Another example of the US government’s unease around Huawei — and efforts to keep the Chinese tech giant’s influence at bay — was reported earlier this week by The Wall Street Journal. In 2014, Huawei reached a deal with the Washington Redskins to provide Wi-Fi in the viewing suites at FedEx Field during games, according to the story. But that agreement came undone after a government advisor issued an “unofficial federal complaint” to the team, citing the same national security concerns that Congress and US intelligence agencies have raised for several years running.
Huawei would have received advertising in the stadium and during Redskins game broadcasts in exchange for handling the Wi-Fi in suites; the Redskins never planned to directly give the company money as part of the deal, the Journal says. But the team was still spooked enough by the government’s intervention to walk away from the partnership before it ever went forward.
A tweet brought the whole thing down
The company tweeted about its excitement over the Wi-Fi agreement, which caught the eye of Michael Wessel, who the Journal says is “a member of a congressional research and advisory panel called the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.” Wessel turned to a “high-ranking government friend” and asked if they would contact and warn the Redskins about the possibility of espionage. As the Redskins are the home team of Washington, DC, Wessel was worried that government officials using the Huawei-powered Wi-Fi would be at risk. Redskins president Bruce Allen put an end to the deal immediately.
But the Redskins were at least partially aware of the controversy attached to Huawei when hammering out the deal. This exchange between Huawei officials — fully aware of the spying claims that the US has directed at the company — and Redskins executives is quite something:
During negotiations at Redskins headquarters, Huawei representatives were upfront about the national-security baggage that came along with its name, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
“Do you know who we are?” one Huawei representative asked, according to the person.
The person said a representative of the Redskins, which had long weathered criticism for sticking with a name and logo many consider racist, responded: “Do you know who we are?”
Huawei, which has risen to become the world’s number two smartphone maker, has been blocked from making inroads with US mobile carriers. The company’s Mate 20 Pro is among the best smartphones released this year, but the only option for US consumers is to import it. And the FCC has pressured internet companies big and small to steer clear of the company’s networking equipment. US officials insist that Huawei could bow to China’s clout and secretly conduct espionage and wiretapping to advance the country’s agenda.
Huawei has long held that it has never conducted any spying and doing so would destroy all consumer trust in the company across the globe. “The reality is that [Huawei] is an independent, privately-owned business that is no more subject to the control of the Chinese government than American companies are controlled by the US government,” the company wrote in remarks back in July.