China Can Spy on U.S. Citizens Through Their Huawei Smartphones, Spy Chief Warns

china huaiwei smartphone fbi cia
Huawei smartphones could allow the Chinese government to “maliciously modify or steal information” and “conduct undetected espionage,” according to the head of the FBI. LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images

The head of the FBI has warned that the Chinese government may be spying on U.S. citizens who use smartphones made by Huawei.

The intelligence chief told the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday that American telecom companies should be cautious of Chinese technology companies that have links with foreign governments.

"We're deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks," said FBI Director Christopher Wray.

"That provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure. It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage."

Wray's comments follow a 2015 report from the bureau that described the perceived threat posed by Huawei due to its "opaque relationship" with the Chinese government.

"Since Huawei's inception in 1987, the company continues to receive open support from senior Chinese Communist Party officials and People's Liberation Army (PLA) Commanders," the report stated.

"With over $100 billion in Chinese Government subsidization and direct financing, Huawei is able to offer unsuspecting U.S. businesses low-cost offers difficult to refuse in exchange for access to U.S. networks."

Huawei denied that its devices were at any greater risk to hacking or spies than that of its competitors.

"Huawei is aware of a range of U.S. government activities seemingly aimed at inhibiting Huawei's business in the U.S. market," the firm said in a statement.

"Huawei is trusted by governments and customers in 170 countries worldwide and poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor, sharing as we do common global supply chains and production capabilities."

Read more: WikiLeaks dump claims no messaging app is safe from CIA spying

During the hearing, Wray also claimed that Chinese operatives acting as professors, scientists and students have infiltrated American universities.

"I think the level of naïveté on the part of the academic sector about this creates its own issues," Wray said.

"They're exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have, which we all revere. But they're taking advantage of it."