Feb 11, 2020 - Technology

Huawei equipment has secret "back doors," U.S. officials claim

Illustration of Huawei logo with red glowing eyes

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The United States has evidence that Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei can covertly obtain data from networks that use its equipment, White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien and other officials told the Wall Street Journal.

Why it matters: The U.S. is stepping up its campaign to pressure allies to reject Huawei equipment in their 5G networks, after the U.K. recently decided to grant Huawei limited access.

  • “We have evidence that Huawei has the capability secretly to access sensitive and personal information in systems it maintains and sells around the world,” O'Brien told the Journal.

The big picture: U.S. officials have had limited success convincing allied leaders, including the U.K.'s Boris Johnson and Germany's Angela Merkel, that the Chinese government could coerce Huawei into using its equipment to spy or disrupt foreign networks.

  • Australia, meanwhile, has come to a similar conclusion as the U.S. that there is no way to mitigate the threat, while British signals intelligence has also issued numerous warnings about potential vulnerabilities.


  • The Trump administration had previously maintained that it did not need to provide evidence of the threat Huawei poses.
  • But in December, deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger revealed the previously classified information to counterparts in Berlin.
  • A confidential memo then circulated in the German government calling it proof of a "smoking gun."
  • U.S. officials said they have known of this capability since 2009.

The other side: Huawei has denied the allegations, saying that it “has never and will never do anything that would compromise or endanger the security of networks and data of its clients."

The bottom line: It's increasingly clear that both Washington and Beijing view the fight over 5G as a key global battleground.

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