The Chinese telecommunications company Huawei recently joined a very exclusive roster of companies that the United States deems a “security threat” to itself. The script used to demonize the Chinese telecom has been seen before, with Russia’s Kaspersky Lab. That company has borne the pain that comes with being utterly scapegoated, without hard evidence (sound familiar?), and with judgment having taken place based on conjecture and sloppy reasoning.
In Kaspersky’s case, the lynchpin of the US’ propaganda attack is in the person of the company’s founder and CEO, Evgeny (Eugene) Kaspersky. He is the owner and sole proprietor of Kaspersky Lab, which is not a publicly traded company at all. Evgeny is worth approximately US $1.3 bn, so he barely makes the grade as one of the Russian Federation’s minor “oligarchs” – another euphemism that is probably not applicable to this rather remarkable man.
Evgeny got his education through the premier school for learning all things related to security in the Soviet Union – the KGB Higher School, presently known as the Institute of Cryptography, Telecommunications and Computer Science. This is analogous to an American learning about cybersecurity through attending the NSA’s School of Cyber. But that is where reality ends and fantasy begins for the political attacks against Mr. Kaspersky.
The abbreviation “KGB” is, of course, legendary among Americans, even those who did not grow up during the Cold War. The image of the evil, cunning and amazingly persuasive Communist spies, everywhere, instilled a terrible period in the United States during the late 1940’s into the 1950’s. McCarthyism was an hysteria built on the fantasy that Communists were watching you, and that the US would be subverted by their insidious and secret actions.
Seen in another way, it gave the Soviet espionage specialists an unreasonably high reputation, in fact, that they were unstoppable.
This was etched into the cultural memory of the United States, so it was easy to get this out and make the astounding conjecture that Mr. Kaspersky’s education in the KGB school necessarily made him a spy. It also was manipulated with shoddy understanding of how the Russian Federation’s government interacts with private corporations. Americans certainly do not know how this works, but they do have the memory of Soviet-controlled life and a State-controlled economy, and these things were handily pasted on Kaspersky Lab to implicate it as a “tool of the Kremlin for spying on other countries.”
This is a very strange assessment for a cybersecurity company, whose purpose it is to protect its customers from unwanted intrusion. This sort of duality plays well in thriller spy novels, but that does not mean that it is necessarily true in reality. In Kaspersky Lab’s case, such work would actually kill its antivirus business. Presently it ranks number six on TechRadar’s top ten among paid-for AV software, and number Four on the free applications list. It also ranks number five on the best business security software packages, and all this is even with the United States having demonized the company to the point that very few retailers offer it at present in the US.
The same playbook is now being applied to Huawei, and the parallels are patently obvious:
The UK site The Conversation.com makes several comments. It says that Meng Wangzhou, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was charged by the US Department of Justice with fraud. Further, its founder is Ren Zhengfei, who worked as a technologist for the People’s Liberation Army. A final claim in this troika is the Chinese government’s right to require companies in China (which are not fully independent of the government) to assist with intelligence gathering operations.
Perhaps the additional note should have been made that China is a Communist nation. Sure, it is running on a very unique and apparently highly successful program of free market capitalism as far as its economy goes but the nation stands very firmly on its Communist basis and has no intention of renouncing that. Does that make this any better?
The scheme therefore we are being expected to believe is that because China is Communist, they are out to get us. The old McCarthyist ghost is roaming the halls of the American government. And why can we say this?
Because the US does exactly the same thing with its telecom companies.
When GSM (Global System for Mobility) was introduced in the United States, it boasted an encryption algorithm known as A5, to secure cellular calls and to prevent eavesdropping. When it was introduced in 1996, this was called the “unbreakable” algorithm because it was fairly new and had not been attacked enough to reveal its weaknesses. However, this security created a problem for law enforcement, who sometimes wants authorization to intercept phone calls to track criminals (keep in mind this was before 9/11). Omnipoint Communications, the GSM provider that was being installed in the New York City area, had to work hard to find a compromise solution in order to grant selective access from agencies to eavesdrop on calls.
The September 11th, 2001 attacks further extended the US government’s own reach to eavesdrop on communications, with the passage of the Patriot Act and similar measures, all ostensibly taken for the sake of national security, but which also have been abused by the US government quite often. Consider the just-concluded Mueller investigation, the findings of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Kaspersky Lab’s own discovery of an NSA contractor trying to steal codebreaking software (we reported on that here.)
Why look at China to surveil people? We are doing an awful lot of it ourselves, against our own citizens.
Secondly, the best high tech equipment in the world is usually found in military hardware and defense infrastructure. The best way to know how to develop secure coding and encryption keys is to study from the masters who know best how to keep their own secrets and break into others’ – the military. The spymasters. Mr. Zhengfei and Mr. Kaspersky were both educated in such institutions. This probably helped each of them be as good as they are at what they do. It does not somehow magically make them spies, anymore than a person educated at an American intelligence gathering academy (if we have these for CIA and NSA, for example). In fact, CIA debunks such myths about its own employees thus:
Citizens who work for the CIA are officers – not agents or spies. All employees, from operations officers, to analysts, to librarians and public affairs, are considered CIA officers.
So, who is a CIA agent? Our operations officers recruit well-placed human assets with access to information. These spies are agents. They provide critical information about their country to help America. Operations officers are CIA employees who spot, recruit, and handle foreign agents. They are experts in understanding human nature, emotions, intentions, and motivations.
Foreign agents/spies are invaluable. The information they provide plays a critical role in developing and implementing US foreign and national security policy. Spies risk imprisonment, the loss of their job, reputation, or family and friends. Some are even at risk of execution if caught.
And a further explanation of work at CIA says the following:
Some people who work for the CIA recruit and handle agents, which is the job of an operations officer. While the number of employees at CIA is classified, we can tell you that the variety of careers here is similar to that of a major corporation. CIA officers work as , scientists, engineers, economists, linguists, mathematicians, secretaries, accountants, computer specialists, targeting officers, inventors, developers, cartographers, cyber exploitation officers, architects, data engineers, IT technicians, human resources, auditors, psychologists, environmental safety officers, nurses, physicians, psychiatrists, cyber security officers, security protective service (federal police) officers, polygraph examiners, attorneys, paralegals, logistics officers, researchers, communications officers, editors, graphic designers, videographers, instructors, automotive mechanics, librarians, historians, museum curators, and more!
They are not all spies, any more than private citizen Evgeny Kaspersky is spying on anyone as he goes around the world hiking on volcanoes, as he is apt to do.
The operating mythology within the United States, be it government or media, states something very odd: That if you are not in alignment with the wishes of the United States itself in whatever matter the nation is interested in, you are then an “enemy.”
Where have we seen this before?
This little clip, with a little face-replacement, might as well be the recent crop of foreign policy heads that the US keeps. Despite the obvious talents of people like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, these and other men and women in the US all subscribe to this philosophy. While it does serve an important place to take a side in a real conflict or war, there is no war taking place between the great powers at this time. Yet we insist on treating Russia – and now, China – as though they were such enemies.
Getting past the politically motivated mythology is a major step. Once we do that, then it is easier to properly analyze both Huawei and Kaspersky Lab and see if there really is any particular problem inherent to the company. Part II of this series will examine this aspect.