Does China have “pervasive access” to 80% of global communications through Huawei and ZTE?

Maybe so, but the stories and podcasts repeating this claim by former Pentagon analyst F. Michael Maloof don’t provide much new supporting evidence. Maloof’s own report is interesting and extensive, and it does indeed make the claim I’ve headlined:

The Chinese government has “pervasive access” to some 80 percent of the world’s communications, giving it the ability to undertake remote industrial espionage and even sabotage electronically of critical infrastructures in the United States and in other industrialized countries.

The Chinese government and its People’s Liberation Army are acquiring the access through two Chinese companies, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd and ZTE Corporation, telecommunications experts have told WND.

With this access, the sources say, the Chinese are working on the other 20 percent. The two companies give the Chinese remote electronic “backdoor” access through the equipment they have installed in telecommunications networks in 140 countries. The Chinese companies service 45 of the world’s 50 largest telecom operators.

Read closely, though, the report is long on Pentagon suspicions and short on new facts. It probably is an accurate reflection of Defense Department assumptions – that any network relying on Huawei and ZTE is likely to be compromised. But there’s a difference between assuming and knowing.

Sometimes common-sense assumptions turn out to be wrong.  After all, Saddam Hussein acted like a man hiding a WMD program, and that common-sense assumption was widespread in the run-up to war with Iraq. Maloof at the time was part of a Defense Department unit set up by Doug Feith to provide a conservative analytical counterweight to the intelligence community’s assessments on Iraq, WMD, and terrorism. A former aide to Richard Perle, Maloof remains close to conservative defense hard-liners – and is not surprisingly loathed by liberal Defense-watchers.

That background doesn’t mean Maloof is wrong; in fact, it means that he probably has some pretty good Pentagon sources. But it isn’t a background that would lead outsiders to share his suspicions without more evidence.

If you read the article through that lens, it offers a lot of reasons for suspicion, but most of the facts that Maloof reports could also be viewed benignly by someone with fewer suspicions.

I was, however, struck by a different claim that Maloof buries pretty deep:

The sources tell WND that not only was Huawei allegedly caught trying to bribe an apparent federal official, but the FBI has launched an investigation into the allegation.

Bribery of government officials, whether by U.S. companies to a foreign government official or foreigners toward U.S. government officials, is regarded as a serious violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA.

That’s interesting because it’s the kind of fact that would be known to Pentagon sources, and one that I haven’t seen reported elsewhere. If it’s accurate, then Huawei’s insistence that be investigated by the US government is coming true, though not in a good way.  Huawei may have joined its smaller Chinese telecom sibling, ZTE, in facing criminal investigation by the FBI. And that story may turn out to be far more significant than yet another “Defense doesn’t trust Huawei” report.