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Huawei threat 'No. 1 concern' moving forward, Trump national security adviser says

Huawei threat 'No. 1 concern' moving forward, Trump national security adviser says

National security adviser Robert O’Brien said that Chinese telecommunications company Huawei is the “number one concern” for democracy moving forward. 

In an interview with The Hill’s editor-at-large Steve Clemons as part of the 2020 Global Security Forum that took place last week, O’Brien pointed to concerns over the use of Huawei equipment in 5G networks around the world, accusing the embattled company of being an intelligence threat due to its potential access to sensitive networks.

“If you believe in democracy and you're concerned about our elections, that's the number one concern that we've got going forward and that all the democracies have is what China could do with that Huawei backbone in our countries,” O’Brien said. “It's really quite scary.”

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O’Brien detailed concerns that Huawei, which the Trump administration has taken a series of steps to push back against, could give the Chinese government “backdoors to pull up every bit of data in the world.”

O’Brien applauded work done by the Trump administration to pressure allied countries into excluding Huawei equipment from sensitive networks, noting that he believed several nations had made this choice due to concerns around data privacy and security.

“What's really turned especially the Europeans, but also many of the Asians, is the fact that their personal private data is going to be owned 100 percent by the Chinese Communist Party,” O’Brien said. 

“Think of what you could do with that from a microtargeting standpoint in an election,” he said. “If you know everybody, if you know their hopes, if you know their fears, if you know who's having an affair, if you know who's been diagnosed with cancer, if you know who's having financial difficulties, if you know what someone's dream vacation is. Think of taking all that information and then on a micro basis, being able to target that person, to blackmail them, to entice them, to attempt to influence them.”

A spokesperson for Huawei did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment on O’Brien’s concerns. Huawei has repeatedly pushed back strongly against concerns that it poses a national security threat. 

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Huawei, along with Chinese telecom group ZTE, is among the entities included on the Commerce Department’s “entity list,” which effectively bans U.S. companies from doing business with the telecom giant, which is one the largest providers of 5G equipment in the world.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously last year to classify Huawei as a national security threat, and to ban U.S. telecom groups from using funds in the FCC’s $8.5 billion Universal Service Fund to purchase Huawei equipment. Huawei is currently in the middle of a legal battle challenging this designation. 

In addition, President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE signed legislation into law in March banning U.S. companies from using federal funds to buy Huawei equipment. The legislation also provided $1 billion to help small rural telecom groups rip out Huawei equipment and replace it.

Outside the U.S., the Swedish government announced last month that Huawei equipment could not be used to build new 5G networks, citing national security concerns. 

The United Kingdom announced earlier this year that all mobile network operators would be required to stop buying Huawei equipment by the end of the year, and would also be required to rip out and replace all existing Huawei equipment by 2027.

The French government has also taken action against Huawei this year, declining to fully ban the use of Huawei equipment, but strongly encouraging telecom companies to avoid the use of the group’s equipment.

One key problem with rooting out Huawei equipment in the U.S. is that the nation does not have any major 5G equipment provider to take its place, a situation that has thrust telecom groups Ericsson, based in Sweden, and Nokia, a Finnish company, into the spotlight. 

O’Brien referenced both companies in applauding countries for moving away from Huawei. 

“I feel like I've been an unpaid spokesperson for Ericsson and Nokia for the last year and a half, and I have a Nokia phone myself ... and I think it's an incredible thing, but what's happened is the West is slowly awakening to what's happened, and we now have dozens and dozens of companies — of countries that have decided they're going to work with trusted providers,” O’Brien said.  

“What that means is they're not going to have ZTE, they're not going to work with Huawei, they're not going to have the Chinese Communist Party in the backbone of their telecommunication systems,” he added.