Magazine article Insight on the News

Sale of Telecom Firm to China Poses Espionage Threat. (Fair Comment)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Sale of Telecom Firm to China Poses Espionage Threat. (Fair Comment)

Article excerpt

During the early days of World War I, when U.S. entry into the conflict still was far from certain, the British government decided to buy itself some insurance. It ordered the imperial navy to sever undersea cables between Germany and the United States so that Americans would get only one side of the story.

Information warfare usually is more subtle nowadays, but it goes on constantly. A recent best seller, Blind Man's Bluff, detailed how the U.S. Navy tapped into Russian undersea cables during the Cold War. Today, electronic eavesdropping remains one of the intelligence community's most important missions. In fact, the National Security Agency--the highly technical, secret federal agency tasked with overseeing communications and information systems--is dedicated to listening in on overseas voice and data communications and to performing highly specialized activities to gather and disseminate foreign intelligence information.

Not surprisingly, other nations have similar organizations that tap into U.S. communications. One such country is the People's Republic of China, which stresses information warfare in its military planning and traditionally has been the biggest threat to U.S. interests in the Western Pacific.

These are important facts to keep in mind when considering the proposal of Hong Kong-based Hutchison-Whampoa Ltd. to acquire the assets of a bankrupt Bermuda-based telecommunications company called Global Crossing. Global Crossing laid 100,000 miles of high-capacity, fiber-optic cable under the Atlantic and Pacific oceans before going bankrupt. As such, this company controls 15 percent of the fiber-optic capacity between Europe and the United States, and 23 percent between Asia and America.

How would this acquisition put clandestine U.S. global communications at risk of being intercepted by the Chinese? The chairman of Hutchison-Whampoa, Chinese billionaire Li Ka-shing, has been closely linked to former Chinese military intelligence director, Gen. Ji Shengde. Li Ka-shing also sits on a board of a company tied to the Chinese People's Liberation Army that allegedly has sold arms to Iran and Pakistan. Additionally, the deal struck between Panama and Hutchison-Whampoa for control of ports at both ends of the Panama Canal--one of the most critical naval points in the Western Hemisphere--was believed to be underhanded at best.

Even if Li Ka-shing is not acting at the behest of the Chinese government, it does not mean Hutchison-Whampoa's role in operating Global Crossing's assets couldn't be compromised later. …

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