Security tight in Tiananmen 30 years after students ‘died for nothing’

Thousands of people take part in a candlelight vigil to mark the 30th anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy movement at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, at Victoria Park in Hong Kong, China June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina

BEIJING (Reuters) – Tourists thronged Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Tuesday amid tighter-than-usual security, although most visitors approached by Reuters said they were unaware of the bloody crackdown on student-led protests 30 years ago or would not discuss it.

Paramilitary officers keep watch in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Paramilitary officers keep watch in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, when Beijing sent troops and tanks to quell pro-democracy activists, is not spoken of openly in China and will not be formally marked by the government, which has ramped up censorship.

A 67-year-old man surnamed Li, sitting on a bench about a 10-minute walk from the square, said he remembered the events of June 4, 1989, and its aftermath clearly.

“I was on my way back home from work. Changan Avenue was strewn with burned-out vehicles. The People’s Liberation Army killed many people. It was a bloodbath,” he said.

Asked if he thought the government should give a full account of the violence, he said: “What’s the point? These students died for nothing.”

Among the students’ demands in 1989 were a free press and freedom of speech, disclosure of leaders’ assets and freedom to demonstrate. However, exiled former protest leaders say those goals are further away in China than ever before because the government has in the past decade suppressed a civil society nurtured by years of economic development.

Tiananmen also remains a point of contention between China and many Western countries, which have implored Chinese leaders to account for giving the People’s Liberation Army the order to open fire on their own people.

China’s foreign ministry denounced criticism by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who called for China to release all political prisoners and offered his salute to “the heroes of the Chinese people who bravely stood up 30 years ago in Tiananmen Square to demand their rights”.

Thousands of people take part in a candlelight vigil to mark the 30th anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy movement at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, at Victoria Park in Hong Kong, China June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Thousands of people take part in a candlelight vigil to mark the 30th anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy movement at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, at Victoria Park in Hong Kong, China June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing in Beijing that Pompeo had “maliciously attacked China’s political system”.

Some people in the United States were so accustomed to wagging their tongues on the pretext of democracy and human rights and interfering in other countries’ internal affairs, that they turned a blind eye to their own problems, he added.

“The Chinese people have seen their hypocrisy and evil motives,” Geng said. “These lunatic ravings and babblings are destined for the garbage heap of history.”

China has never released a final death toll from the events on and around June 4. Estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to thousands.

TIGHT SECURITY

Security was heavy in and around the square itself, with no signs of any protests or memorials.

Hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police monitored the square and its surroundings, conducting spot ID checks and inspecting car trunks. Thousands of visitors lined up at security checkpoints to enter the square, many carrying tour group flags.

A male tourist in his 30s near the square, who gave his family name as Zhang, said he had no idea about the anniversary.

“Never heard of it,” he said. “I’m not aware of this.”

An older woman applying grout to a building close to the square’s southern entrance said: “That’s today? I’d forgotten.” She quickly waved away a Reuters reporter when security guards approached. Her colleague, a younger man, said he had never heard of the events in the spring and summer of 1989.

Rights groups said authorities had rounded up dissidents in the run-up to the anniversary. Amnesty International said police had detained, put under house arrest, or threatened dozens of activists in recent weeks.

The United Nations had received reports of detentions, threats and increased censorship ahead of the anniversary, U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said in Geneva.

“We have made our concerns known to the Chinese government and we are working to also verify these reports that we have received,” she said.

While no public events to mark the anniversary will be tolerated in mainland China, demonstrators gathered in Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997. There will also be events in self-ruled and democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

One online censor, who worked a shift of more than 12 hours until early morning on Tuesday for Twitter-like social media site Weibo, said content removed included memes, video game references and images including Tuesday’s date.

“Some accounts are totally taken down, but mostly the content is just removed,” said the censor. “People like to play games and see what is possible to post.”

Financial information provider Refinitiv, under pressure from China’s government, has removed from its Eikon terminal Reuters news stories related to the anniversary.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in BEIJING, Yimou Lee in TAIPEI, David Lawder in WASHINGTON and Stephanie Nebehay and Marina Depetris in GENEVA; ; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

Prepare for difficult times, China’s Xi urges as trade war simmers

FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations in Beijing, China May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

By Michael Martina and David Lawder

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China must prepare for difficult times as the international situation is increasingly complex, President Xi Jinping said in comments carried by state media on Wednesday, as the U.S.-China trade war took a mounting toll on tech giant Huawei.

The world’s two largest economies have escalated tariff increases on each other’s imports after talks broke down to resolve their dispute, and the acrimony has intensified since Washington last week blacklisted Chinese telecom equipment company Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.

The listing, which curbs Huawei’s access to U.S.-made components, is a potentially devastating blow for the company that has rattled technology supply chains and investors, and saw several mobile carriers on Wednesday delay the launch of new Huawei smartphone handsets.

