BELLEVUE, Nebraska – More than 10,000 military personnel and civilians working at Offutt Air Force Base may be at risk of the Chinese government monitoring cellphone calls, texts and data because at least one cellular service provider installed Chinese equipment on nearby towers.
The US Commerce Department is investigating the data-gathering and transmission capabilities of devices mounted on cellphone towers, including missile silos from Chinese technology company Huawei in western Nebraska, Reuters reported.
U.S. Rep. Mike Flood, R-Neb., wrote to the Commerce Department this week seeking an update on the investigation, which he said he supports. He wanted confirmation from Commerce about any Huawei technology on cell towers within 20 miles of Offutt or other Nebraska military installations.
The Huawei equipment was found in Cheyenne County, Sidney’s home state, near Offutt and nuclear missile silos, multiple sources told the Nebraska Examiner. State and federal leaders have yet to officially discuss it.
“I think it’s a slap in the face to every airline that goes to work,” Flood said.St Congressional district includes Offutt. “I want to know where this is in Nebraska, what companies are using it and why it hasn’t been removed.”
Adm. Charles Richards, head of U.S. Strategic Command, acknowledged at a conference in July that national governments are trying to access military intelligence. He said the US intelligence services and others are working to protect key military assets from cyberattacks.
Huawei was founded by former Chinese military personnel. The company has denied that the device is an espionage threat or that it is working in coordination with the Chinese government. Tech experts say the Chinese state could force companies in China to share user data.
Crystal Rhodes, a Democrat who represents most of the Omaha area on the Nebraska Public Service Commission, will not discuss the location of certain cell phone towers in Nebraska with Chinese equipment, citing national security concerns.
But every Viaro wireless tower in Nebraska has Huawei devices, she said. She said the company has discussed applying for up to $330 million in federal funds to strip the Chinese equipment in Nebraska and replace it with technology approved by the U.S. Department of Defense. The company did not return repeated messages seeking comment.
“This is a big deal,” Rhodes said. “It has to be fixed.”
Flood said he hopes the Commerce Department will act with a sense of urgency. The UK has banned Huawei equipment from its mobile towers and the US should be able to do the same, he said. The public wants answers, and soon.
“China is a real threat,” Flood said. “We cannot rely on Chinese technology to protect our national security. … I hope this does not have to happen.