US memo claims China could use 5G to kill people, maybe

5G china huawei
Image credit: B.Zhou /

ITEM: A former Trump administration official is circulating a memo claiming China could weaponize 5G if its market dominance isn’t checked.

How does one weaponize 5G, you may ask? According to the memo author – retired Air Force Brigadier General Robert Spalding, who used to sit on the National Security Council – you do it by selling your 5G gear cheap enough to ensure it’s installed in every 5G network in the world, then make use of secret back doors to wreak international havoc, reports Bloomberg:

Spalding in his memo paints a future headed toward domination by China. Eventually, alternatives to its network technology won’t exist, because other suppliers won’t be able to compete with government-subsidized offerings from Huawei and fellow Chinese gear maker ZTE Corp., Spalding said.

Once China controls the market for internet-connected devices, it will be able “to weaponize cities,” Spalding said in the memo: “Think of self-driving cars that suddenly mow down unsuspecting pedestrians. Think of drones that fly into the intakes of airliners.”

Well. Yes. Think.

If you’re wondering, Spalding is the same person who put together a memo and presentation last year that proposed a similar idea on the grounds that Chinese dominance of 5G was tantamount to China attempting to reinvent the global internet as a platform designed to enable Chinese cyber espionage and cyber attacks on US networks.

Which is silly, because that’s not really how 5G or the internet work.

I haven’t read the new memo (which hasn’t been made public), but based on the Bloomberg report, Spalding’s concept of weaponized 5G sounds both silly and paranoid.

That’s not to say that China doesn’t engage in cyber espionage and hacking against US targets. Of course it does – it has done for years, just as the US has been doing likewise to China and … well, just about everyone, really.

And sure, it’s technically possible that China could secretly leverage Huawei or ZTE network gear to control every 5G network on earth, hoover up personal data and turn cars and drones into robo-assassins. (It’s also technically possible that once Alexa, Siri, Bixby, Cortana and Google Assistant become smart enough, they’ll become sentient, team up to form an AI hive mind called Skynet and kill us all.)

But Spalding’s scenario doesn’t hold up if you look closely. For a start, it seems to depend on the premise that (1) Huawei and ZTE will literally become the only commercially viable alternatives for buying 5G solutions (which is highly unlikely), and (2) there will be no possible way for regulators, law enforcement agencies or telcos to vet 5G gear for possible spyware capabilities before installing it (also highly unlikely).

The other main assumption here seems to be that autonomous cars, drones and the rest of the Internet of Things will either be manufactured by Huawei (or run Huawei software), or have crap security, zero encryption and no failsafes whatsoever. The latter may be possible given the state of IoT security today, but in that case Chinese hackers wouldn’t need Chinese gear in everyone’s networks to pull off such an attack. They certainly haven’t needed it up to now.

Again, I don’t have a copy of the full memo, and it might contain details that make this sound more plausible than the ones included in the Bloomberg report. But I’m reasonably sure that of all the things China plans to do with 5G, turning self-driving cars into murderbots is not one of them.


  1. Presumably the author of this piece is sponsored by Huawei. Weaponising the internet is not about telling IoT controlled devices to kill someone, its about DDoS or even QoS attacks. If you just caused social media to load at half speed it would potentially remove tens of thousands of fighting hours from the average Joe.

  2. Let’s hope that somebody kills us; because it doesn’t look like we know when to stop killing innocent people.

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