The FBI is ‘deeply concerned’ about espionage from companies like Chinese tech giant ZTE as Trump tries to lift sanctions on them

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee's Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee on Capitol Hill May 16, 2018 in Washington, DC

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Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee on Capitol Hill May 16, 2018 in Washington, DC
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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

  • FBI Director Christopher Wray has warned that the agency is “deeply concerned” about companies “beholden to foreign governments.”
  • Wray’s comments about foreign firms conducting espionage and stealing data came in response to a question about Chinese smartphone maker ZTE.
  • President Donald Trump has said he wants to help ZTE resume business after US sanctions effectively crippled the company.

FBI Director Christopher Wray has said the agency is “deeply concerned” about companies like ZTE, days after Trump indicated a desire to lift sanctions on the Chinese smartphone maker.

On Sunday, President Donald Trump said he wanted to help get ZTE “back into business, fast” after the Department of Commerce banned the Chinese company company from importing US products and technology for seven years over issues related to violating sanctions on North Korea and Iran.

While Trump’s play may be part of a larger trade deal to protect American farmers from Chinese tariffs, both Democrats and Republicans have queried the president’s position on a foreign company flagged for security issues. In a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont asked Wray about the risks of giving ZTE more access to the US market.

“We the FBI remain deeply concerned that any company beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values are not companies that we want to be gaining positions of power inside our telecommunications network that gives them the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information, that gives them the capacity to conduct undetected espionage, that gives them the ability to exert pressure or control,” Wray said.

“All those are things that we’re concerned about with any company that, as I say, are beholden to a foreign government,” Wray said.

The FBI director’s answer was almost verbatim the same response he gave to lawmakers earlier this year when asked if he would be concerned if ZTE or Chinese firm Huawei gained a firm position in the US.

At the same hearing, six intelligence chiefs – including the heads of the CIA, FBI, and NSA – testified they do not use, and would not recommend private citizens use Huawei and ZTE products. And the Pentagon announced in early May that it stopped selling Huawei and ZTE phones and modems in stores on its military bases because they “may pose an unacceptable risk.”

The US intelligence community has also counseled other nations over their relationships with ZTE and Huawei. The head of the NSA and Department of Homeland Security reportedly briefed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull regarding their concerns over ZTE or Huawei supplying equipment for a 5G telecommunications network in Australia.

In the US, senators have proposed a bill that will block the federal government from buying or leasing equipment from ZTE and Huawei.