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Spy fears lead nuke lab to dump gear from HP unit, not Huawei

Los Alamos National Laboratory reportedly removes network switches made by H3C -- launched as a joint venture between Huawei and 3Com -- over security concerns. But Huawei no longer owns a piece of H3C.

Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory is reportedly removing network switches made by a partnership that once included controversial Chinese telecommunication gear maker Huawei because of national security concerns.

But Huawei, which was rebuked last fall by the House Intelligence Committee for posing a national threat because of potential ties to the Chinese government, hasn't been part of H3C Technologies, the partnership that makes the switches, since 2006, Reuters reported.

Huawei created H3C as a joint venture with 3Com in 2003. Three years later, 3Com bought Huawei's stake in the venture. And in 2010, Hewlett-Packard bought 3Com.

All of which makes the decision by Los Alamos a bit peculiar. The lab apparently has chosen to remove gear made by a company owned by HP, an American company, over espionage worries. H3C, like many technology companies, manufactures products in China.

Neither Los Alamos nor the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration replied to requests for comment.

The Reuters report noted that Los Alamos -- one of the leading nuclear weapons labs in the United States -- "discovered" its computer systems contained switches made by H3C Technologies and replaced at least two components over security fears. The article cites a letter dated November 5, 2012, written by the acting chief information officer at the Los Alamos lab and addressed to the National Nuclear Security Administration's assistant manager for safeguards and security. In the letter, the agency states that a network engineer at Los Alamos alerted officials that H3C devices "were beginning to be installed."

According to the Reuters report, a group of specialists, including some from the lab's counterintelligence unit, determined that a small number of devices installed were made by H3C, and that two of them "used in isolated cases were promptly replaced." And it noted that the lab was looking to replace any remaining H3C switches "as quickly as possible."

HP denied that switches made by H3C, whose assets have been combined with its HP Networking unit, have any security problems.

"As a leader in networking, HPN (Hewlett Packard Networking) ensures our product portfolio meets or exceeds the security requirements of our government and commercial customers," an HP spokeswoman said. "This industry-leading effort is performed by United States citizens in the U.S. and involves constant improvement and upgrade of our offerings to the global market to make sure that they have the security and robustness that customers demand."

A Huawei spokesman noted that the company divested of its H3C stake "quite some time ago."

HP hasn't typically shown up on the radar of companies likely to raise security concerns. But Huawei has come under intense criticism from Congress for posing potential espionage risks. Last year, the House Intelligence Committee released a report that discouraged American businesses from buying equipment from both Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese telecom gear maker. The committee said that neither company addressed concerns over their ability to snoop on American companies and individuals. And neither company convinced the committee that they could not be persuaded by the Chinese government to aid its espionage efforts if enlisted to do so.

Updated at 9 p.m. PT with comment from HP.