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Beijing condemns Washington over reported spying on telecom giant

Operation Shotgiant was to find links between Huawei and the Chinese military, reports say

Beijing has called for a clear explanation from Washington over a report that the US National Security Agency (NSA) infiltrated servers at the headquarters of the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, China's Foreign Ministry said Monday.

Hong Lei, the ministry's spokesman, said that China was "extremely concerned" about the spying allegations.

"Recently, the international media has put out a lot of reports about the eavesdropping, surveillance and stealing of secrets by the United States of other countries, including China," he told a regular briefing.

"China has already lodged many complaints with the United States about this. We demand that the United States makes a clear explanation and stop such acts."

Chinese President Xi Jinping raised the spying allegations in a meeting with Obama at the Hague Monday, according to a Reuters report. The details of that conversation were not immediately available.

Beijing itself has repeatedly been accused of large-scale cyber-espionage, which it vehemently denies.  

The New York Times and Der Spiegel, citing documents obtained from documents provided by fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden, reported on their websites this weekend that the NSA secretly accessed Huawei's email archive. The NSA also reportedly spied on communication between top company officials internal documents and even the secret source code of individual Huawei products. 

Shenzhen-based Huawei serves a third of the world's population across 140 countries, according to company figures, and is the world's third-largest smartphone vendor.

"We currently have good access and so much data that we don't know what to do with it," states one internal document cited by Der Spiegel.

Huawei defended is independence in response to the revelations. 

"If the actions in the report are true, Huawei condemns such activities that invaded and infiltrated into our internal corporate network and monitored our communications," the company's global cybersecurity officer, John Suffolk, told Reuters Sunday.

"Corporate networks are under constant probe and attack from different sources — such is the status quo in today's digital age," said Suffolk, defending Huawei's independence and security record.

Founded in 1987 by former People's Liberation Army engineer Ren Zhengfei, Huawei has long been seen by Washington as a potential security Trojan horse due to perceived close links to the Chinese government, which the company denies.

The United States and Australia have barred Huawei from involvement in broadband projects over espionage fears.

The original goal of Operation Shotgiant was to find links between Huawei and the Chinese military, according to a 2010 document cited by the Times.

But it then expanded with the goal of learning how to penetrate Huawei computer and telephone networks sold to third countries.

"Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products," the NSA document read, according to the Times.

"We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products," it added, to "gain access to networks of interest" around the world.

If ordered by the president, the NSA also planned to unleash offensive cyberoperations, the Times said.

Huawei is a major competitor pf U.S.-based Cisco Systems, but U.S. officials insist the spy agencies are not waging an industrial espionage campaign on behalf of U.S. companies, as Snowden has alleged.

"The fact that we target foreign companies for intelligence is not part of any economic espionage," a senior intelligence official told reporters Thursday.

The goal of economic intelligence efforts is "to support national security interests," and "not to try to help Boeing," the official said.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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