The United States government is actively selling potential surveillance devices to American military personnel and families on military bases that are directly manufactured by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), The National Pulse can reveal.
Chinese-made smart televisions in the homes of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and their families, as well as millions of other Americans, could be collecting massive amounts of personal and technical data and transmitting it back to CCP affiliates in mainland China.
Two brands of smart television primarily sold in the U.S. – TCL and Hisense – have drawn recent scrutiny. According to The National Interest, “Both TCL and Hisense are Chinese government state-owned enterprises that are under the control of the Qingdao and Guangdong governments, respectively.” SEC filings show that TCL is owned specifically by the Huizhou Municipal Government in China’s Guangdong province.
The website of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service – the U.S. Department of Defense’s largest retailer on military installations worldwide – lists four TCL smart TV models and 14 Hisense models for sale on its website. The Exchange, as it is called for short, is overseen by a Board of Directors that report to the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force.
Likewise, the Navy Exchange Service Command lists eight Hisense TVs and three Hisense Bluetooth sound bars for sale on their website. The fine print at the bottom of the web page notes that it is an “Official U.S. Navy Web Site.” It also sells products to the U.S. Marine Corps.
‘Weaponized Military Application’.
Upon piecing together reports of Chinese technical capabilities and ongoing surveillance programs being run by the Chinese Communist Party, the potential scope of Chinese government surveillance goes far beyond anything previously reported.
As with the popular Chinese app TikTok – recently called a “weaponized military application” due to all of the data that is collected by the app – smart televisions pose a similar threat to user privacy. Brands like Hisense, TCL, and Skyworth are amongst the best selling televisions in the United States. A search of Walmart.com, the web store of the nation’s largest retailer, shows Hisense and TCL among the best-selling brands of smart TVs they offer. Statista shows that in 2021, Chinese brands TCL, Hisense, Xiaomi, and Skyworth comprised 29.5 percent of the global television market sales volume.
The Chinese state manufactured devices also have the capability to collect significant amounts of personal information for transmission. What’s more, the manufacturers scarcely hide it.
In a speech at the Heritage Foundation on December 21, 2020, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf spoke on these very security threats, stating:
As an example, DHS is reviewing entities such as the Chinese manufacturer TCL. This year it was discovered that TCL incorporated backdoors into all of its TV sets exposing users to cyber breaches and data exfiltration. TCL also receives CCP state support to compete in the global electronics market, which has propelled it to the third largest television manufacturer in the world.
Skyworth, another major Chinese television manufacturer, has been accused of cooperating with the Chinese government to spy on users of its products. The company reportedly installed a secret app to do so.
Skyworth is actively expanding in North America and moving additional manufacturing to its plant in Mexico, following major investments in Latin America. China has also been working with governments across Africa to expand surveillance networks via companies like Huawei.
The capability to exploit Smart TV technology and user data is an extension of a mass surveillance program already being carried out by the Chinese Communist Party in rural areas of China. Dubbed “Project Xueliang” also known as “Project Dazzling Snow” or the “Sharp Eyes Project,” the government of China is using televisions and phones to spy on its citizens, even activating the video cameras on people’s devices in a deeply Orwellian fashion.
Apple Daily reported in 2021:
“…former citizen journalist Xing Jian said the Android smart TV operating system has been repurposed by the Chinese government for surveillance of people’s homes in rural areas, in an operation known as Project Xueliang.
‘Project Xueliang uses the Android operating system to achieve full domain coverage, full network sharing, round-the-clock and remote-controlled video surveillance for policing purposes,’ Xing said.
‘This app is a form of spyware that is inserted onto users’ smartphones, TVs and other Android devices, and it will automatically scan and collect data about devices, usage information and social connections, and upload it to a government database for online monitoring,’ he said.
Analysts said the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) appears to be implementing a nationwide surveillance network that includes watching people in their own homes and monitoring their contacts and interactions.
Through these devices, the CCP now has potential access to the private homes of Americans and hundreds of millions of others around the world. They have already been suspected of spying on Americans via Caribbean cell phone networks.
An application named “Gozen Data” scanned for and collected the names of a user’s computer, network interface card, IP addresses, and the usernames of those connected to local wifi networks, in just one example.
“The service was sending back the hostnames, mac, ip, and even the network delay time, as well as detecting the nearby wifi SSID names and mac addresses and sending them off to… a database,” a user reported to Apple Daily.
U.S. Taxpayer Subsidized Chinese Espionage.
A 2020 report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute entitled “Uyghurs for Sale” identified Hisense and Xiaomi among companies that are “potentially directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur workers outside Xinjiang through abusive labour transfer programs.”
According to USASpending.gov, these CCP-controlled companies have received taxpayer dollars from the U.S. government. Hisense USA has a facility in Georgia that received $2.3 million under the Paycheck Protection Loan Program. Skyworth USA appears to have received over $100,000 under the same program.
China has also integrated facial recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) image processing capabilities into its video surveillance networks and these new TVs come equipped with advanced AI video processing chips. This technology can even analyze ethnic features and detect emotion.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) maintains the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) of technical vulnerabilities found in various hardware and software products. Searches of the NVD found listed vulnerabilities for the following brands: Hisense, TCL, Skyworth, and Xiaomi. Some of these vulnerabilities were published in weekly bulletins from the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
A search of federal spending data indicates that the U.S. Defense Department has had a separate relationship with Hisense subsidiaries as far back as 2007, the National Pulse has also discovered.
Hisense Photonics, which also goes by the name Archcom Technology, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in research contracts from the U.S. Army between 2007-2008. An Air Force purchase order was placed with the company in 2008 and another Army contract was awarded in 2009. The Hisense Photonics / Archcom Technology website states that the company has two production facilities, one in South Plainfield, New Jersey and the other in Dalian, China.
According to military documents, the Army contract awarded to Archcom Technology came specifically from the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command. The 2008 Air Force award to Archcom Technology was for an “Optical Transmitter for Inter-satellite Communications.”
Deliveries of stealth F-35 aircraft were halted recently after it was discovered that an alloy used in magnets for an engine component made by Honeywell had been produced in China.
The National Pulse previously revealed that a Silicon Valley-based company called Alphonso Inc. had partnered with Chinese TV maker Hisense with the potential to collect data from “tens of millions” of homes.
Raheem Kassam contributed to this report.