U.S. intelligence chiefs advise Americans to avoid products and services from Huawei and ZTE

Huawei Honor 8
Huawei has been trying to get U.S. carriers to sell its phones. (Image: Huawei Honor 8)

Six of the nation’s top intelligence chiefs told a Senate committee that they would recommend that Americans not use products and services from Chinese companies like ZTE and Huawei for fear of espionage.

"We're deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks," FBI Director Chris Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee this week, according to CNBC. "That provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure. … It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage."

The FBI director was joined by the heads of the CIA, NSA and the director of national intelligence, among other intelligence agencies.

"This is a challenge I think that is only going to increase, not lessen over time for us," NSA director Adm. Michael Rogers said, according to CNBC. "You need to look long and hard at companies like this."

For its part, Huawei told CNBC that it poses no more security risk than other tech companies because such companies share the same global supply chains and production capabilities.

In a statement, ZTE said it is "proud of the innovation and security of our products in the US market. As a publicly traded company, we are committed to adhering to all applicable laws and regulations of the United States, work with carriers to pass strict testing protocols, and adhere to the highest business standards. Our mobile phones and other devices incorporate US-made chipsets, US-made operating systems and other components. ZTE takes cybersecurity and privacy seriously and remains a trusted partner to our US suppliers, US customers and the people who use our high quality and affordable products for their communications needs.”

To be clear, such concerns are not new. A 2011 U.S. government report recommended U.S. companies avoid using equipment from Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE due to national security concerns. And more recently, both Verizon and AT&T dropped plans this year to sell smartphones from Huawei, a situation mentioned by Huawei’s CEO as a “big loss” during the recent CES show in Las Vegas.

Nonetheless, the statements this week from the nation’s top intelligence officials represent a notable repudiation of those companies’ efforts to break into the U.S. market. Indeed, a number of wireless operators sell smartphones from ZTE, and unlocked Huawei phones are available for sale on Amazon and other stores.

According to IDC, Huawei was the world’s third largest smartphone vendor in the fourth quarter.

Article updated Feb. 15 with statement from ZTE.