During a three-day trip this week to the southern province of Jiangxi, a cradle of China’s Communist revolution, Xi urged people to learn the lessons of the hardships of the past.

“Today, on the new Long March, we must overcome various major risks and challenges from home and abroad,” state news agency Xinhua paraphrased Xi as saying, referring to the 1934-36 trek of Communist Party members fleeing a civil war to a remote rural base, from where they re-grouped and eventually took power in 1949.

“Our country is still in a period of important strategic opportunities for development, but the international situation is increasingly complicated,” he said.

“We must be conscious of the long-term and complex nature of various unfavorable factors at home and abroad, and appropriately prepare for various difficult situations.”

The report did not elaborate on those difficulties, and did not directly mention the trade war or of the United States.

No further trade talks between top Chinese and U.S. negotiators have been scheduled since the last round ended on May 10, the same day President Donald Trump increased tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods and took steps to levy duties on all remaining Chinese imports.

Negotiations between the United States and China have stalled since early May, when Chinese officials sought major changes to the text of a proposed deal that the Trump administration says had been largely agreed.

However, Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai, speaking to the Fox News Channel, said on Tuesday that Beijing was still open for talks.

Repercussions of the blacklisting mounted for Huawei, with some mobile operators, including the Ymobile unit of Japan’s Softbank Corp and rival KDDI Corp putting launch plans for Huawei’s new P30 Lite smartphone on hold.

Another big Chinese tech firm, video surveillance equipment maker Hikvision Digital Technology Co Ltd, could also face limits on its ability to buy U.S. technology, the New York Times reported, citing people familiar with the matter, sending the firm’s Shenzhen-listed shares down 5.54 percent.

RETALIATION

While China has not said whether or how it may retaliate to the measures against Huawei, state media have taken an increasingly strident and nationalistic tone.

U.S. firms said in a survey released on Wednesday they were facing retaliation in China over the trade war. The American Chamber of Commerce of China and its sister body in Shanghai, said members reported that they faced increased obstacles such as government inspections, slower customs clearances and slower approval for licensing and other applications.

It also said that 40.7% of respondents were considering or had relocated manufacturing facilities outside China. Of the almost 250 respondents to the survey, which was conducted after China and the United States both raised tariffs on each other’s imports this month, almost three-quarters said the impact of tariffs was hurting their competitiveness.

To cope, about one third said they were increasingly focusing their China operations on producing for Chinese customers and not for export, while one third said they were delaying and canceling investment decisions.

Long considered a solid cornerstone in a relationship fraught with geopolitical frictions, the U.S. business community has in recent years advocated a harder line on what it sees as discriminatory Chinese trade policies.

The United States is seeking sweeping changes to trade and economic policies, including an end to forced technology transfers and theft of U.S. trade secrets. Washington also wants curbs on subsidies for Chinese state-owned enterprises and increased access for U.S. firms in Chinese markets.

China for years has blocked major U.S. tech firms, including Google and Facebook, from fully operating in its market. Those and other restrictions have fueled calls from within the U.S. business community for Washington to pursue more reciprocal policies.

Cui told Fox News Channel that U.S. restrictions on Huawei “are without any foundation and evidence” and could undermine the normal functioning of markets.

“Everybody knows Huawei is a privately owned company. It is just a normal Chinese private company,” Cui said. “So all the action taken against Huawei are politically motivated.”

(Reporting by David Lawder and Stella Qiu; Additional reporting by Makini Brice and Eric Beech in Washington and Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard; writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel)

Special report – Hobbling Huawei: Inside the U.S. war on China’s tech giant

By Cassell Bryan-Low, Colin Packham, David Lague, Steve Stecklow and Jack Stubbs

CANBERRA (Reuters) – In early 2018, in a complex of low-rise buildings in the Australian capital, a team of government hackers was engaging in a destructive digital war game.

The operatives; agents of the Australian Signals Directorate, the nation’s top-secret eavesdropping agency. had been given a challenge. With all the offensive cyber tools at their disposal, what harm could they inflict if they had access to equipment installed in the 5G network, the next-generation mobile communications technology, of a target nation?

What the team found, say current and former government officials was sobering for Australian security and political leaders: The offensive potential of 5G was so great that if Australia were on the receiving end of such attacks, the country could be seriously exposed. The understanding of how 5G could be exploited for spying and to sabotage critical infrastructure changed everything for the Australians, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

Mike Burgess, the head of the signals directorate, recently explained why the security of fifth generation, or 5G, technology was so important: It will be integral to the communications at the heart of a country’s critical infrastructure – everything from electric power to water supplies to sewage, he said in a March speech at a Sydney research institute.

