Washington seems prepared to use all of the resources at the US government’s disposal to attack Huawei. And its main strategy is to use rumors and smear tactics. With the US government running so scared of Huawei, it leaves us wondering… What exactly did Huawei do to them?
If you want to understand American surveillance, just look at what the Western media itself says: “America eavesdrops on 90% of the world’s communications.” The documents leaked by Edward Snowden on the “Prism” program have proved this to be quite true. It is also said that in the first few years of the 21st century, the American intelligence agencies developed snooping technologies for every telecom operator.
There were two parts to the widespread electronic interception programs. One was the law, which allowed agencies to eavesdrop on the communications of American and foreign citizens on the flimsiest of pretexts. The other was a powerful interception network and continual development of new spying technologies.
The US passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) long ago, but in 2008, it added the controversial Section 702 to this act. This section authorized American intelligence agencies to wiretap non-US citizens and collect their communications, emails, and text messages without a court order.
The US government claimed that it was a vital power that would enable the intelligence agencies to stop the threat of foreign terrorism. If they were not allowed to do this, the consequences would be severe: “We won’t know what the terrorists are going to do.”
But there has never been any clarity about just how many terror threats these FISA powers have stopped.
And over the same period, there were endless scandals about American abuse of surveillance powers. Over the last few years, the revelations about how the US is eavesdropping on the entire world have flowed one after another. If you look at the documents that Snowden leaked, the National Security Agency wiretapped the phones of 35 leaders of foreign states. They electronically tracked and tapped mobile phones all over the world. Every day, they were collecting up to 5 billion pieces of information.
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In 2001, the European Parliament set up a committee to investigate this case. The background was that the American company Boeing wanted to win a contract to sell passenger planes to Saudi Arabia. However, a European company, Airbus, had gotten ahead of them, and was already in the final stages of talks with Saudi Arabian Airlines. To put it in plainly, Boeing wanted to play dirty. They were willing to use any means to stop this deal between Airbus and the Saudi carrier.
The US started to use its “Echelon” interception system to eavesdrop on conversations between Airbus and representatives of Saudi Arabia, and they were able to record conversations about bribery. Of course, this was catnip to Boeing. The US Justice Department seized the opportunity to sue Airbus for anti-competitive behavior, and imposed enormous fines. Even the Saudis would land themselves in serious trouble, so the deal was off.
In the end Boeing won an order worth US$6 billion.
It has been revealed in the US media that the NSA’s Echelon system is the primary tool used for collecting information by the Five Eyes alliance. It is still active today. This system can intercept 90% of the world’s communications.
The US’s wiretapping history began in 1966. At this time, the very first communications satellite had just been put into orbit. The electronic interception network was developed in two programs. One was targeted specifically at satellites launched by the USSR. The other was Echelon, the main target of which was the electronic communications signals of other Western powers. After 911, the Americans took the opportunity to expand the coverage of this system.
In March 2017, nearly 9,000 CIA documents on hacking technologies were leaked online. They showed the CIA to be an expert hacking organization, with the ability to covertly crack phones, computers, and even smart home appliances like smart TVs. This was easily the biggest snooping scandal in American history.
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Security standards on the Internet are usually developed by America, but exactly who is guiding this process behind the scenes? It is very possible that it is the NSA. And it’s not just China that worries about this. America’s allies like Japan and Canada don’t trust the USA, either. They know that they too have been the subject of wiretapping and interception by the USA. There have been a number of odd things in the security standards over the years. Clearly technology A is better, but they insist on using technology B. Or the chair of a committee has a number of other jobs, including being an employee of the NSA…
Of course, it’s not like you can just plug in some special chip and then wiretap the entire world. That’s just for TV shows. The way America does it is much smarter. Back in 2013, German security experts for the first time publicly accused the NSA of deliberately inserting vulnerabilities in the cryptographic algorithms in international standards. This was a very serious accusation. They were saying in a public forum that the NSA was effectively lying.
When the NSA is trying to interfere with the workings of an international security standards organization, it is pretty clear what is going on.
In terms of Internet protocols, the US is the only superpower in the standards process. The UK, France, Germany, Japan, China… These countries are all second stringers. Among all of the second-string countries, China has the strongest technology sector. China is the only country apart from America with the ability to develop and present its own WLAN security protocols, so that we can start to tilt the scales away from the USA.
What is at the heart of US electronic surveillance? American control of the infrastructure of communications networks. Backbone networks, undersea cables… All of this infrastructure is at the heart of their surveillance. A lot of technologies make signals which can’t actually be intercepted, but what the Americans do is copy the information.
And this surveillance network is global in reach. Why is their intelligence sharing system called Five Eyes? The Five Eyes is a global surveillance agency. The Prism scandal exposed the dark side of American intelligence. They had created the ability to wiretap ever level of communications networks, from the backbone down to the ISP down to user equipment, anywhere in the world. This was their whole plan.
To give you a little more detail, most of the world’s data, including data from China, flows through backbone networks. Backbone networks include the undersea cables, core routers, switches, and so on. These are all key nodes. Backbone networks are mainly built by US and European companies. To give you an example, top-end routers are mainly manufactured in the US. This is Cisco’s home turf. Switches are mostly made by Ericsson and Nokia, European companies like that.
And then there are the software platforms that we use every day: Microsoft, IOS… These are device-level software. All of this data is under the control of American platforms. And by working with these platforms, they can gain access to the servers. Or, they don’t even need to do that: Before information ever reaches the servers, they can intercept it and copy it.
Let’s look at a piece of user equipment, the phone. Apple phones, in particular. Apple’s systems are closed. At least the Android system is open source, so you can apply your own patches and add your own security. It’s not perfect security, but at least there are always ways to make it better. I am not in favor of a lot of our government workers using Apple phones. User data gets stored on Apple’s systems, and with a bit of big data analysis you could derive a lot of information about the workings of our whole nation. The value of that information is infinitely greater than just personal data.
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The NSA has a huge data center in Maryland, where they store and process all of these data.
Real surveillance of the Internet requires really good big data; the other thing you need is very powerful computing. If you don’t have the sheer power to churn through that data, then you won’t find the key information, even if you actually have it. So, most countries can’t maintain the level of investment required to do this. The only one who can is Uncle Sam. They have an endless supply of PhDs working there in Maryland, and many, many contractors doing analysis for them.