Reason fails again in US government

No sooner do I write about the misinformed campaign against Chinese PCs being carried out by certain members of the US Congress then the State Department announces that none of the 16,000 machines being purchased from Lenovo will be connected to any high security networks or used to process any classified data.

As the NYT article says:

Long story short, an influential member of Congress played the China card, and the State Department folded.

It was a drama that reached a conclusion late last week, when the State Department, responding to fears that its security might be breached by a secretly placed device or hidden software, agreed to keep personal computers made by Lenovo of China off its networks that handle classified government messages and documents.

The damage to Lenovo is more to its reputation than to its pocketbook. The State Department will use the 16,000 desktop computers it purchased from Lenovo, just not on the computer networks that carry sensitive government intelligence.

I previously mentioned the absurdity of even trying to find computer constructed outside of China, as well as the somewhat unlikely prospect that Chinese trojans could be hidden in the systems without being located. Well, naturally Lenovo agrees with me about that, but there’s more. Jeffrey Carlisle, vice president of government relations for Lenovo, describes

the worry that the Chinese government might secretly slip spying hardware or software on Lenovo computers shipped to the State Department as “a fantasy.” The desktop machines, he said, will be made in Monterrey, Mexico, and Raleigh, N.C., at plants purchased from I.B.M.

“It’s the same places, using the same processes as I.B.M. had,” Mr. Carlisle said. “Nothing’s changed.”

So despite everything, by going to a company partially owned by the Chinese government (and not incidentally, also partly owned by IBM, and by other American and non-governmental foreign investors) they are actually getting one of the few sources of computers NOT made in China! Do they now think that the former IBM executives and engineers that run the Mexican and Raleigh plants are now agents of the Chinese government just because of who owns some of the stock? This notion of Communist Party control over Lenovo just seems so overblown. According to Wikipedia the actual breakdown is “as of May 1, 2005 35.2% of Lenovo was owned by public shareholders, 45.9% by Legend Holdings Limited, and 18.9% by IBM.”

Furthermore, the headquarters of the company is located in New York State and is planning to relocate to Raleigh, where the Thinkpad group is based. Yes, the Chinese government owns a large chunk of Lenovo through Legend Holdings Limited. While the corporate entity known as Lenovo may have originated in China with government backing, it has transmuted into a very 21st century transnational company, in which the Chinese government is merely a stockholder. Certainly with the force of authoritarian Chinese law behind them the CCP could do much to control operations within China, but I find very little credible reason to believe that a minority stockholder would be able to exert the level of influence necessary to illegally alter the designs of systems in a way that would be economically suicidal if uncovered at a factory in Raleigh N.C. formerly owned by IBM and managed from the Purchase, NY headquarters.