CHINA / National

US limits using of Chinese computers
Updated: 2006-05-19 10:27

The US State Department, out of ungrounded security concerns after its purchase of computers from a Chinese company, will not use the equipment for classified information, the agency said on Thursday.

Government security experts are recommending that the nearly 16,000 computers purchased last fall from China's Lenovo Group Ltd. "be utilized on unclassified systems only," said Assistant Secretary of State Richard Griffin in a letter to Congress.

The letter did not specifically cite security concerns with Lenovo. But it said that the department was altering its procurement process "in light of the changing ownership of IT (information technology) equipment providers."

The State Department took the action on the $13 million contract after questions were raised recently about the computers by Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican who oversees the agency's funds.

"I was deeply troubled to learn that the new computers were purchased from a China-based company, and that at least 900 of these computers were planned to be used as part of the classified network deployed in the United States and around the world in embassies and consulates," Wolf said.

But Lenovo said the U.S. government's concerns were unwarranted.

"We know these computers present no security risk because they do not have back doors and they do not have surveillance software tools installed on them," said Jeff Carlisle, Lenovo's vice president of government relations.

Wolf is a frequent critic of China and he said Chinese firms with links to the Beijing should not win U.S. government contracts.

Since the September 11 attacks, there has been growing skepticism in Congress of some foreign companies' involvement in American commerce.


The computer deal also raised questions from the congressionally created U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Michael Wessel, a Democratic commissioner on the panel that monitors China trade and national security implications, said that a "significant portion" of Lenovo is owned by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, an arm of the Chinese government.

In March, Wessel said the U.S. government should be worried about the computer purchase, especially if there were codes embedded into the computers that could be remotely activated.

Carlisle countered that Lenovo "has always operated as a market-oriented independent company" and that the Chinese Academy of Sciences has only a "minority interest."

He said the academy does not direct Lenovo's day-to-day operations and does not have a member on its board of directors.

The US State Department said the Lenovo computers were purchased under standard U.S. government purchasing rules. The computers were procured through CDW Corp., a government contractor based in Vernon Hills, Illinois.

Lenovo bought IBM's personal computer division last May. The computers bought by the State Department were assembled in the United States and Mexico with integrated circuits made in Taiwan, according to the company.

Details of the State Department contract surfaced shortly after Congress pressured a state-owned Arab company, Dubai Ports World, into walking away from plans to manage several U.S. port terminals.

Last year, China's state-controlled CNOOC Ltd. dropped its bid to acquire U.S. oil and gas company Unocal Corp. after a strong backlash from the U.S. Congress.


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