Despite spying allegations, African Union deepens ties with Chinese telecoms firm

African UnionDespite allegations in the French press that China has been spying for years on the internal communications of the African Union, the organization appears to be deepening its ties with a leading Chinese telecommunications firm. The allegations surfaced in January of last year in the Paris-based Le Monde Afrique newspaper. The paper claimed in a leading article that African Union technical staff found that the computer servers housed in the organization’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, were secretly communicating with a server facility in Shanghai, China. The secret communications reportedly took place at the same time every night, namely between midnight and 2 in the morning. According to Le Monde Afrique, the African Union servers forwarded data to the servers in Shanghai from 2012, when the building opened its doors, until early 2017.

Beijing donated $200 million toward the project and hired the state-owned China State Construction Engineering Corporation to build the tower, which was completed in 2012. Since then, the impressive 330 feet, 19-storey skyscraper, with its reflective glass and brown stone exterior, has become the most recognizable feature of Addis Ababa’s skyline. The majority of the building material used to construct the tower was brought to Ethiopia from China. Beijing even paid for the cost of the furniture used in the impressive-looking building. The paper noted that, even though the organization was allegedly notified about the breach by its technical staff in January of 2017, there was no public reaction on record. However, according to Le Monde Afrique, African Union officials took immediate steps to terminate the breach. These included replacing the Chinese-made servers with new servers purchased with African Union funds, without Beijing’s mediation. Additionally, new encryption was installed on the servers, and a service contract with Ethio Telecom, Ethiopia’s state-owned telecommunications service provider, which uses Chinese hardware, has been terminated.

Last week, however, the African Union deepened its ties with Huawei Technologies, the Chinese telecommunications firm that provided all the hardware, as well as much of the software, used in the organization’s headquarters. Last week, at a meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Thomas Kwesi Quartey, deputy chair of the African Union’s Commission signed a memorandum of understanding with Philippe Wang, Huawei’s vice president for North Africa. According to the memorandum, Huawei will increase its provision of hardware and services to the African Union “on a range of technologies”. These range from broadband telecommunications to cloud computing, as well as 5G telecommunications capabilities and artificial intelligence systems. The Chinese firm will also continue to train African Union information technology and telecommunications technicians. Both the African Union and the government of China have denied the Le Monde Afrique allegations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 June 2019 | Permalink

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German spies dismiss US warnings about Huawei threat to 5G network

Huawei 2German intelligence officials appear to be dismissing Washington’s warning that it will limit security cooperation with Berlin if China’s Huawei Telecommunications is allowed to build Germany’s 5G network. The company, Huawei Technologies, is a private Chinese venture and one of the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturers. In recent years, however, it has come under scrutiny by some Western intelligence agencies, who view it as being too close to the Communist Party of China. More recently, Washington has intensified an international campaign to limit Huawei’s ability to build the infrastructure for 5G, the world’s next-generation wireless network. Along with Britain, Australia and Canada, the US is concerned that the Chinese telecommunications giant may facilitate global wiretapping on behalf of Beijing’s spy agencies.

In the past several months the United States has repeatedly warned Germany that intelligence sharing between the two countries will be threatened if the Chinese telecommunications giant is awarded a 5G contract by the German government. In March, Washington informed German officials that intelligence cooperation between the two allies would be severely impacted if Chinese telecommunications manufacturers were given the green light to build Germany’s 5G infrastructure. The warning was allegedly included in a letter to Peter Altmaier, Germany’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy, written by Ambassador Richard Grenell, America’s top diplomat in Germany. The letter urged the German government to consider rival bids by companies belonging to American allies, such as the Swedish telecommunications equipment manufacturer Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia Corporation, or the South Korean Samsung Corporation.

But a report by Bloomberg on Wednesday said that German authorities were not convinced by Grenell’s argument. Citing “four people with knowledge on the matter”, the news agency said that Germany’s intelligence community see Washington’s warnings as “political grandstanding”. The US and Germany “need each other’s resources to tackle global conflicts” and “rely on each other too much to risk jeopardizing crucial data sharing”, said the report. The anonymous officials told Bloomberg that Germany does benefit from America’s “vast array” of intelligence. However, German spy agencies also provide their American counterparts with crucial intelligence from several regions of the world, they said. The US Department of State did not comment on the Bloomberg report. The Chinese government has repeatedly dismissed allegations that Huawei poses an espionage threat to Western nations.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 18 April 2019 | Permalink

US prosecutors to use secret surveillance evidence in Huawei lawsuit

Huawei 2Prosecutors in the United States have informed lawyers representing the Chinese telecom- munications firm Huawei that they intend to use evidence obtained through secret surveillance in a lawsuit against the company. The case involves the arrest of Meng Wanzhou by Canadian authorities in December of last year. Meng, 47, is Huawei’s deputy chair and chief financial officer, and is the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, a former officer in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, who founded the telecommunications giant in 1988. She was detained on December 1 in Vancouver at the request of the US, which claims it has evidence that she “tried to evade the American embargo against Iran”. On March 1, the Canadian Department of Justice formally commenced Meng’s extradition process to the US, which Huawei’s lawyers are currently seeking to prevent.

