Congressional Probe Finds Suspicious Communication Devices on Chinese Cargo Cranes in US Ports

A congressional investigation has uncovered the presence of unexplained communication devices on Chinese-built cargo cranes operating at various U.S. seaports.

The findings, as reported by The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, have raised serious concerns about potential espionage activities and the vulnerability of critical American infrastructure.

The United States has long relied on cost-effective Chinese-manufactured cargo cranes, particularly those produced by the mega-manufacturer ZMPC, to equip its seaports nationwide.

However, the congressional probe has revealed that several of these cranes contain communications equipment that was neither requested nor necessary for standard operations.

U.S. intelligence agencies have consistently warned about the potential exploitation of Chinese cranes by Beijing.

These cranes, equipped with a variety of sensors and devices, could be used as part of China’s broader strategy to compromise national security on multiple fronts.

Despite these concerns, the Chinese government has dismissed the U.S.’ worries as “entirely paranoia” and an abuse of national power to hinder normal economic and trade cooperation.

Republican Tennessee Rep. Mark Green, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, emphasized the gravity of the situation in a statement to the WSJ. “Beijing is looking for every opportunity to collect valuable intelligence and position themselves to exploit vulnerabilities by systematically burrowing into America’s critical infrastructure — including in the maritime sector,” he said. “The United States has clearly overlooked this threat for far too long.”

The congressional investigation uncovered several instances of suspicious equipment, including over a dozen cellular modems on crane components at one U.S. port and a modem in a server room at another.

While such devices are sometimes used for remote monitoring and tracking of operations, several ports with ZMPC cranes had not even requested this capability.

In a December letter to the House Homeland Security Committee, one port acknowledged their awareness of the installed modems but expressed uncertainty about their purpose or origin.

The port stated, “We are unsure who installed the modems, as they were on the cranes when we first saw them in China.” The modems, believed to have been installed in 2017 during the cranes’ construction in China, were eventually removed in October 2023.

The Homeland Security Committee further revealed that ZMPC had made repeated requests for remote access to cranes and infrastructure at U.S. seaports.

Notably, several of ZMPC’s cranes were built at a base on Shanghai’s Changxing island, adjacent to a Chinese naval shipbuilding yard, raising additional concerns about potential military involvement.

In response to these findings, the Biden administration announced a substantial investment of over $20 billion in February to promote the production of domestically built cranes.

This move aims to reduce reliance on Chinese-manufactured equipment and address the growing cybersecurity and espionage concerns.

More broadly, U.S. intelligence agencies have sounded the alarm about China-backed cyber operations targeting critical American infrastructure, such as water and energy plants.

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