Washington is widely seen as having taken the initiative in the global campaign against Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, a tech juggernaut that in the three decades since its founding has become a pillar of Beijing’s bid to expand its global influence. Yet Reuters interviews with more than two dozen current and former Western officials show it was the Australians who led the way in pressing for action on 5G; that the United States was initially slow to act; and that Britain and other European countries are caught between security concerns and the competitive prices offered by Huawei.

The Australians had long harbored misgivings about Huawei in existing networks, but the 5G war game was a turning point. About six months after the simulation began, the Australian government effectively banned Huawei, the world’s largest maker of telecom networking gear, from any involvement in its 5G plans. An Australian government spokeswoman declined to comment on the war game.

After the Australians shared their findings with U.S. leaders, other countries, including the United States, moved to restrict Huawei.

The anti-Huawei campaign intensified last week, when President Donald Trump signed an executive order that effectively banned the use of Huawei equipment in U.S. telecom networks on national security grounds and the Commerce Department put limits on the firm’s purchasing of U.S. technology. Google’s parent, Alphabet, suspended some of its business with Huawei, Reuters reported.

Until the middle of last year, the U.S. government largely “wasn’t paying attention,” said retired U.S. Marine Corps General James Jones, who served as national security adviser to President Barack Obama. What spurred senior U.S. officials into action? A sudden dawning of what 5G will bring, according to Jones.

“This has been a very, very fast-moving realization” in terms of understanding the technology, he said. “I think most people were treating it as a kind of evolutionary step as opposed to a revolutionary step. And now that light has come on.”

The Americans are now campaigning aggressively to contain Huawei as part of a much broader effort to check Beijing’s growing military might under President Xi Jinping. Strengthening cyber operations is a key element in the sweeping military overhaul that Xi launched soon after taking power in 2012, according to official U.S. and Chinese military documents. The United States has accused China of widespread, state-sponsored hacking for strategic and commercial gain.

A THREAT TO CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE

If Huawei gains a foothold in global 5G networks, Washington fears this will give Beijing an unprecedented opportunity to attack critical infrastructure and compromise intelligence sharing with key allies. Senior Western security officials say this could involve cyber attacks on public utilities, communication networks and key financial centers.

In any military clash, such attacks would amount to a dramatic change in the nature of war, inflicting economic harm and disrupting civilian life far from the conflict without bullets, bombs or blockades. To be sure, China would also be vulnerable to attacks from the U.S. and its allies. Beijing complained in a 2015 defense document, “China’s Military Strategy,” that it has already been a victim of cyber-espionage, without identifying suspects. Documents from the National Security Agency leaked by American whistleblower Edward Snowden showed that the United States hacked into Huawei’s systems, according to media reports. Reuters couldn’t independently verify that such intrusions took place.

However, blocking Huawei is a huge challenge for Washington and its closest allies, particularly the other members of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group; Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. From humble beginnings in the 1980s in the southern Chinese boomtown of Shenzhen, Huawei has grown to become a technology giant that is deeply embedded in global communications networks and poised to dominate 5G infrastructure. There are few global alternatives to Huawei, which has financial muscle – the company reported revenue for 2018 jumped almost 20 percent to more than $100 billion – as well as competitive technology and the political backing of Beijing.

“Restricting Huawei from doing business in the U.S. will not make the U.S. more secure or stronger,” the company said in a statement in response to questions from Reuters. Such moves, it said, would only limit “customers in the U.S. to inferior and more expensive alternatives.”

For countries that exclude Huawei there is a risk of retaliation from Beijing. Since Australia banned the company from its 5G networks last year, it has experienced disruption to its coal exports to China, including customs delays on the Chinese side. In a statement, China’s foreign ministry said it treated “all foreign coal equally” and that to assert “China has banned the import of Australian coal does not accord with the facts.”

Tension over Huawei is also exposing divisions in the Five Eyes group, which has been a foundation of the post-Second World War Western security architecture. During a trip to London on May 8, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a stark warning to Britain, which has not ruled out using Huawei in its 5G networks. “Insufficient security will impede the United States’ ability to share certain information within trusted networks,” he said. “This is exactly what China wants; they want to divide Western alliances through bits and bytes, not bullets and bombs.”

Huawei’s 74-year old founder, Ren Zhengfei, is a former officer in China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army. “Mr. Ren has always maintained the integrity and independence of Huawei,” the company said. “We have never been asked to cooperate with spying and we would refuse to do so under any circumstance.”

In an interview with Reuters at the company’s headquarters in Shenzhen, Eric Xu, a deputy chairman, said Huawei had not allowed any government to install so-called backdoors in its equipment – illicit access that could enable espionage or sabotage – and would never do so. He said 5G was more secure than earlier systems.

“China has not and will not demand companies or individuals use methods that run counter to local laws or via installing ‘backdoors’ to collect or provide the Chinese government with data, information or intelligence from home or abroad,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement in response to questions from Reuters.

