Investigations that carried out the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Huawei's activities revealed that the Chinese telecommunications company used to install special equipment in mobile phone towers near military bases in the continental US - even when it was not profitable for the company.
According to data cited by the well-known CNN news channel, the FBI investigation sheds light on the reasons that led the US government to take action with its delayed "rip and replace" program that promotes the removal of Huawei's equipment and replacement technology across the country.
As CNN points out, the FBI investigation focuses on the possible interception of military communications by Huawei using its equipment, including communications of the US Strategic Command, the agency in charge of managing the US nuclear arsenal. It is no secret that Huawei has made deals and sold cheap equipment to smaller telecom providers in states such as Colorado, Montana, Nebraska and Oregon, but not without raising suspicion. According to CNN, investigators found that these rural locations of little network traffic were not likely to yield financial benefits to Huawei, yet all of them were in close proximity to military bases. A former FBI agent, John Lenkart, told CNN that the FBI in its investigations began "looking at [Huawei] less from a technical standpoint and more from a business/economic standpoint," noting that the company was making deals with companies in locations that "didn't make sense from an investment standpoint or a return-of-investment (ROI) perspective." Although the FBI reportedly found that Huawei's equipment had the potential to intercept or technically disrupt military communications, however, it was not possible to identify a single piece of stolen information to prove this. In a statement from a spokesperson to CNN, Huawei denied any allegations that its equipment has the ability to interfere with United States military communications. "Our equipment only operates in the spectrum assigned by the FCC for commercial use," a company spokesperson told CNN. "This means it cannot access any spectrum assigned to the DOD [Department of Defense]."
Huawei spokesman Mike Hong told The Verge that the company "categorically rejects all allegations" that its equipment could intercept military communications. "Critics continue to repeat these claims with no evidence to back them up. We have for decades been globally committed to connecting isolated communities... As a globally certified and trusted equipment provider, Huawei does not own or control any provider's telecommunications equipment or data."
According to the news agency Reuters, a similar investigation is underway by the Commerce Department itself, an investigation that began shortly after President Joe Biden took office. What the department is concerned about is the possibility of interception of communications from Huawei equipment located near missile silos and military bases. According to Reuters, the Commerce Department could impose further restrictions on Huawei if it deems the company still poses a threat to the national security of the United States.
In 2019, the US began taking action against Huawei and ZTE over concerns that they pose a risk to the country's national security. The US banned - among other, even more drastic measures that nearly dismantled Huawei's consumer mobile division - telecoms providers from receiving subsidies for the purchase of equipment owned by either of the above two companies. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) later announced its "rip and replace" program to get rid of Huawei and ZTE equipment already installed in telecom infrastructure-three years later, providers are still using the banned equipment, in part due to lack of funding. Since the plan was first unveiled, the estimated costs associated with replacing existing equipment have soared from $1.8 billion in September 2020 to $5.6 billion in February 2022.