Key senators say administration should ban Huawei tech in US electric grid

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A group of powerful senators that includes the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, are pressing the Trump administration to ban the use of Huawei technologies in order to protect U.S. infrastructure.

In the letter sent Monday to Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the 11 senators said a ban should be considered to protect U.S. utilities and the power grid.

“We understand that Huawei, the world’s largest manufacturer of solar inverters, is attempting to access our domestic residential and commercial markets,” the letter states. “Congress recently acted to block Huawei from our telecommunications equipment market due to concerns with the company’s links to China’s intelligence services. We urge similar action to protect critical U.S. electrical systems and infrastructure.”

{mosads}The letter was signed by Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner (Va.).

It was also signed by Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the former No. 2 GOP senator, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a former Intelligence chairwoman.

Others who signed on to the letter were Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Angus King (I-Maine) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

The senators said the federal government should consider a ban on Huawei technology from being used within U.S. electric utilities, “and work with state and local regulators to raise awareness and mitigate potential threats.”

“We urge you to work with all federal, state and local regulators, as well as the hundreds of independent power producers and electricity distributors nation-wide to ensure our systems are protected,” the letter reads. “We stand ready and willing to provide any assistance you need to secure our critical electricity infrastructure.”

Lawmakers and officials have raised concerns about the potential national security threat that Huawei poses to the U.S., citing the influence the Chinese government reportedly has on the company.

Federal prosecutors recently unsealed a pair of indictments against the telecom giant, alleging theft of intellectual property and violation of sanctions against Iran. And U.S. officials are seeking the extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou from Canada, where she was arrested last year at the request of American authorities.

The call for action also comes after the Senate Energy Natural Resources Committee held a hearing earlier this month on cyber threats to the energy industry.

During the hearing, King — one of the signatories for Monday’s letter — asked James Robb, the president and CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which regulates electric grids in North America, whether there was any technology from Huawei, Chinese telecommunication firm ZTE or the Russian firm Kaspersky Labs used in U.S. electric systems.

Robb said that his organization had issued an alert on the technology but that he didn’t know if any U.S. utilities used ZTE, Huawei or Kaspersky equipment.

“Have you surveyed any of the utilities to determine that?” King asked.

“I don’t believe we have,” Robb replied.

“I think that would be a good idea, don’t you?” the senator asked, to which Robb said he would “take that on.”

Tags Angus King Ben Sasse China Dianne Feinstein electric grid Energy Department Huawei Jim Risch John Cornyn Kirstjen Nielsen Marco Rubio Mark Warner Mitt Romney Richard Burr Rick Perry Susan Collins Tom Cotton utilities

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