Washington argues that surreptitious backdoors aren’t necessarily needed to wreak havoc in 5G systems. The systems will rely heavily on software updates pushed out by equipment suppliers – and that access to the 5G network, says the United States, potentially could be used to deploy malicious code.

So far, America hasn’t publicly produced hard evidence that Huawei equipment has been used for spying.

Asked whether the United States was slow to react to potential threats posed by 5G, Robert Strayer, the State Department’s lead cyber policy diplomat, told Reuters that America had long been concerned about Chinese telecom companies, but that over the past year, as 5G loomed closer, “we were starting to talk more and more with our allies.” Banning Huawei from 5G networks remains “an end goal,” he said.

THE TECH THREAT

The West has long harbored concerns about Chinese telecom equipment. In 2012, a U.S. House Intelligence Committee report concluded Chinese tech companies posed a national security threat. Huawei denounced the finding.

Despite such concerns, the U.S. government’s response to the threats posed by 5G only took shape more recently.

In February 2018, Malcolm Turnbull, then prime minister of Australia, flew to Washington D.C. Even before Australia’s eavesdropping agency had run its war game, Turnbull was already raising red flags in Washington. A former technology entrepreneur, he believed 5G presented significant risks and wanted to press allies to act against Huawei.

“He was warning about how important 5G networks would be and the security risks we all needed to think about around countries that had capability, form and intent, as well as coercive laws,” a senior Australian source told Reuters.

A spokesman for Turnbull declined to comment.

Turnbull and his advisers met U.S. officials, including Kirstjen Nielsen, then U.S. secretary of homeland security, and Michael Rogers, then head of the U.S. National Security Agency, the U.S. signals-intelligence operation. The Australians said they believed Beijing could compel Huawei to do its bidding and that this posed a threat should tensions with China rise in the future, said two of the Australian officials familiar with the meeting.

The U.S. officials were receptive to the Australian message, but imposing restrictions on the world’s largest maker of mobile network gear didn’t appear to be a high priority, according to the two Australian officials. “They didn’t share our concern with the same urgency,” said one.

Rogers declined to comment. A Department of Homeland Security official did not elaborate on the meeting, but said the agency works closely with Australia on security issues and that “China will continue to use cyber espionage and bolster cyber-attack capabilities to support its national security priorities.”

5G technology is expected to deliver a huge leap in the speed and capacity of communications. Downloading data may be up to 100 times faster than on current networks.

But 5G isn’t only about faster data. The upgrade will see an exponential spike in the number of connections between the billions of devices, from smart fridges to driverless cars, that are expected to run on the 5G network. “It’s not just that there will be more people with multiple devices, but it will be machines talking to machines, devices talking to devices – all enabled by 5G,” said Burgess, the Australian Signals Directorate chief, in his March address.

This configuration of 5G networks means there are many more points of entry for a hostile power or group to conduct cyber warfare against the critical infrastructure of a target nation or community. That threat is magnified if an adversary has supplied equipment in the network, U.S. officials say.

Huawei said in its statement that the company does “not control in any way the networks in which our equipment is deployed by our clients. The US and Australian allegations are fanciful and are not rooted in any evidence at all.”

In July 2018, Britain delivered a blow to Huawei. A government-led panel that includes senior intelligence officials said it was no longer fully confident it could manage national security risks posed by the Chinese telecom equipment giant.

That panel oversees the work of a laboratory that was set up by the British government in 2010 and is funded by Huawei to vet the company’s equipment used in the UK. The facility was established because even then Huawei was perceived as a security risk. The oversight panel said serious problems it had identified with Huawei’s engineering processes “exposed new risks in the UK telecommunication networks and long-term challenges in mitigation and management.”

That report was a “bombshell,” shaping how the Americans viewed the Huawei 5G risk, said one U.S. official.

U.S. officials also point to Chinese laws enacted in recent years that they say could compel individuals and companies to assist the Chinese government in conducting espionage.

China’s foreign ministry called this portrayal by U.S. officials of Chinese legislation “a misreading and a wanton smearing of relevant Chinese laws,” adding: “Trying to smear others to wash oneself clean is futile.”

THE WEST AWAKES

Through the middle of last year, the Australians continued to apprise other countries of their worries about 5G. “We were sharing our concerns about security with many allies, not just the U.S. and not just the traditional partners,” said one of the senior Australian officials. “We shared our thoughts with Japan, Germany, other European countries and South Korea.”

In Washington, the administration began imposing restrictions on Huawei. In August, Trump signed a bill banning federal agencies and their contractors from using equipment from Huawei and ZTE Corp, another Chinese telecom equipment maker. Huawei has since filed a lawsuit in federal court in Texas challenging the ban.

In late August, the Australians went further: They banned companies that didn’t meet their security requirements, which included Huawei, from supplying any equipment for the country’s 5G network, whether run by the government or by private firms.

