This was stated in a report by the US Department of Defence’s Office of Inspector General. It notes that following a review of procurement documents by the Defence Department, the Inspector General’s Office concluded that in the fiscal year 2018, the Pentagon purchased Lexmark, Lenovo, and Kaspersky Lab products, despite warnings from the CIA about threats posed by Chinese and Russian products.
US authorities have been talking about threats to US national security from Chinese electronics manufacturers for a long time. In 2012, a report was submitted to the US Congress stating that Huawei and ZTE are actively collaborating with the Chinese government, supplying it with equipment and technology for cyber espionage. Chinese companies have repeatedly denied these allegations, claiming that they are private companies and not providing any user data to the authorities.
Nevertheless, last year a law was passed in the United States prohibiting government agencies and the government from using the equipment of Chinese telecommunications giants. The ban directly applies only to Huawei and ZTE equipment, but US intelligence agencies also argue that any Chinese manufacturer could cooperate with the Chinese authorities and therefore pose a threat to US national security.
In the same way, US intelligence agencies are scaremongering about the Russian threat. In February 2017, the NSA released a report stating that Kaspersky antivirus software could be used to spy on computer users and attack American infrastructure. In May of the same year, the heads of the CIA, NSA, FBI, and National Intelligence agency publicly announced at a Senate hearing that using Kaspersky Lab software could be dangerous.
Kaspersky Lab has stated that it has never been and will not be involved in attacking activities in cyberspace. However, as in the case of Chinese companies, the arguments were not heard, and in 2017, US President Donald Trump signed a decree prohibiting the use of Kaspersky Lab products by US federal agencies. After that, the largest US electronics retailer, Best Buy, removed the Kaspersky antivirus program from its stores.
However, as the report by the US Department of Defence Inspector General’s Office shows, the Pentagon is in no hurry to blindly carry out the will of the intelligence agencies. According to the audit, in the fiscal year 2018, the Pentagon spent $33 million on supposedly suspicious goods. These happened to be 8,000 Lexmark printers. According to US intelligence agencies, this company is also associated with Chinese intelligence and its printers could launch DDoS attacks and collect sensitive information.
Furthermore, the US Army and the Air Force purchased 117 GoPro cameras, which, according to the Inspector General’s Office, can shoot and transmit footage without the knowledge of the gadget’s owner. Finally, in 2018, the US Air Force bought 1,378 Lenovo computers, although, for almost 10 years, intelligence agencies have been warning that these computers may contain hidden “backdoors”. It also appears that on many Pentagon computers, “dangerous” software from Kaspersky Lab is still installed.
How is it possible that the Pentagon, which in theory should strictly protect the country's military secrets, uses such “dangerous” equipment and software? According to the director of the Centre of International Studies at Nanjing University, Zhu Feng, this means that the Pentagon is more realistic about things and that a pragmatic approach prevails in the US military.
“I believe that US intelligence agencies are specifically promoting the topic of the Chinese and Russian threats, especially about software and communications. These products are part of the global value chain, where each country has some of its competitive advantages. This is especially true of trading powers. And this value chain has a significant impact on practical use, as well as on the cost of production. Thus, the current report by the Inspector General’s Office of the US Defence Department suggests that the US military is still more realistic and looking at things from a more practical point of view than their counterparts in the intelligence agencies. In the modern world of global supply chains, one cannot take and exclude a product like this under the pretext of national security. So I think the Pentagon is looking the truth in the eye and acting from a practical point of view. Moreover, some equipment simply cannot be replaced. In the end, they didn’t start buying it now; it has been a long process”.
The conclusion of the DoD Inspector General’s Office states that the Pentagon is not being careful enough about cybersecurity threats. It is noted that the Department of Defence does not have a special department that solely assesses the potential risks of particular equipment. The report said that the Pentagon’s military systems are 80% composed of publicly available components; it just indirectly explains the “practical attitude” of the military, which the expert mentioned.
Excluding any components from established global supply chains is sometimes almost impossible. The ban on the use of Huawei telecommunications equipment, for example, looks ridiculous, because other manufacturers – like Nokia and Ericsson – also use some of Huawei's components in their technology. US government agencies, according to Western media, cannot fulfil the decree banning the use of Hikvision and Dahua surveillance cameras.
It turns out that many American suppliers produce cameras made by these two Chinese companies under their brand. Therefore, it is not yet possible to determine how many more Hikvision and Dahua cameras are watching the corridors of US government institutions.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.