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Cotton Writes Secretary of Defense With Concerns About Reports of Technology Transfers to China by U.S. Companies

Cotton Writes Secretary of Defense With Concerns About Reports of Technology Transfers to China by U.S. Companies 

Washington, D.C.— Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) Friday sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter expressing concern over reports of technology transfers to China by U.S. Companies.

“I am concerned this type of technology transfer endangers the national and economic security of the United States; jeopardizes the cybersecurity of individuals, enterprises, and governments globally; and undermines decades of U.S. non-proliferation policies regarding high performance computing,” writes Senator Cotton. “The commercial consequence of China’s industrial policy is also clear—China seeks to use technology transferred by U.S. firms to develop substitute products and replace U.S. technology providers with Chinese equivalents, first in their domestic markets and then in markets U.S. tech companies now service.”

The letter goes on to ask Secretary Carter pointed questions about the technology transfers and the impact they have on our military technological advantage, as well as our national and economic security. A list of those questions can be found below. The full text of the letter is available here.


  1. IBM’s transfer of high performance OpenPOWER processor designs has serious national security implications, particularly as products based on technologies transferred to Chinese companies are used by various U.S. government agencies and support research on and testing of advanced weapons, aerospace and missile technology.
    1. Are weapons systems, testing platforms, or research programs currently using IBM POWER or OpenPOWER processors?
    2. What is the relationship of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratory with IBM’s OpenPOWER Foundation?
    3. Are the aforementioned National Laboratories contributing Department of Defense funded research, technology, or expertise to IBM’s OpenPOWER Foundation, where it is available to Chinese companies such as the Zhongxing New Telecommunications Equipment Co., Ltd (ZTE)?


  1. The U.S. Navy took prudent action to replace elements of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense mission systems as a result of technology transfers to China thereby reducing the risk of cyber exploitation.
    1. What process is in place to evaluate alternate technologies and suppliers to IBM high performance chip sets transferred under the OpenPOWER Foundation?
    2. Because the OpenPOWER designs transferred to China are based on IBM’s POWER chipsets, has the Department of Defense identified what other mission systems or supporting infrastructure may also be at risk for cyber exploitation?


  1. IBM’s transfer of middleware and database software source code to Chinese firms tied to the People’s Liberation Army and the Ministry of State Security also increases the risk to U.S. government IT systems relying on these software products.
    1. Has the Department of Defense inventoried the mission systems or supporting infrastructure using these components?
    2. In addition to wholly-owned and operated systems, has the Department of Defense evaluated if any contracted Cloud service companies rely on these software products to provide services to the Department of Defense?
    3. Are alternative middleware and database software products available to meet mission requirements?
    4. Can you please identify mission systems or support infrastructure using IBM middleware and database software code that are open to disruption or manipulation?

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