Senators raise security concerns over Chinese telecom deal plan

A bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski on Tuesday seeking assurances about the security of the U.S. communications grid in light of a proposed deal between Sprint Nextel, Cricket and two China-based telecom firms.

Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) along with Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) expressed concern that the firms in question, Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corporation, reportedly have significant ties to the Chinese military and that both have received financing from the Chinese government. Kyl and Collins were among the eight GOP Senators that originally raised concerns over reports in August that the firms were in talks to supply equipment to Sprint Nextel.

In their letter the lawmakers express concern that doing business with the two firms could give China the means to embed itself in the U.S. telecommunications sector for the purpose of spying on Americans' communications.

“We are very concerned that these companies are being financed by the Chinese government and greatly influenced by the Chinese military, which may create an opportunity for the Chinese military to manipulate switches, routers, or software embedded in American telecommunications network so that communications can be intercepted, tampered with, or purposely misrouted," the lawmakers wrote. "This would pose a real threat to our national security.”

The letter cites a 2009 report from the Pentagon that states Huawei has significant ties to the Chinese People's Liberation Army. It also references published reports that both firms received tens of billions of dollars in low and no-interest loans from the Chinese government that do not require repayment.

Huawei pushed backed against the reports when they first broke this summer, calling itself "an employee-owned private company" and claiming that "government and military organizations do not hold any shares or control the company in any form."

But the lawmakers asked the FCC to inform them if it has any legal authority to review foreign technologies, such as telecom software and equipment, to ensure they don't pose a risk. It also pointedly asks if the commission is aware of the risks to U.S. telecom carrier for buying foreign technology and if the FCC is aware of the accusations regarding Huawei and ZTE.