Huawei to Detractors: Put Up or Shut Up

John Suffolk, Huawei chief security officer

John Suffolk, Huawei chief security officer

Officials at Huawei Technologies Ltd. wasted little time striking back at former CIA and NSA head Michael Hayden’s negative comments about the world’s #2 telecommunications equipment maker, saying it’s time for detractors to “put up or shut up”

In statement sent to Reuters, Huawei Global Cyber Security Officer John Suffolk called Hayden’s comments “tired, unsubstantiated defamatory remarks” and said the retired U.S. Air Force General needs to substantiate his accusations publicly.

“Huawei meets the communication needs of more than a third of the planet and our customers have the right to know what these unsubstantiated concerns are,” Suffolk wrote. “It’s time to put up or shut up.”

The comments from Suffolk, a former CIO of the U.K. government before joining Huawei in 2011, come on the heels of renewed scrutiny of the telco vendor sparked by Hayden’s comments in an interview with the Australian Financial Review. Hayden told the publication that Huawei has “shared with the Chinese state intimate and extensive knowledge of the foreign telecommunications systems it is involved with. I think that goes without saying.”

“It is simply not acceptable for Huawei to be creating the backbone of the domestic telecommunications network in the United States, period,” said Hayden, now a director for Huawei competitor Motorola Solutions Inc. “This is where I think the state has a role to play – to ensure we don’t make decisions that compromise the foundations of our national security.”

Hayden’s comments are the latest volley in a U.S.-led campaign to discredit the world’s #2 telecommunications equipment maker. In response, Huawei executives have said they are no longer interested in doing business with carriers in the United States.

U.S. federal regulators have been putting pressure on Softbank to steer clear of Huawei gear as a condition for approval of the Japanese wireless carrier’s proposed takeover of Sprint Nextel. According to published reports, Sprint and SoftBank have been  prepared to promise that if the $20 billion buyout is approved, they will rid their systems of Huawei telecommunications equipment and give U.S. authorities – including national security officials — unprecedented visibility into any future network improvements.

Suspicions of Huawei’s trustworthiness were fanned in October 2012 when a U.S. congressional subcommittee issued a report citing Huawei and fellow China-based telecommunications company ZTE for secretive business practices and ties to the Chinese communist government and claims that its equipment could be used to spy on U.S. companies and government agencies. Other countries, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have expressed similar concerns and have banned Huawei, which was founded by a former Chinese military officer in 1987, from bidding on government contracts.

“These tired, unsubstantiated, defamatory remarks are sad distractions from real-world concerns related to espionage, industrial and otherwise,” Huawei spokesman Scott Sykes told Bloomberg, adding that the vendor is a “proven and trusted” information and communications technology producer.

“Huawei is open to new ideas and ways of working to improve cyber security,” said Sykes.