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Huawei's Chief U.S. Security Officer Downplays The Company's National Security Threat


To Huawei now - it is, of course, the Chinese telecoms giant and the world's largest supplier of gear for superfast 5G networks and, according to the Trump administration, a major national security threat, one that U.S. ally Britain decided last week it could live with. Britain is letting Huawei play a role in building its 5G networks despite U.S. warnings. Today, CNBC's Wilfred Frost put a question about that to Vice President Mike Pence.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, I think the president's been very clear. Secretary of State Pompeo reiterated it this week. The United States is very disappointed that the United Kingdom has decided to go forward with Huawei for a portion of their information technology.

WILFRED FROST: ...The president was apoplectic with fury. Is the gist of that accurate?

PENCE: Well, I never comment on the president's private conversations with me or others.

KELLY: The reference there to reports out of London that President Trump was apoplectic on a phone call last week with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. So what does Huawei say to all this? A question to put to Andy Purdy, who once oversaw cybersecurity for the U.S. government and is now Huawei's chief security officer in the United States.

Mr. Purdy, welcome.

ANDY PURDY: Thank you.

KELLY: Let me put to you the basic question. The specific fear raised by U.S. officials is that China's government could use Huawei to hack American networks. Could it?

PURDY: The fact is that we have instituted and we are willing to demonstrate to the United States government that we have measures and processes and technologies in place that we can address any risk from China, but that all companies who supply equipment have to demonstrate that they can address the risk from China given the capabilities of China, given the vulnerabilities of our networks. So we're prepared to prove that neither our products nor our people are subject to the undue influence of the Chinese government so that the products can be tested, and our interaction and our access to customer networks under strict protocols can provide that level of confidence.

KELLY: Are you saying any network could be vulnerable to Chinese efforts if - should they be inclined to try to disrupt American networks?

PURDY: That's right. The major...

KELLY: But Huawei is a Chinese company. Surely that's a different case from, say, Nokia.

PURDY: To make sure that America and our allies are safe, it's necessary to not trust anyone - the telecom or mobile operators or the equipment vendors. There need to be measures in place to make sure that America and our allies are safe, and we're not doing that effectively enough. Instead, we're blocking Huawei, and that doesn't make any sense.

KELLY: Understanding you probably can't get into great detail about specific measures that Huawei is taking to protect its security, I mean, again, to the basic question - could China's government hack Huawei's networks?

PURDY: And the networks of everyone else, as the United States government can do, as Edward Snowden's revelations revealed.

KELLY: You're saying anybody could.

PURDY: Exactly.

KELLY: Can Huawei tell the government of China no if it asks for information?

PURDY: The fact is, we can't give the Chinese or any other government information we don't have. The fact is that the telecom and mobile operators, they have the data. They control the data. Very restrictive access by us or any other equipment vendor, any other third-party provider, there's complete transparency. Anything we touch is completely visible to the carriers. Everything is recorded and logged, so it's completely auditable.

KELLY: You're talking about shared responsibility among the many players on the landscape.

PURDY: Right. But in terms of specifically, when we access customer networks or customer data, there's certain data we never get access to. But everything we do, every keystroke is logged, so you can completely access it. And it would be devastating to a company of 170,000. If we were to do such a thing, it would ruin our company.

KELLY: Give me the pitch that you have made to the White House and to the Trump administration for why - why does the U.S. need Huawei?

PURDY: We need Huawei because of the benefits that our technology can provide to our customers and the benefits to the United States, to the 40 or 50,000 direct jobs and thousands of other indirect jobs from American companies being able to sell to Huawei. And if Huawei isn't there, if Huawei can't buy those technologies, that's going to lessen the ability of American companies to support the U.S. defense industrial base.

KELLY: Your argument if I hear you right is that if the U.S. doesn't engage with Huawei, it's shooting itself in the foot to a certain degree by not engaging with the most dominant company in the world right now in 5G.

PURDY: I think essentially that's right. But the bottom line is the U.S., because of the geopolitical concerns, is willing to harm America more than it's willing to harm Huawei. We're not thinking about that in an objective way. And that's a shame, and that's just going to hurt America.

KELLY: It sounds like you have a very uphill battle on your hands here. I mean, we just heard the vice president on the record there. We've heard Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The attorney general, Bill Barr, weighed in against Huawei this week. There's no crack in this wall of opposition.

PURDY: There's no question that we have an uphill battle. But from the meetings I just came from in China in terms of Huawei pursuing its Plan B, Huawei is going to be fine. When you look three or four years from now. People are going to say that Huawei is one of the great companies in the world, and we are going to succeed in a huge fashion across multiple domains. And the United States will be hurt as a result.

KELLY: Just to drive home your former role, overseeing cybersecurity from the Department of Homeland Security, overseeing it from a senior perch at the White House back during the Bush administration, you feel confident that inviting Huawei into the American market is a responsible thing to do.

PURDY: I think it's part of how we make America most competitive and most innovative, and it can be done where the risks are addressed. So yes, I think it's something that would help America more than it hurts us.

KELLY: We've been speaking with Andy Purdy. He is chief security officer for Huawei here in the United States.

Thank you so much.

PURDY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.