Some reports are already calling it the 'smoking gun' in the ongoing conflict between Washington and Beijing centered on Chinese telecom giant Huawei, and accusations that it's tied closely to Chinese military and intelligence, as a way for Beijing to infiltrate and spy on western governments and US companies.
Now, a "massive trove" of newly leaked records of Huawei employees appear to show "far closer links" between the private company and military-backed cyber agencies than previously known, according to The Telegraph. This follows on the heels of the discovery of academic research documents also confirming close cooperation between Huawei employees and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) uncovered by Bloomberg last month, as we previously reported. The new trove of employee CVs contains some 25,000 records analyzed by Fulbright University's Christopher Balding and UK-based Henry Jackson Society researchers (which, it should be noted, is a hugely controversial neocon think tank).
Yet in spite of the growing mountain of documented evidence, the company line has remained, "Huawei does not have any R&D collaboration or partnerships with the PLA-affiliated institutions," as stated by Huawei spokesman Glenn Schloss less than two weeks ago. "Huawei only develops and produces communications products that conform to civil standards worldwide, and does not customize R&D products for the military," he added, as cited in Bloomberg.
Huawei's defense following that prior report was to say the joint research publications were "not authorized" — but the newest revelation places cooperation with the PLA even closer, per a new bombshell report:
According to the study, the employment files suggest that some Huawei staff have also worked as agents within China’s Ministry of State Security; worked on joint projects with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA); were educated at China’s leading military academy; and had been employed with a military unit linked to a cyber attack on US corporations."
Analysts are calling it confirmation of a "systemized, structural relationship" between the PLA, Chinese intelligence, and Huawei.
The company has responded by pointing out it's common to have an employee revolving door of sorts between the private and public sectors (as does Washington), and that personnel CVs will reflect this reality.
However, many employees' prior postings within China's intelligence apparatus are shockingly high level and at the heart of the PLA's cyber-spying operations. As Forbes summarizes of the findings:
One example given is for a current employee whose previous posting was with the National Information Security Engineering Centre, which Reuters has linked to the PLA's Unit 61398—"the unit has been accused of being at the heart of China’s alleged cyber-war against Western commercial targets."
Some employees have links to the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS), which the report points out "is the primary entity responsible for espionage and counter-intelligence. It should raise immediate concern that MSS assets are working on networking equipment as representative agents for Huawei."
And further examples from the trove of documents are as follows:
Analysis of the CVs found 11 Huawei staff graduated from the PLA’s Information Engineering University, a military academy reputed to be China’s centre for “information warfare research”.
CVs are full of references to military backgrounds among Huawei employees:
Prof. Balding, in conjunction with the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think-tank, concluded that about 100 Huawei staff had connections with the Chinese military or intelligence agencies and their “backgrounds indicated experience in matters of national security”.
In a number of instances employees at the managerial level maintain simultaneous roles in PLA operations and the private telecom giant:
The study claims that one Huawei project team leader refers on his CV to work on joint projects between the telecoms company and the Chinese Army’s National University of Defence Technology, one of China’s leading military academies and was put on a U.S. list, banning American firms from selling it technology in 2015, under Barack Obama’s presidency.
Another Huawei employee’s CV says she works both at the telecoms giant as a software engineer and also at the Radar Academy of the Chinese Army. The academy, says Prof. Balding, “matches closely her work for Huawei”.
...The study links another Huawei engineer, who has worked in Europe, to being a “representative” of the Ministry of State Security, China’s intelligence agency.
A HJS investigation has revealed, contrary to Huawei’s claims, its employees claim on their own CVs to be working on “MSS” projects and cooperating with the PLA. https://t.co/XjpBwRh6ql— Henry Jackson Society (@HJS_Org) July 5, 2019
And crucially, at least one telecoms engineer involved in Huawei's controversial next generation 5G broadband roll out has a CV which heavily restricts information "due to the involvement of military secrets":
A further CV reveals a senior Huawei engineer worked on “a database-driven surveillance system capable of accessing every citizen’s record and connecting China’s security organizations” — otherwise known as the “Great Firewall of China”.
One more CV shows a Huawei telecoms engineer involved in development of 5G “base stations” who says on his CV that he cannot comment on his previous employment “due to the involvement of military secrets”.
One of the chief researchers involved in analyzing the employment records said, “These CVs are a treasure trove”; however, in light of the report's release Huawei maintains a nothing to see here stance, likening the findings to the parallel situation of former NSA contractors rotating between the public and private sectors in the US.
A Huawei spokesperson quoted in Forbes said "this information is not new and is not secret, being freely available on LinkedIn and other career web sites. It is also not unusual that Huawei, in common with other tech companies around the world, employs people who have come from public service and worked in government. We are far more competitive thanks to our colleagues' previous experiences. We are proud of their backgrounds and we are open about them."
Is this indeed the Huawei-PLA intelligence smoking gun, or just business as usual for a major tech giant in an industrialized, militarily powerful nation?