Australia’s decision, China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, “has no basis in fact, and is an abuse of ‘national security’ standards. China urges the Australian side to abandon Cold War thinking and ideological prejudices, and provide a fair, transparent, non-discriminatory environment for Chinese companies.”

In November, New Zealand’s intelligence agency blocked the country’s first request by a telecom service provider to use Huawei kit for a 5G network, citing national security concerns.

Like the Australians and Americans, British security officials had concerns over China’s potential use of Huawei as a channel for conducting espionage. But the options are limited. Huawei is one of only three major global companies that analysts say can supply a broad range of advanced mobile network equipment at scale. The other two are Ericsson and Nokia. And Huawei has a reputation among telecom operators for supplying cost-effective equipment promptly.

Nevertheless, British security officials were becoming increasingly frustrated with what they viewed as Huawei’s failure to fix software flaws in its equipment, particularly discrepancies in the source code; the programs’ underlying set of instructions. This problem means the laboratory near Oxford set up to vet Huawei equipment cannot even be sure that the code it is testing is exactly the same as the code Huawei deploys in its real-world equipment. This makes it difficult to provide safety assurances about the company’s gear.

British officials say the array of flaws could be exploited by China, as well as other malevolent actors. Ian Levy, a British security official who oversees the UK’s review of Huawei equipment, told Reuters the company’s software engineering is like something from 20 years ago. “The chance of a vulnerability with a Huawei piece of kit is much higher than other vendors,” he said.

The company said it has pledged to spend at least $2 billion “over the next five years” to improve its software engineering capabilities.

British ministers have agreed to allow Huawei a restricted role in building parts of its 5G network, but the government has yet to announce its final decision. The European Union has left it to individual governments to decide whether to ban any company on national security grounds. Some European security officials say banning one supplier doesn’t address the broader issue of the risks posed by Chinese technology in general.

HUAWEI FIGHTS BACK

As the tensions between the West and Huawei intensified through last year, they suddenly took a personal turn. U.S. law enforcement officials had for some time been investigating links between Huawei and Iran, including the involvement of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, who is the daughter of the company’s founder. The probe followed Reuters stories in 2012 and 2013 that revealed links between Huawei, Meng and another company that allegedly attempted to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran.

When U.S. officials became aware that Meng would be traveling through Vancouver in December, they pounced, asking Canada to detain her on allegations of bank and wire fraud. Meng remains free on bail in Canada while the U.S. government tries to have her extradited. Huawei said in its statement that Meng “is not guilty of the charges she faces,” and that they are “politically motivated.”

The Huawei conflict isn’t only about U.S.-China superpower rivalry: The activities of Meng and Huawei were under scrutiny by U.S. authorities long before Trump began a trade war with China, according to interviews with people familiar with those probes. But there is no doubt the wider showdown with Huawei has now become intensely geopolitical.

In recent months, the U.S. has ramped up diplomatic efforts to urge allies to sideline Huawei. 5G is a “game-changing technology with implications across all aspects of society from business, government, military and beyond,” Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told Reuters in February. “It seems common sense to me to not hand over the keys to your entire society to an actor that has … demonstrated malign conduct.”

Asked whether there is evidence of Huawei equipment having been used for espionage, Sondland said “there is classified evidence.” He declined to expand on the nature of the material beyond saying there was no doubt that Huawei had “the capability to hack a system” and “the mandate by the government to do so upon request.”

Pompeo has publicly gone further than most U.S. officials by directly linking the company to Beijing. “Huawei is owned by the state of China and has deep connections to their intelligence service,” he said in March. “That should send off flares for everybody who understands what the Chinese military and Chinese intelligence services do.”

Huawei has repeatedly denied it is controlled by the government, military or Chinese intelligence services. “U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo is wrong,” the company said in its statement, adding that it is owned by its employees.

While Huawei was initially muted in its public response, it too has become more combative. In late February, the company confronted the United States at a major annual gathering of mobile industry executives in Barcelona, where Huawei’s red logo was ubiquitous. Top American officials arrived intent on warning government and industry representatives off Huawei. But the company had flown in a team of senior executives to offer customers and representatives of European governments reassurance in the face of the U.S. accusations.

In a keynote speech, Guo Ping, a deputy chairman at Huawei, took aim at America’s own spying operations. “Prism, Prism on the wall. Who’s the most trustworthy of them all?” he said. Guo was referring to a mass U.S. foreign-surveillance operation called Prism that was disclosed by former NSA contractor Snowden. The barb drew laughter from the audience.

Europeans pushed back, too. During one closed-door session, senior representatives from European telecom operators pressed a U.S. official for hard evidence that Huawei presented a security risk. One executive demanded to see a smoking gun, recalled the U.S. official.

The American official fired back: “If the gun is smoking, you’ve already been shot. I don’t know why you’re lining up in front of a loaded weapon.”

