The House Intelligence Committee brought executives from two Chinese telecommunications gear makers to Capitol Hill today to press them on potential threats they pose to national security, but came away with little satisfaction.
"I can say that I am a little disappointed today," committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said at the end of the hearing investigating Huawei and ZTE. (CNET viewed the hearing via Webcast.) "I was hoping for a little more transparency... Other inconsistencies worry me greatly."
Rogers and his fellow committee members pressed executives from the two Chinese companies repeatedly, raising allegations that the companies either take orders from the Chinese government or are at least influenced by it. Their fear is that the Chinese government will be able to use the companies' networking gear to snoop on American companies and individuals.
"How will you deal with your Chinese government if they order you to give information about your customers in the United States?" C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, asked Huawei Senior Vice President Charles Ding.
The Huawei executive told the committee that the company would reject the request.
"We have never, nor will we ever, harm the networks of our customers," Ding said through an interpreter. "This would be corporate suicide."
"Even if it meant you would go to jail?" Ruppersberger pressed.
"Why would the company put us in jail?" Ding replied.
The three-hour hearing was filed with similar exchanges, questions by leery lawmakers and responses that never quite met with their satisfaction.
The committee, which has visited China to meet with executives from both companies there, is set to release a report in two to three weeks that will likely include suggestions for policy makers and the private sector for next steps. CNET visited Huawei's Chinese headquarters in Shenzhen and a research facility in Shanghai this summer to report on the concerns and the company's response.
Committee members focused most of their attention on Huawei, which is a much bigger player in networking technology than ZTE. But ZTE Senior Vice President Zhu Jinyun received plenty of skeptical questioning as well. Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) pressed Zhu about allegations that the company destroyed documents and hid evidence regarding sales of equipment to Iran.
"We are actively cooperating with the U.S. government investigation to get to the bottom on this," Zhu said through an interpreter.
"You are not answering my question," Myrick shot back.
"We would never do something like that," Zhu said.
In another exchange, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) questioned Ding about Article 11 of the Chinese constitution, which the lawmaker said would require Huawei to grant access to its networks to the Chinese government for "state security" purposes. Ding said he was unaware of the law.
"But if Huawei was put into that situation, we would say no," Ding said.
Schiff then turned to Zhu and asked the executive if he could cite any example of a company that declined such a request from the Chinese government that was upheld by courts in that country. Zhu said he knew of no such cases, but added that ZTE too would decline a request from the Chinese government for access to its networks. Schiff was unconvinced.
"I see no opportunity for you to fight that in the Chinese system," Schiff said.
Prior to the hearing, Huawei published a paper on its Web site decrying the investigation into the company. That report began with a quote from legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow in his investigation of the red-baiting Congressmen Joseph McCarthy, who noted that "accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law."