Seventeen years ago, I graduated from West Point and set out as a young officer on a journey that would take me through two tours in Iraq with the 3rd Army Calvary Regiment. Following my time in uniform, I attended law school and worked in the private sector. These combined experiences would ultimately lead me to a new environment in which to serve: national security policy in Washington, D.C. As I reflect on my career thus far, I think back to a famous and decorated fellow graduate of my alma mater whose career spanned some of the most arduous tactical and political decisions our country has faced. President Dwight Eisenhower once noted, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”
We live in a very different Washington than when Ike was president — a city now as polarized and partisan as we’ve arguably ever witnessed. There is, however, one issue that has attracted growing bipartisan concern: the Chinese infiltration of telecommunications and the increasing ubiquity of Chinese technology from Huawei to ZTE. It is in America’s interests to see China’s egregious practices halted, but it will take leadership to make it happen.
President Eisenhower’s quote rings incredibly pertinent today. It referenced the idea that we must do all we can to ensure those who act for us or with us have the knowledge to make informed decisions. That principle is particularly true with regard to the proposed telecom megamerger. Sprint and T-Mobile seek approval from the FCC for a unification that would build America’s first 5G wireless network. With Sprint’s history of dealings with the Chinese state-controlled corporation Huawei, this is particularly concerning.
In order to ensure a clear and transparent process — free of foreign influence over our critical infrastructure — takes place, Congress must ensure that these foreign-owned American carriers finally, explicitly break with Huawei. This will send a message worldwide that China must act as a rational actor in this space and that, given its recent history, Huawei’s technology is not welcome in any secure 5G network. It’s time for Washington to lead so these companies see it’s in their economic interests to do what we need them to do: ensure America’s future communications network remains secure.
The threat is real, and you don’t need to take my word for it. Former Bush White House national security expert Bradley Blakeman has documented these major telecommunication companies’ “long history of using Chinese equipment suppliers Huawei and ZTE,” giving Huawei “powerful tools at their disposal that could be used against the United States.” The European Union is considering a ban of Huawei’s technology. And just last week, the United States criminal justice system took aim at Huawei in a 13-count federal indictment. FBI Director Christopher Wray said that Huawei and its brethren “pose a dual threat to both our economic and national security.” Still, Huawei has only grown more ubiquitous. T-Mobile and its parent company, Deutsche Telekom (DT), are immersed in 5G deployments across the world that rely on Huawei equipment, even though T-Mobile itself has been a victim of Huawei’s crimes. Bloomberg News even reported that DT remains determined to partner with Huawei and is leading the charge against the efforts of European countries to stand up against Chinese cyber theft because DT cannot be unraveled from Huawei.
So where do we go from here? Chinese corporate giants with state ties, including Huawei, must be excluded from the combined network. Sprint and T-Mobile have refused to make that commitment, perhaps because DT is so inextricably bound to Huawei. Congress has the opportunity and ability through its oversight powers to ensure that Huawei and other Chinese equipment doesn’t compromise national security in a groundbreaking 5G network. The future enhancement of America’s critical digital infrastructure relies in no small part on the deployment of a secure 5G nationwide network. This makes opposition to Chinese infiltration of our technology networks all the more important.
It also happens to be one of the only issues that bridges the current partisan divides, uniting national security voices from Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. This is a chance for Congress to assert its own national security leadership as a co-equal branch of government: FCC Chairman Pai will not want to alienate Congress, so Congress can put these national security conditions front and center in the FCC’s decisions about the merger.
That’s true leadership for Americans — and it’s the type of leadership that hearkens back to President Eisenhower’s thought. Our policymakers need to ensure they have the full story before making any decision, and they must encourage these companies do what is in the best interest of America and the global community. By exercising real oversight in this merger process, Congress has the opportunity now to ensure that Huawei becomes less ubiquitous, not more, and to keep the future of America’s next generation wireless network safe and secure from malign influence.
Bishop Garrison, now interim executive director of the Truman National Security Project, is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Garrison served two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Army Cavalry Regiment, where he was the recipient of two Bronze Stars, a Meritorious Service Medal and a Combat Action Badge. After his service in the Army, Garrison graduated from the William and Mary School of Law and served in the Obama Administration at the Department of Defense and at the Department of Homeland Security. He also served as deputy foreign policy adviser to the Clinton campaign in 2016.