(Reporting by Cassell Bryan-Low, Colin Packham, David Lague, Steve Stecklow and Jack Stubbs. Additional reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Wellington; Yoshifumi Takemoto in Tokyo; Jonathan Weber; Sijia Jiang; Ben Blanchard and Gao Liangping in Beijing. Edited by Peter Hirschberg and Richard Woods.)

Trump administration seeks emergency court order to continue asylum policy

FILE PHOTO: Central American asylum seekers exit the Chaparral border crossing gate after being sent back to Mexico by the U.S. in Tijuana, Mexico, January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

By Tom Hals

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – The Trump administration rushed to save its program of sending asylum seekers back to Mexico by filing an emergency motion with a U.S. Court of Appeals, asking it to block an injunction that is set to shut down the policy on Friday afternoon.

The government told the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco the United States faced “a humanitarian and security crisis” at the southern border and needed immediate intervention to deal with the surging number of refugees.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg ruled the policy was contrary to U.S. immigration law. He issued a nationwide injunction blocking the program and ordered it to take effect at 8 p.m. EDT (midnight GMT).

Melissa Crow, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the groups that brought the case, said the stay should be denied to prevent irreparable harm to asylum seekers who could be unlawfully forced to return to Mexico.

Since January, the administration has sent more than 1,000 asylum seekers, mostly from Central America, back to Mexico to wait the months or years it can take to process claims through an overloaded immigration system.

Seeborg’s ruling also ordered the 11 plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit to be brought back to the United States.

Although it is appealing and the lower court order had yet to take effect, Reuters reporters confirmed that the Trump administration was allowing some asylum seekers from Mexico to return to the United States.

President Donald Trump has bristled at limits on his administration’s ability to detain asylum seekers while they fight deportation, and the administration was in the midst of expanding the program when Seeborg blocked it.

The government’s filing on Thursday night with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asked for two stays: a brief administrative stay, which would remain in place until the parties had argued the issue of a longer stay that would block the injunction during the months-long appeals process.

Judy Rabinovitz, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who worked on the case, said there did not appear to be any justification for the request for the administrative stay since asylum seekers were already returning to the United States.

“There’s no urgency,” she said. “They are already complying with the court order.”

The 9th Circuit Court has been a frequent target for Trump’s criticisms of the judicial system, which has blocked his immigration policies on numerous occasions.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Tom Brown)

Trump again threatens Mexico border closure, seeks Congress action

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the National Republican Congressional Committee Annual Spring Dinner in Washington, U.S., April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump again threatened on Wednesday to close the U.S. border with Mexico, this time calling on Congress to take steps immediately to deal with immigration and security loopholes that he says are creating a national emergency.

“Congress must get together and immediately eliminate the loopholes at the Border!” Trump wrote in a Twitter post. “If no action, Border, or large sections of Border, will close. This is a National Emergency!”

Trump has repeatedly threatened to close the border to stem what he calls a tide of illegal immigration. On Friday, he said he would close the border this week unless Mexico took steps to stop illegal migration.

The threat drew an outcry from business leaders and others, who said the move could disrupt legal crossings and billions of dollars in trade. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest U.S. business lobbying group, said it contacted the White House to discuss the negative impact of a border closure.

Trump took a step back on Tuesday, saying action by Mexico in recent days had eased pressure on U.S. ports of entry. But he revived the closure warning on Wednesday in a bid to pressure Congress to act.

White House adviser Mercedes Schlapp said on Wednesday that progress is being made with Mexico on immigration issues but she declined to comment on whether the border would be closed this week.

“Our resources are being stretched thin. The system is overwhelmed,” she told reporters at the White House. “We are seeing our border patrol commissioner make it very clear that we are at a breaking point.”

Trump has made fighting illegal immigration from Mexico a key part of his agenda but shutting down one of the world’s most used borders might be a step too far even for many of his fellow Republicans.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that closing the border could have devastating economic consequences, and joined his Democratic colleagues in warning Trump against such a move.

The White House is looking closely at ways to lessen the economic impact of a border shutdown, Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Wednesday.

(Reporting by David Alexander, Jeff Mason and Alexandra Alper; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by David Gregorio and Alistair Bell)

Lawyer of freed Christian woman leaves Pakistan a ‘prime target’

Saiful Mulook, lawyer of Christian woman Asia Bibi, addresses a news conference at the International Press Centre in The Hague, the Netherlands November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Eva Plevier

By Bart H. Meijer

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The Pakistani lawyer who helped free a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy said on Monday he had been forced to flee to the Netherlands for his life, and has no idea where his client is.

Lawyer Saiful Mulook, who defended Asia Bibi in a case that has led to the assassination of two Pakistani politicians, said local United Nations staff had urged him to leave the country on Saturday following her acquittal last week.

“I was put on a plane against my wishes,” Mulook told reporters in The Hague. “I am not happy to be without her. I would have been much happier if I was in the same place as her. But everybody said I was a prime target.”

