Army weighs using RFID network partially owned by Chinese firm

Army weighs using RFID network partially owned by Chinese firm
Army weighs using RFID network partially owned by Chinese firm 

By Bob Brewin
June 12, 2007

The Army is considering using a radio frequency identification network 
in Pakistan that is partly owned by a Chinese company to track shipments 
to American forces in Afghanistan, according to internal briefing 
materials obtained by Government Executive.

The Defense Department has used RFID tags with a range of 300 feet to 
track movements of containers and pallets to U.S. forces operating in 
Afghanistan and Iraq as well as other forces globally.

The tags contain a computer chip that stores information about the cargo 
and an antenna that beams the information to RFID tag readers. From 
there, the information is passed to the Global Transportation Network 
operated by the U.S. Transportation Command. That network rides on the 
Defense's internal Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network.

Authorized users of the Global Transportation Network can "see" in real 
time the arrival and departure of container shipments. The overall 
system consists of 2,700 tag sites which read more than 134,000 tags a 
week, according to the briefing, issued by the Army Program Manager for 
Joint-Automatic Identification Technology.

But according to that briefing, Defense lacks the ability to read tags 
on shipments sent through Pakistani ports for onward movement by truck 
to Afghanistan "due to inability to obtain country clearance to install 
DoD fixed RFID infrastructure."

The program manager's briefing said the Army intended to resolve that 
problem by using a commercial RFID infrastructure installed in Pakistan 
by a firm called Savi Networks. That company is a joint venture between 
Savi Technology, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, and 
Hutchinson Port Holdings, a subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa Limited of 
Hong Kong, controlled by Chinese billionaire Li Ka Shing. Savi 
Technology owns 51 per cent of Savi Networks and Hutchinson 49 per cent, 
according to a 2005 press release announcing the partnership.

The Program Manager for Joint-Automatic Identification Technology 
briefing, done for the Navy this May, said it intended to modify its 
contract with Savi Technology to use the Savi Networks RFID 
infrastructure in Pakistan starting last Thursday.

But in response to a query from Government Executive, Air Force Maj. 
Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said Defense "is still assessing 
whether to utilize a commercial solution for Pakistan ... in accordance 
with DoD information assurance policy." Ownership of commercial 
infrastructure is a factor that needs to be carefully considered during 
the risk assessment process, Ryder said.

Mark Nelson, a spokesman for Savi Technology, said Defense should not 
have any concerns about the security or integrity of data riding over 
the Pakistan infrastructure, since Hutchinson is only a passive investor 
in Savi Networks.

But Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a Washington-based 
foundation, charged that Hutchinson is "a front for the Chinese 
government," citing a Central Intelligence Agency analysis from 1998 
concluding that Li Ka Shing "is directly connected to Beijing and is 
willing to use his business influence to further the aims of the Chinese 

Last month Defense issued its annual report on Chinese military 
capabilities to Congress, which included sections on increased use of 
information warfare. Philip Coyle, senior adviser for the Center for 
Defense Information, a Washington-based think tank focused on defense 
and security issues, said that if the Pentagon is "going to keep making 
China out to be an enemy, DoD should have security concerns about a 
Chinese-owned company running a U.S. Army information network."

The Center for Public Integrity estimated last month that the United 
States has provided the government of Pakistan with $5 billion in 
funding since 2001. Coyle said considering that level of funding, "it 
does seem odd that Pakistan won't allow a DoD network infrastructure, 
especially when what it is being used for is to track U.S. Army 

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