The US National Security Agency (NSA) has infiltrated servers of Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, obtaining sensitive information and monitoring the communications of top executives.
According the New York Times, the operation, code-named "Shotgiant”, aimed at finding connections between Huawei and the Chinese People's Liberation Army. However, it also sought to exploit Huawei's technology as the NSA aimed to conduct surveillance through computer and telephone networks Huawei sold to other nations. If ordered by the US president, the NSA also planned to unleash offensive cyber operations, said the New York Times.
The revelation, based on a 2010 document, part of the files leaked to the newspaper by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, has infuriated Chinese authorities who now demand an explanation from Washington.
The newspaper said the NSA secured access to the servers in Huawei's sealed headquarters in the city of Shenzhen and got information about the workings of the giant routers and complex digital switches the company says connect a third of the global population.
German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that the NSA breached Huawei's computer network and copied a list of more than 1,400 clients and internal training documents for engineers. "We have access to so much data that we don't know what to do with it," the magazine cited an NSA document as saying.
The magazine said the NSA is also pursuing a digital offensive against the Chinese political leadership. It named the government targets as former Chinese president Hu Jintao and the Chinese trade and foreign ministries.
"Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products. We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products," the Times quoted an NSA document as saying, to "gain access to networks of interest" around the world.
"If we can determine the company's plans and intentions," an analyst wrote in the 2010 document, "we hope that this will lead us back to the plans and intentions" of the Chinese government.
The Times also reported that as Huawei invested in new technology and laid undersea cables to connect its extensive networking operation, the NSA was interested in getting information about key Chinese customers including "high priority targets - Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kenya, Cuba."
The Times quoted William Plummer, a senior Huawei executive in the United States, as saying that the company did not know it was a target of the NSA.
"The irony is that exactly what they are doing to us is what they have always charged that the Chinese are doing through us," the Times quoted Plummer as saying.
"If such espionage has been truly conducted then it is known that the company is independent and has no unusual ties to any government, and that knowledge should be relayed publicly to put an end to an era of mis- and disinformation," the Times quoted Plummer as saying.