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
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.
OBJECTIONS TO PURCHASE
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
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
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.