In a lawsuit brought by US government prosecu- tors against Huawei, the Chinese telecom- munications firm is accused of having conspired to defraud several multinational banks by misrepresenting its relationship with a company called Skykom Tech. Washington says that the company is in fact a front used to conceal illicit activities conducted by the Islamic Republic of Iran. American government prosecutors claim that Huawei worked with Skykom Tech to evade US-imposed economic sanctions on Iran. At a Thursday morning hearing in a federal court in Brooklyn, New York, Assistant US Attorney Alex Solomon said that US authorities had used “secret surveillance” to collect evidence against Huawei. He also said that the evidence had been obtained under a US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant, which is issued by a secret court and usually pertains to counterintelligence investigations —i.e. when a target is suspected of spying against the US.

Solomon said that the evidence against Huawei was “obtained […] from electronic surveillance and physical search”. He did not elaborate, but added that US government’s legal team had notified Huawei that it planned to use the FISA evidence in court. Last month Huawei rejected all charges filed against it. The company has not yet commented on the FISA evidence. The next date in the court case has been scheduled for June 19, 2019.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 April 2019 | Permalink

US warns Germany it will end intelligence sharing if Huawei is given 5G contract

US embassy Berlin GermanyThe United States has warned Germany that intelligence sharing between the two countries will be threatened if the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is awarded a contract to build Germany’s 5G network. The company, Huawei Technologies, is a private Chinese venture and one of the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturers. In recent years, however, it has come under scrutiny by some Western intelligence agencies, who view it as being too close to the Communist Party of China. More recently, Washington has intensified an international campaign to limit Huawei’s ability to build the infrastructure for 5G, the world’s next-generation wireless network. Along with Britain, Australia and Canada, the US is concerned that the Chinese telecommunications giant may facilitate global wiretapping on behalf of Beijing’s spy agencies.

But some American allies, including Spain, France and Germany, are not satisfied with Washington’s arguments and claim that the United States is eyeing the financial benefits that would arguably come from its domination of the global digital superhighway. German officials, in particular, have told their American counterparts that Berlin has not seen any evidence that Huawei’s telecommunications hardware come with hidden interception features. Moreover, Germany says that it plans to subject Huawei’s systems to rigorous security tests before using them. On Friday, Washington increased its pressure on Berlin by informing German officials that intelligence cooperation between the two allies would be severely impacted if Chinese telecommunications manufacturers are given the green light to build Germany’s 5G infrastructure.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the warning was included in a letter signed by Ambassador Richard Grenell, America’s top diplomat in Germany. It was allegedly sent to Peter Altmaier, Germany’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy. The paper says that Grenell suggests in his letter that Berlin should consider rival bids by companies belonging to American allies, such as the Swedish telecommunications equipment manufacturer Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia Corporation, or the South Korean Samsung Corporation, which is the world’s leading telecommunications hardware manufacturer. The Wall Street Journal did not reveal how it acquired Grenell’s letter, nor did it say whether the German government responded to it.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 March 2019 | Permalink

Firm founded by ex-Blackwater boss to operate in China’s Xinjiang province

Erik PrinceA security firm founded by Erik Prince, the former boss of the private military company Blackwater, has announced a deal with the Chinese state to operate a training facility in China’s largely Muslim Xinjiang province. In the months following the United States invasion of Iraq, Blackwater was hired by the Department of State to provide diplomatic security at several locations throughout the Middle Eastern country. By 2010, when the company was abruptly sold to a group of private investors, its tactics in Iraq had prompted international controversy. Prince went on to help found Frontier Services Group (FSG), another private security firm registered in Hong Kong. The company provides security training to personnel working for Chinese companies. Its specialization is training personnel of Chinese firms based abroad, mainly in regions of Africa.

