Chinese have every incentive to steal what they can from us, and their country’s corporations have always seemed willing to help out.

But I wonder if the concern doesn’t go beyond just China’s ability to affirmatively spy on select targets in the US and the rest of the world. To what degree are Rogers and Ruppersberger–the latter of whom represents the NSA–worried about the US monopoly on wiretapping switches? And is it possible that China will be able to create bottlenecks–as we did in the 1990s–to make it easier to wiretap? To what degree has China’s ascendance threatened the Anglo-American superiority in wiretapping?

10 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    I’ve always felt since it’s inception that the Internet was the latest iteration of the “Wild West” where almost anything goes (shades of William Gibson) and where nobody yet rules.

    You focused on control of surveillance monitoring EW in this piece as one of the most important aspects of the Internet’s power, and rightly so. Another obvious possible candidate up for grabs is the potential “Kill Switch” function hidden away in the nanobowels of Internet silicon.

    Whether it’s NSA rustlers or Chinese train robbers, there is no doubt that the Internet is primo territory up for grabs.

  2. TJ says:

    This is like closing the barn door after the horse escaped, came back for several parties, took a year’s supply of hay, and moved to Tucson.

  3. rugger9 says:

    The thing to remember about the mainland Chinese corporations is that the State has large stakes and larger influence in what they do. That’s how the PLA hides most of their spending. One must remember that the government in the PRC is into everything.

    Of course they are spying, and they are certainly sharp enough to place all kinds of back doors into the chips they make for us, and unless we look carefully [not a Bu$hie hallmark] we’ll miss it.

    They know how to do Stuxnet / Duqu as well as we do.

  4. scribe says:

    Taking a page out of our book, supplying telecom equipment for the developing world and listening in.

    Of course, we are now the developing world. It’s just that our elites haven’t figured out how to scheme it for their benefit, so they won’t mention it until they do.

  5. JohnLopresti says:

    well, there’re >3 million hits in a google search on the terms cisco systems chip outsource.

    but the ongoing scada scrutiny by congress already was aware of the problems with offshore nonfab developers. i guess.

  6. Emocrat says:

    Okay, so after nearly two decades of technology transfers to make trans-national corporations (TNCs) happy, now all of a sudden these geniuses are worried about this? This doesn’t pass the laugh test.

    US politicians knew exactly what they were doing when they allowed all these tech transfers. US National Sovereignty or security interests never entered into that discussion. But they still knew what they were doing. And now we’re supposed to get all excited about China merely using the opportunities our fearless leaders given them?

    The real bad guys here aren’t the Chinese, though that would make things much easier. It’s really the people who went along with this in service of corporate interests. Oh, and the corporations that willfully violated US sovereignty and security interests for profit. It’s not like anyone in the USG really takes sovereignty seriously anyway. Neo-Liberalism is very much against that, since it would mean having a robust, functioning Nation-State, instead of a vassal state merely serving corporate interests.

    And now that the US Neo-Cons are trying to pivot away from the ME and towards China, all this makes good fodder for a good old-fashioned Red Scare. They created the situation and now want to blame China for doing for simply taking advantage of greedy corporations with no loyalty to anything other than their own bottom lines… and the politicians they bought off to make this possible.

    I’ll believe all this is actually serious when I see CEOs of all these various tech companies hauled up on treason charges. Until then, this is all just a bad B-Movie script.

    Let the cheesy paranoia grip the nation! Hey, this might be a good vehicle to remake The Blob.

  7. klynn says:


    I agree with you comment but will add that the Neo Con push for privatization of many elements of national security was the additional service of corp interests which also violated sovereignty.

  8. rosalind says:

    ot: not sure if this was covered yesterday, but: ‘Justice Dept. Must Pay for Lying in Suit Against FBI by OC Muslims’

    “The Court must impose monetary sanctions to deter the Government from deceiving the Court again,” Judge Cormac Carney of the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana writes in his Islamic Shura Council v. FBI ruling.


    “Parties cannot choose when to tell the Court the truth. They must be truthful with the Court at all stages of the proceedings if judicial review is to have any real meaning,” Carney wrote.

  9. P J Evans says:

    @klynn: \
    I don’t think Congress understood technology transfer that well, and probably still doesn’t, but I’m pretty sure that the corporate executives were aware of what could happen. (I think the execs figured they’d be able to to stay ahead of the game. Surprise!)

  10. greengiant says:

    Most corporate execs seem to have a 3 to 12 month time horizon, just long enough to make their checkmarks for their next annual bonus. Staying ahead of the game has nothing to with say, even their own corporations long term welfare.

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