The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Wolf: Computers won’t hold classified information; A1

Machines bought from rival, China

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department will use some 16,000 computers it purchased from a Chinese company, but only in non-secure, unclassified applications, according to a local congressman.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-6th, said Thursday the department has reviewed its purchase of the computers and would not be using them for sensitive tasks.

Wolf, who represents Northern Virginia from Frederick County and Front Royal to McLean and Manassas, is the chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees funding for the State Department, which purchased the computers.

“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, speaking at a press conference.

Lenovo, a Chinese computer manufacturer, recently acquired IBM’s personal computer division, best known for its Think Pad line of laptops. The State Department’s purchase was valued at almost $13 million.

But buying computers from a strategic rival, even if the seller was once part of an American company, could have serious implications.

“This decision would have had dire consequences for our national security, potentially jeopardizing our investment in a secure IT infrastructure,” Wolf said.

“It is no secret that the United States is a principal target of Chinese intelligence services.”
Michael Wessel, chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Commission, described the situation in blunt terms.

“Any average computer geek knows about spyware, viruses and the countless other hardware and software devices and capabilities that could jeopardize the security of our networks and the information they contain,” he said.

The computers had removable hard drives, and could have been wiped clean and had their operating systems and other software reinstalled, but it’s far better to be safe than sorry when it comes to classified communications.

“We all remember the security situation with the construction of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in the late 1980s,” Wolf said, referring to the building that was later found to be riddled with listening devices planted by Soviet agents during construction.

Wolf wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on May 4, expressing his concerns about the sale and asking for a review. Similar letters went to the FBI, the nation’s intelligence apparatus and others.

“Yesterday, I received word from the State Department that it has now taken the appropriate steps to ensure that classified information is not compromised by the purchase of these new computers,” Wolf said. In addition, the agency’s procurement process will be changed to better keep up with just who owns technology suppliers.

Some machines already in-stalled in the classified communications network have been identified and will be removed.