The announcement of the new training center was posted on the FSG’s Chinese-language website. It said that one of FSG’s subsidiaries had struck an agreement to build and operate a “training center” at the Kashgar Caohu industrial park in the city of Kashgar, one of China’s westernmost cities, situated near the country’s border with Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. The city of 1 million people is located in the province of Xinjiang. In recent months, Beijing has been heavily criticized by several Western countries for allegedly carrying out mass detentions of Uighur Muslims, which make up about half of Xinjiang’s population. Uighurs are ethnically related to the peoples of Central Asia and speak a Turkic dialect. Some see the Chinese state as an occupier and advocate secession, often combined with calls to create an Islamic caliphate. China denies the allegations of mass detentions and claims that Uighurs are voluntarily enrolled in “educational and training facilities”, where they are de-radicalized through political and cultural instruction. Up to a million Uighurs are believed to have been enrolled in these facilities in the past year.

It is worth noting that the initial announcement of the Kashgar Caohu training center agreement between FSG and its Chinese client was eventually deleted from the company’s website. Late last week, an FSG spokesperson told several news agencies, including Reuters, that Prince was not involved in what was described in a statement as a “preliminary agreement” for a training center in Xinjiang. The spokesperson added that Prince probably had “no involvement whatsoever” in the agreement.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 5 February 2019 | Permalink

Huawei fires Chinese employee arrested in Poland for spying

Huawei PolandThe Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has fired one of its employees who was arrested last week in Poland on charges of spying for China, saying that his actions had “no relation to the company”. The man, identified in media reports as Wang Weijing, was arrested last Tuesday by Polish counterintelligence officers who conducted searches of Huawei’s offices in Warsaw and seized electronic hardware and documents. Wang reportedly learned Polish at the Beijing Foreign Studies University. In 2006, he was posted by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Chinese consulate in Gdansk, Poland’s largest Baltic Sea port city. In 2011, he left the Foreign Service and joined Huawei, which employed him at its offices in Poland.

Reports from Poland said that Wang was arrested alongside a Polish national, who was identified in media reports only as Piotr D. He is believed to be a mid-level executive of Orange, a French multinational telecommunications carrier who is Huawei’s main domestic partner in Poland. Polish media also reported that, prior to joining Orange, Piotr D. was an upper-level manager in an unnamed Polish intelligence agency. Piotr D.’s house was searched by security officers on Tuesday, along with Wang’s house. The two arrests came six weeks after Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, was arrested in Canada. Meng, who is also the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was reportedly detained on December 1 in Vancouver at the request of the United States. Washington says it has evidence that Meng “tried to evade the American embargo against Iran”.

Over the weekend, Poland’s Internal Affairs Minister, Joachim Brudzinski, said that the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization —of which Poland is a member— should develop a joint position on whether to continue to allow Huawei to operate in Europe. But his call was reportedly met with a lukewarm response from government and private-sector leaders. Meanwhile, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it was concerned about Wang’s arrest and urged Warsaw to treat him “with fairness”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 January 2019 | Permalink

China seeks clarification over alleged spy equipment ordered by US embassies

US embassy Berlin GermanyThe Chinese government says it is seeking explanations from Washington after a leaked procurement database showed that American embassies purchased data forensics software and various tactical spy equipment. The purported database was published on December 21 by the international anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange, who is accused by some in the United States of having violated its espionage laws. WikiLeaks has dubbed the database the “US Embassy Shopping List” and says that it contains over 16,000 procurement requests from officials at American embassies located all over the world.

Most procurement requests included in the WikiLeaks database appear to be for commonplace items or services, such as passenger transportation, heating oil, outdoor freezers, or garage gates maintenance and repair. But there are some requests for so-called “tactical spy equipment”, such as those ordered by the US embassies in Colombia and El Salvador. These appear to be for miniature surveillance cameras hidden into everyday objects, such as buttons, baseball caps, watches and ties. Nearly 100 such items were requested for procurement by the US embassy in San Salvador. Several embassies ordered hardware and software for forensic examination of mobile phones. For example, the US embassy in Yerevan, Armenia, ordered a “Cell Phone Analyzer”, which allows users to access data from cell phones while bypassing security measures such as passwords. Similar devices were ordered by the US embassies in Berlin (pictured), and Kiev, capital of Ukraine, where fears were expressed on Monday about a possible military action by Russian troops during the holidays.

On Monday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was seeking “clarifications” from Washington about the documents made public by WikiLeaks. Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said that the US owed “the rest of the world an explanation […] for what has recently been revealed by WikiLeaks”. Chunying also spoke about prior WikiLeaks revelations, including the so-called “PRISM-gate” in 2013, which revealed extensive intelligence-collection activities by the US on numerous countries, including some if its allies, such as Germany and France. She went on to ask, “why do American embassies buy so much secret surveillance equipment?”. Authorities in Washington had made no comment on the WikiLeaks revelation as of Tuesday morning.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 December 2018 | Permalink