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FILE - In this June 10, 2011 file photo, mobile phones and tablets are displayed in the exhibition room of the Huawei Technologies Co. headquarters in Shenzhen, southern Chinese city bordering Hong Kong. Australia has banned Chinese technology giant Huawei from bidding to help build a nationwide high-speed Internet network due to concern about cyber attacks traced to China. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Monday, March 26, 2012, the move was among "prudent decisions" to ensure the planned network functions properly.

Kin Cheung, Associated Press - Ap

NSA breached Chinese servers seen as security threat

  • Article by: David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth
  • New York Times
  • March 22, 2014 - 6:42 PM

– U.S. officials have long considered Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, a security threat, blocking it from business deals in the United States for fear that the company would create “back doors” in its equipment that could allow the Chinese military or Beijing-backed hackers to steal corporate and government secrets.

But even as the United States made a public case about the dangers of buying from Huawei, classified documents show that the National Security Agency was creating its own back doors — directly into Huawei’s networks.

The agency pried its way into the servers in Huawei’s sealed headquarters in Shenzhen, China’s industrial heart, according to NSA documents provided by the former contractor Edward Snowden. It obtained information about the workings of the giant routers and digital switches that Huawei boasts connect one-third of the world’s population, and monitored communications of company executives.

One of the goals of the operation, code-named “Shotgiant,” was to find any links between Huawai and the People’s Liberation Army, one 2010 document made clear.

Surveillance was the goal

But the agency’s plans went further: to exploit Huawai’s technology so that when the company sold equipment to other countries, the NSA could roam through their computer and telephone networks to conduct surveillance and, if ordered by the president, offensive cyberoperations.

“Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products,” the NSA document said. “We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products.”

U.S. officials have repeatedly said that the NSA breaks into foreign networks only for legitimate national security purposes.

A White House spokeswoman, Caitlin Hayden, said: “We do not give intelligence we collect to U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”

But that does not mean the U.S. government does not conduct its own form of corporate espionage with a different set of goals. Those concerning Huawei were described in the 2010 document.

Gleaning company’s plans

“If we can determine the company’s plans and intentions,” an analyst wrote, “we hope that this will lead us back to the plans and intentions of the PRC,” referring to the People’s Republic of China.

The irony, said William Plummer, a senior Huawei executive in the United States, “is that exactly what they are doing to us is what they have always charged that the Chinese are doing through us.”

America’s is engaged in an escalating digital cold war with Beijing. The NSA, for example, is tracking more than 20 Chinese hacking groups — more than half of them Chinese army and navy units — as they break into the networks of the U.S. government, companies including Google and drone and nuclear-weapon part makers, according to current and former U.S. officials.

© 2014 Star Tribune