BELLEVUE, Nebraska – More than 10,000 service members and civilians working at Offutt Air Force Base could be at risk of having phone calls, texts and data seen by the Chinese government because at least one service provider cellular installed Chinese equipment on neighboring towers.
The US Department of Commerce is investigating the potential data collection and transmission capabilities of equipment from Chinese technology company Huawei that has been installed on cell towers near US military installations, including missile silos in the western Nebraska, as reported by Reuters.
U.S. Representative Mike Flood, R-Neb., wrote to the Commerce Department this week asking for an update on the investigation, which he said he supported. He sought confirmation from Commerce of any Huawei technology on cell towers within 20 miles of Offutt or other military installations in Nebraska.
Huawei equipment was found near Offutt and nuclear missile silos in Cheyenne County, home to Sidney, multiple sources told the Nebraska Examiner. State and federal leaders have yet to publicly discuss the details.
“I think it’s a slap in the face for every Airman that’s going to be working,” said Flood, whose 1st The congressional district includes Offutt. “I want to know where it is in Nebraska, what companies are using it, and why it hasn’t been removed.”
Admiral Charles Richard, commander of US Strategic Command Offutt, acknowledged at a conference in July the reality of nation states trying to access military information. He said US intelligence and others were working to protect key military assets from cyberattacks.
Huawei was founded by former members of the Chinese military. The company has denied that its equipment poses an espionage threat or that it is working in concert with the Chinese government. Tech experts say the Chinese state can force companies in China to share user information.
Crystal Rhoades, a Democrat who represents much of the Omaha area on the Nebraska Public Service Commission, would not discuss the location of specific cellphone towers in Nebraska with Chinese equipment, citing national security issues.
But she said nearly all Viaero Wireless towers in Nebraska were equipped with Huawei equipment. She said the company had considered seeking up to $330 million in federal funds to retire and replace Chinese equipment in Nebraska with technology approved by the US Department of Defense. The company did not return repeated messages seeking comment.
“It’s a big deal,” Rhoades said. “It needs to be fixed.”
Flood said he hoped the Commerce Department would act with a sense of urgency. He said the UK had banned the use of Huawei equipment on its cell towers and the US should be able to act with similar speed. He said the public needed answers, and soon.
“China is a real threat,” Flood said. “We cannot trust Chinese technology when it comes to protecting our national security. … I hope it shouldn’t be prolonged.