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Pentagon Bans Sale of Chinese Smartphones on Military Bases as ‘Unacceptable Risk’

The Huawei booth is shown at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

The Defense Department announced on Wednesday it has banned the sale of smartphones made by the Chinese corporations Huawei and ZTE on U.S. military bases, describing them as an “unacceptable risk to the Department’s personnel, information, and mission.”

The Pentagon said that in light of information about the potential security vulnerabilities of the Chinese-made phones, “it was not prudent for the Department’s exchanges to continue selling them to DoD personnel.”

The order to stop selling Huawei and ZTE phones, wireless modems, and other telecom products was actually given last Friday, according to the Defense Department. The order does not ban servicemembers from owning devices from the two companies or bringing them to work. Instead, it repeats a long-standing advisory to “be mindful of the security risks posed by the use of Huawei devices, regardless of where they were purchased.”

The new Defense Department statement did not elaborate on the security risks Huawei and ZTE devices pose, but it was presumably inspired by a February Senate Intelligence Committee briefing in which the heads of the major U.S. intelligence agencies expressed concerns about “allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks,” as FBI Director Chris Wray put it.

There was some controversy in April when it was discovered that exchanges on American military bases in Germany were still selling Huawei and ZTE products despite concerns about their vulnerability to espionage or sabotage. The two companies have insisted their electronics are not compromised and accused the U.S. government of blacklisting their products to give American manufacturers an unfair competitive advantage.

Huawei responded to news of the Pentagon directive by contending that its products “meet the highest standards of security, privacy, and engineering” in all of the 170 countries where they are sold.

“We remain committed to openness and transparency in everything we do and want to be clear that no government has ever asked us to compromise the security or integrity of any of our networks or devices,” Huawei maintained.

CNN noted that only about 2,400 Huawei and ZTE phones were sold on U.S. military bases last year, giving the two companies only about one percent of the telecom business at exchanges.

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