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Rubio, Banks Raise Concerns of Chinese Espionage Through University Partnerships with Huawei

Jun 20, 2018 | Press Releases

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and U.S. Representative Jim Banks (R-IN) raised several concerns with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Chinese state-directed Huawei Technologies’ partnerships with U.S. universities that may pose a significant threat to national security.

“China is using Huawei to position themselves to steal American research through so-called ‘research partnerships’ with American universities to exploit the openness of our system of higher education,” said Rubio. “Huawei and other Chinese state-directed telecommunications companies shouldn’t be allowed to operate in the United States, and we should put them out of business by denying them the ability to buy U.S. semi-conductors.”  

“Our intelligence community has warned about this exact type of national security threat for over a decade,” said Banks. “Huawei is a state-directed entity that uses academic surveillance to spy and collect intelligence on America and our allies. Make no mistake, Huawei cannot be trusted and the Department of Education should work closely with the FBI to address China’s attempts to infiltrate America’s intellectual institutions.”

Rubio, along with Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), included a bipartisan amendment to the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 that reinstates penalties against Chinese telecom companies such as Huawei and ZTE for violations of U.S. law.                                                                                                                                                                          

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Secretary DeVos,

As Members of Congress, it has come to our attention that Huawei Technologies, a “national champion” of the People’s Republic of China, has formed a series of research partnerships with over 50 universities in the United States that threaten national security. As Huawei describes it, the “Huawei Innovation Research Program (HIRP) provides funding opportunities to leading universities and research institutes conducting innovative research in communication technology, computer sciences, engineering, and related fields.” We believe these partnerships may pose a significant threat to national security and this threat demands your attention and oversight. 

As you know, it is a central pillar of the National Security Strategy, signed by President Trump in December of 2017, to “reduce the illicit appropriation of U.S. public and private sector technology and technical knowledge by hostile foreign competitors.” Additionally, maintaining the “technological advantage” of the Department of Defense was identified as a central goal of Secretary Mattis’ National Defense Strategy that was released in January of this year.  Doing so, we believe, will require a whole-of-government solution to a whole-of-society challenge directed by the Chinese Communist Party. 

Huawei is not a normal private sector company the way we have grown accustomed to thinking of the commercial economy in the West. As the bipartisan report of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in 2012 recommended, “[b]ased on available classified and unclassified information, Huawei and vii ZTE cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a security threat to the United States and to our systems.”

More recently, Christopher Wray, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, stated in February 2018 during a hearing of the Select Committee on Intelligence of the Senate that he was “deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power…[i]t provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.” And Admiral Mike Rogers, then Director of the National Security Agency and Commander of United States Cyber Command, added that Government programs need “to look long and hard at companies like this.”

The attached unclassified chart provided by the National Intelligence Council makes clear that research partnerships with U.S. universities are a primary mode of “China’s Toolkit for Foreign Technology Acquisition.” We urge that you promptly request a complete and classified briefing by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Director of National Intelligence on Huawei and Chinese technology acquisition modalities in general (as the technology transfer problem set is bigger than Huawei). We further urge that the Department of Education immediately request (and require) information from the U.S. universities involved in any partnership with Huawei, especially those receiving any federal research funding (including Department of Defense funding) to gather information related to whether any such funding is involved in a Huawei partnership, and whether any research personnel (including Chinese nationals who may be involved in a so-called “Talents” program) are involved in these efforts. Lastly, we request you immediately convene a senior-level working group to understand how the People’s Republic of China attempts to gather U.S. technology on U.S. university and college campuses and to develop recommendations (especially for those institutions that receive any kind of federal funding) for protecting the U.S. technology advantage. 

Looking forward, we ask that your Department work together with the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Intelligence Community to protect U.S. national security. We stand ready to assist you in any way possible. 

Thank you for your prompt attention to this important issue.