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Chinese telecom equipment might be accessing domestic US military bases, new report says

Huawei Canada. (Raysonho/Wikimedia Commons)
April 16, 2018

Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture given to at least two telecommunications companies may have been used to purchase equipment from Chinese tech giant Huawei, the Washington Free Beacon reported, and the equipment is currently in use within 100 miles of American military posts. There are fears the Chinese-made equipment is being used to spy on the U.S. military bases.

The new discovery comes just months after Congress pressured U.S. cell phone carriers to abandon a proposed deal with Huawei amid spying concerns. The U.S. has grown wary over China’s increasing interest in the U.S. tech space, and FCC head Ajit Pai called it a “threat to national security.”

Pine Telephone Company, one of the USDA-backed groups that purchased the equipment, operates a service area in southeastern Oklahoma that includes the McAlester Army Ammunition plant. Huawei’s tech is potentially interconnected with the Pentagon’s chief provider of bombs, missiles and ammunition for U.S. armed forces. Pine Telephone Company also manages a service tower within 100 miles of the active duty Tinker Air Force base.

The second company, Missouri-based Crystal Automation Systems, operates service areas within 100 miles of the Detroit Arsenal, a base that also houses a large weapons cache and military personnel.

While the USDA cannot directly confirm that the grants were used to purchase the Huawei equipment, telecom companies regularly allot their large government funds to help expand their services to rural areas. The companies usually attempt to keep costs low, and many small and rural carriers often turn to Huawei for what they say are cheaper prices and better customer service than competitors.

The FCC last month attempted to discourage such a practice by proposing a new rule that would prevent rural carriers from utilizing their federal funds to buy equipment from any company the U.S. deemed a threat to national security. The FCC directly named Huawei and smaller Chinese tech company ZTE in a separate statement on the proposal.

The new FCC rule was spearheaded by senators Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio, who proposed a law in February that would block the U.S. government from buying or leasing equipment from Huawei or ZTE.

“Chinese telecoms companies pose a real and growing threat to our national security and to Americans’ privacy,” Cotton said in a statement to the Free Beacon. “We’ve been subsidizing them for far too long and I’m committed to cutting off their access to taxpayer dollars — whether through the FCC, USDA or any other federal agency.”

Reps. Liz Cheney and Mike Conway, who proposed a similar bill in the House in January, also expressed their concerns over the potential threat of Chinese tech infiltrating the U.S.

“The presence of these companies anywhere near U.S. military installations is deeply troubling,” Conaway told the Free Beacon, noting that he’s “exploring other options to keep our military protected from prying Chinese eyes.”