More than ten thousand U.S. troops and civilian employees at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska may be at risk of having their cell data stolen after Chinese equipment was installed on a nearby cell tower.
Last week, Rep. Mike Flood (R-NE) wrote to the U.S. Department of Commerce to raise concerns about equipment made by Huawei reportedly being used on cell phone towers near U.S. military bases. He asked the department to confirm whether Huawei equipment was used on the towers.
Huawei is a Chinese telecommunications firm. It has been included on the U.S. list of foreign entities to which trade restrictions are applied. That list is maintained by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS).
According to the Nebraska Examiner, several sources said Huawei equipment had been found on cell towers within 20 miles of Offutt Air Force Base. The base hosts more than 10,000 U.S. Airmen and civilian employees, the publication said.
“I am writing to express my concern regarding the reported use of Huawei hardware in U.S. cell towers,” Flood wrote to the Commerce Department on Sept. 12. “It has come to my attention that cell towers across the state of Nebraska, and particularly within a certain range of military installations such as missile silos and bases, have been outfitted with equipment made by the Chinese firm Huawei.”
“Huawei has deep ties to the Chinese government,” Flood added. “Such ties, along with Huawei’s past association with U.S. adversaries such as Iran, inspired the Bureau of Industry and Science to add Huawei and its affiliates to the Entity List over the course of 2019 and 2020.”
“There are a number of military installations in Nebraska critical to U.S. national security,” Flood continued. “One such site is Offutt Air Force Base (Offutt) the Headquarters to the United States Strategic Command. I would find it deeply troubling if Huawei has hardware near Offutt or other military bases, missile silos or strategic military locations in the state of Nebraska. I am aware of the Department of Commerce’s investigation into this issue, and I appreciate the Department’s attention to this important matter.”
In July Reuters reported, citing anonymous sources, that the Commerce Department was investigating whether Huawei equipment was installed near U.S. missile silos. The investigation had reportedly been going on as far back as April of 2021.
One major source of risk may come from cell towers operated by the Viaero Wireless service.
Crystal Rhoades, a Democrat who represents much of the Omaha area on Nebraska’s Public Service Commission, told the Nebraska Examiner that nearly every Viaero Wireless tower in Nebraska has Huawei equipment on it. Rhoades said the company has discussed applying for up to $330 million in federal funds to remove and replace the Huawei equipment with a trusted provider approved by the U.S. Department of Defense.
U.S. national security officials have been concerned for years about Huawei’s equipment. Former officials and FBI agents who spoke with CNN in July suggested the Chinese-made equipment could be used to disrupt the communications systems used to command and control the U.S. nuclear arsenal.