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Gephardt, World Bank president join firm representing China's Huawei telecom

Amerilink Telecom said Tuesday it has appointed two prominent Washington insiders to its board as it tries to help clients such as China-based Huawei Technologies break into the U.S. market.

The technology security consulting firm appointed former House majority leader Richard Gephardt and former World Bank president James Wolfensohn to its board.

The appointments come as Amerilink’s client, Huawei, faces scrutiny by lawmakers who question the company’s connections to the Chinese government and alleged business dealings selling telecom equipment to Iraq under the Saddam Hussein regime and to the Taliban.

Amerilink CEO Kevin Packingham said in an interview that the board appointments reflect the company’s mission to offer security solutions by international telecom firms to the United States and other markets.

“We look at the makeup of the board to make sure we have a balanced perspective with people in business, national security, technology and international affairs,” Packingham said. Other board members are Packinham and Navy admiral William Owens, who was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Bill Clinton.

Amerilink, founded in June 2009, has announced only Huawei as a client. That firm, which services about 45 of the top 50 telecom carriers in the world, is bidding for a contract to supply network equipment to Sprint Nextel for an upgrade to its networks. Sprint did not immediately respond to a request for comment. update: A Sprint spokeswoman said the company is reviewing six bids for the network upgrade, but declined to confirm if Huawei was one of the companies being considered.

Huawei has drawn criticism from competitors for its business practices. In June, Motorola sued the firm, saying that it had conspired with former employees to gain access to Motorola's trade secrets.

In August, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), ranking member of the judiciary subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security, wrote a letter with seven other federal lawmakers to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke expressing concern about Huawei’s bid for Sprint’s business.

The lawmakers said the firm’s history selling equipment to Iran under Saddam Hussein and to the Taliban raise troubling questions about its entrance into the U.S. market.

“Sprint Nextel supplies important equipment to the U.S. military and law enforcement agencies…” the lawmakers wrote. “We are concerned that Huawei’s position as a supplier of Sprint Nextel could create substantial risk for U.S. companies and possibly undermine U.S. national security.”

Packingham declined to speak specifically about the lawmkers' accusations against Huawei. “But at Amerilink, we believe we’ve created a process so we can bring any technology into the U.S. with confidence so that any of these issues raised in the letter, while serious, can be managed so that they can be sure we have a trusted partner to protect networks,” he said.

photo: Richard Gephardt, former Represenative from Missouri
credit: Harvard University

By Cecilia Kang  | September 21, 2010; 6:03 PM ET
Categories:  International, Sprint Nextel, Tech for Development  
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