Mulook said he did not know whether Bibi had already been released from prison, or where she would want to seek asylum after being acquitted by the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

“Ask the people of the U.N.”, Mulook said. “They are not telling me, for security reasons.”

Bibi was convicted in 2010 for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam during an argument with her neighbors, and had been on death row since then.

The court’s decision to overturn the verdict led to violent protests throughout Pakistan by angry mobs calling for the judges in the case to be killed.

Several parties in the Dutch parliament have said they support providing temporary shelter to Bibi if she flees there.

Mulook said Italy had offered asylum to both Bibi and her family and his own family, but that they had not accepted the offer straightaway, as U.N. staff said they would make arrangements.

Islamists have shut down major cities in Pakistan through days of demonstrations against Bibi’s acquittal. They have said they would escalate the protests if she were permitted to leave the country. The government has indicated it will bar her from traveling abroad.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; editing by David Stamp)

New genre of artificial intelligence programs take computer hacking to another level

FILE PHOTO: Servers for data storage are seen at Advania's Thor Data Center in Hafnarfjordur, Iceland August 7, 2015. REUTERS/Sigtryggur Ari

By Joseph Menn

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The nightmare scenario for computer security – artificial intelligence programs that can learn how to evade even the best defenses – may already have arrived.

That warning from security researchers is driven home by a team from IBM Corp. who have used the artificial intelligence technique known as machine learning to build hacking programs that could slip past top-tier defensive measures. The group will unveil details of its experiment at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

State-of-the-art defenses generally rely on examining what the attack software is doing, rather than the more commonplace technique of analyzing software code for danger signs. But the new genre of AI-driven programs can be trained to stay dormant until they reach a very specific target, making them exceptionally hard to stop.

No one has yet boasted of catching any malicious software that clearly relied on machine learning or other variants of artificial intelligence, but that may just be because the attack programs are too good to be caught.

Researchers say that, at best, it’s only a matter of time. Free artificial intelligence building blocks for training programs are readily available from Alphabet Inc’s Google and others, and the ideas work all too well in practice.

“I absolutely do believe we’re going there,” said Jon DiMaggio, a senior threat analyst at cybersecurity firm Symantec Corp. “It’s going to make it a lot harder to detect.”

The most advanced nation-state hackers have already shown that they can build attack programs that activate only when they have reached a target. The best-known example is Stuxnet, which was deployed by U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies against a uranium enrichment facility in Iran.

The IBM effort, named DeepLocker, showed that a similar level of precision can be available to those with far fewer resources than a national government.

In a demonstration using publicly available photos of a sample target, the team used a hacked version of video conferencing software that swung into action only when it detected the face of a target.

“We have a lot of reason to believe this is the next big thing,” said lead IBM researcher Marc Ph. Stoecklin. “This may have happened already, and we will see it two or three years from now.”

At a recent New York conference, Hackers on Planet Earth, defense researcher Kevin Hodges showed off an “entry-level” automated program he made with open-source training tools that tried multiple attack approaches in succession.

“We need to start looking at this stuff now,” said Hodges. “Whoever you personally consider evil is already working on this.”

(Reporting by Joseph Menn; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Susan Fenton)

Pentagon creating software ‘do not buy’ list to keep out Russia, China

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, June 15, 2005. REUTERS/Jason Reed

By Mike Stone

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon is working on a software “do not buy” list to block vendors who use software code originating from Russia and China, a top Defense Department acquisitions official said on Friday.

Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters the Pentagon had been working for six months on a “do not buy” list of software vendors. The list is meant to help the Department of Defense’s acquisitions staff and industry partners avoid buying problematic code for the Pentagon and suppliers.

“What we are doing is making sure that we do not buy software that has Russian or Chinese provenance, for instance, and quite often that’s difficult to tell at first glance because of holding companies,” she told reporters gathered in a conference room near her Pentagon office.

The Pentagon has worked closely with the intelligence community, she said, adding “we have identified certain companies that do not operate in a way consistent with what we have for defense standards.”

Lord did not provide any further details on the list.

Lord’s comments were made ahead of the likely passage of the Pentagon’s spending bill by Congress as early as next week. The bill contains provisions that would force technology companies to disclose if they allowed countries like China and Russia to examine the inner workings of software sold to the U.S. military.

The legislation was drafted after a Reuters investigation found that software makers allowed a Russian defense agency to hunt for vulnerabilities in software used by some agencies of the U.S. government, including the Pentagon and intelligence agencies.

Security experts said allowing Russian authorities to look into the internal workings of software, known as source code, could help adversaries like Moscow or Beijing to discover vulnerabilities they could exploit to more easily attack U.S. government systems.

Lord added an upcoming report on the U.S. military supply chain will show that the Pentagon depends on foreign suppliers, including Chinese firms, for components in some military equipment.

