Huawei reportedly cleared of spying in White House review

There was reportedly no evidence that Huawei was spying on the US for China in the White House review of telecommunications suppliers.

A White House review of the risks of suppliers to US telecommunications companies found no evidence that Huawei is guilty of spying on the United States, according to a report.

(Credit: Huawei)

According to sources speaking to Reuters, the review instead found that sloppy coding left vulnerabilities in Huawei equipment that would be open to hacking. But the sources could not say whether this was deliberate on the part of Huawei.

The sources said that the — mostly classified — White House inquiry probed 1,000 telecommunications equipment buyers seeking to find evidence of spying or espionage for the Chinese government, but none was forthcoming.

A local Huawei spokesperson told ZDNet that the company is not surprised by the reported lack of evidence.

"I'm not at all surprised by articles stating that there was no evidence of spying found by the committee — if they had any evidence, it would have been in that report. The committee's report needs to be called for what it really is: an exercise in protectionism masquerading as a report on cybersecurity."

The report comes just over a week after the release of a US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee report , which found that Huawei and fellow Chinese telecommunications supplier ZTE pose a risk to US national security, and recommended that both suppliers be excluded from providing equipment for US government systems. The 52-page report (PDF) also advises private companies to reconsider using Huawei and ZTE networking equipment, and recommends that the companies be blocked from mergers and acquisitions in the US.

Although that review offered no substantial evidence that Huawei or ZTE were spying, the report referred to a "confidential annex" that "provides significantly more information adding to the committee's concerns" about the companies. The committee stated in its report that it was unsatisfied with the level of cooperation and candour provided by the companies, as neither was "forthcoming with detailed information about its formal relationships or regulatory interaction with Chinese authorities."

In Australia, the federal government has banned Huawei from tendering for the AU$37.4 billion National Broadband Network (NBN). Similar to the US report, the Australian government has not been forthcoming with reasons or evidence on why Huawei was banned, despite multiple Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. The Attorney-General's Department has said that it was acting on advice from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

When questioned in Senate Estimates this week on whether the advice given to government was related to political or security issues, ASIO's director-general of Security David Irvine said that it is a security issue.

"ASIO's advice to government on this and other matters is based solely on security matters," he said on Tuesday.

Irvine could not say whether ASIO recommended the ban or not, and could not recall when the advice was given. He said that Huawei's decision to appoint an Australian board of directors would have had little impact on the advice given by ASIO.

"ASIO's advice is formed on a whole set of what we believe are objective considerations. I do not believe that the make-up of a board would necessarily impact on those considerations and that objectivity in any way."

The UK parliament's intelligence and security committee is now also set to launch its own investigation into Huawei's relationship with the country's largest telecommunications company, BT. Huawei is currently a major supplier for BT's fibre broadband network, and the company's 4G long-term evolution (LTE) network.

The Canadian government has also hinted that it may invoke a "national security exception" for hiring companies to build communications infrastructure, but didn't name Huawei as one of the major concerns.