She said the Pentagon also wants to strengthen its suppliers’ ability to withstand cyber attacks and will test their cybersecurity defenses by attempting to hack them.

The Pentagon disclosed the measures as the federal government looks to bolster cyber defenses following attacks on the United States that the government has blamed on Russia, North Korea, Iran, and China.

The Department of Homeland Security this week disclosed details about a string of cyber attacks that officials said put hackers working on behalf of the Russian government in a position where they could manipulate some industrial systems used to control infrastructure, including at least one power generator.

(Reporting by Mike Stone; Editing by Chris Sanders, Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

Greenpeace crashes Superman-shaped drone into French nuclear plant

A Superman-shaped drone crashes into the EDF's Bugey nuclear plant in Bugey, near Lyon, France, July 3, 2018. Greenpeace said it had flown the drone - piloted by one of its activists - into the no-fly zone around utility EDF's Bugey nuclear plant and then crashed it against the wall of the plant's spent-fuel pool building, to demonstrate its vulnerability to outside attacks, the environmental group said. Nicolas Chauveau/Greenpeace/Handout via Reuters

PARIS (Reuters) – Greenpeace crashed a Superman-shaped drone into a French nuclear plant on Tuesday to demonstrate its vulnerability to outside attacks, the environmental group said.

Greenpeace said it had flown the drone – piloted by one of its activists – into the no-fly zone around utility EDF’s Bugey nuclear plant, near Lyon, and then crashed it against the wall of the plant’s spent-fuel pool building.

“This action again highlights the extreme vulnerability of this type of buildings, which contain the highest amount of radioactivity in nuclear plants,” Greenpeace said.

France generates 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear power in 19 nuclear plants operated by state-controlled EDF.

EDF said that two drones had flown over the Bugey site, of which one had been intercepted by French police.

“The presence of these drones had no impact on the security of the installations,” EDF said, adding that it will file a police complaint.

The drone stunt follows a series of staged break-ins by Greenpeace activists into French nuclear plants, which Greenpeace says are vulnerable to outside attack, especially the spent-fuel pools. These pools can hold the equivalent of several reactor cores, stored in concrete pools outside the highly reinforced reactor building.

Greenpeace says the spent-fuel buildings have not been designed to withstand outside attacks and are the most vulnerable part of French nuclear plants.

“Spent-fuel pools must be turned into bunkers in order to make nuclear plants safer,” said Greenpeace France’s chief nuclear campaigner Yannick Rousselet.

EDF said the spent-fuel pool buildings are robust and designed to withstand natural disasters and accidents.

Greenpeace’s security breaches have sparked a parliament investigation into nuclear security, which is due to present its report on Thursday.

In October, Greenpeace activists broke through two security barriers and launched fireworks over EDF’s Cattenom nuclear plant.

In February, a French court gave several Greenpeace activists suspended jail sentences while ordering the group to pay a fine and 50,000 euros ($58,300) in damages to EDF.

(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Richard Lough)

Nuclear, coal bailout worth any cost ‘to keep America free’: U.S. energy chief

FILE PHOTO: Power lines in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, lead away from the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant (C rear) in Vernon, Vermont August 27, 2013. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Richard Valdmanis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said on Thursday that bailing out struggling coal and nuclear power plants is as important to national security as keeping the military strong, and that the cost to Americans should not be an issue.

“You cannot put a dollar figure on the cost to keep America free,” he told reporters at a press conference in Washington, when asked how much the administration’s effort to extend the lives of the facilities would cost. When asked about the cost of a potential bailout, he said he did not yet know.

“We look at the electricity grid as every bit as important to (national security) as making sure we have the right number of ships, aircraft and personnel,” he said. “What is your freedom worth?”

President Donald Trump ordered the DOE to take emergency measures to slow the retirements of coal and nuclear power plants, arguing those kinds of facilities can store months of fuel on site and therefore withstand supply disruptions that could be caused by storms, hacks, or physical attacks.

Aging coal and nuclear facilities have been shuttering at a rapid pace in recent years, pushed out by cheaper natural gas as well as renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

The Trump administration considers renewable energy vulnerable, because gas-fired plants rely on pipelines that can be disrupted, and solar and wind facilities only produce energy under certain weather conditions.

Perry said nearly all U.S. military bases rely on power from the civilian grid.

The emerging grid policy fits neatly with the administration’s broader agenda to boost U.S. fossil fuels production and to save the coal industry.

The DOE is currently studying ways to bail out coal and nuclear facilities, including potentially by mandating grid operators to purchase power from them.

Cyber experts have questioned the reasoning behind a potential bailout. They said it will not toughen the U.S. power grid against cyber attacks because hackers have a wide array of options for hitting electric infrastructure and nuclear facilities that are high-profile targets.

Perry said the DOE is examining the costs now.

“We don’t have a dollar estimate at this particular point.”

(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by David Gregorio)