Updated: Mystery group ‘Protect America’s Wireless’ stokes national security fears in Sprint/T-Mobile merger

A new nonprofit organization called “Protect America’s Wireless” has been formed in what appears to be an attempt to block the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile due to national security concerns.

“We must protect our networks from foreign spying. Our greatest concern is the pending Sprint T-Mobile merger, which could give countries like Saudi Arabia, China, Germany and Japan direct access to our networks through the use of foreign-made networking equipment and billions of foreign money,” the group wrote on its website. “We call on President Trump, Congress and the FCC to protect American national security by denying these foreign interests access to America's wireless communications.”

Through a public relations representative hired by the firm, the association said that it is a 501c(4) nonprofit and does not disclose its donors or its ownership structure. However, the association has scheduled a media event Nov. 5 to announce its “public awareness effort,” with speakers including former senior State Department officials.

Speakers listed on the group’s invitation are:

  • David Wade, former State Department chief of staff, founder of Greenlight Strategies

  • Former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, former chair of the House Intelligence Committee; author of Investigative Report on the U.S. National Security Issues Posed by Chinese Telecommunications Companies Huawei and ZTE
  • Ali Al-Ahmed, The Institute for Gulf Affairs

  • Trita Parsi, founder, National Iranian American Council

  • Kyle Downey, former GOP leadership staff, founder of Downey Communications LLC

A cursory check of the group’s website turned up few details. As evidence for its assertions, the association in part cited comments from former George W. Bush White House staffer and current Fox News contributor Bradley Blakeman that “both Sprint and T-Mobile have a long history of using Chinese equipment suppliers Huawei and ZTE for devices integral to providing voice and data service, such as routers, servers, transmitters or receivers. These big suppliers—Huawei had more than $92 billion in revenue last year—have powerful tools at their disposal that could be used against the United States.”

The group also pointed to a recent Bloomberg article detailing a Chinese attempt to infiltrate U.S. companies, as well as a New York Times article detailing Russian and Chinese efforts to tap into President Trump’s iPhone calls.

Interestingly, the group confirmed that Protect America’s Wireless is part of the larger newly formed 501(c)4 called Consumer Choice Alliance. That alliance plans to launch a separate campaign later this month focused on the pricing and competition aspects of the Sprint and T-Mobile merger. Protect America’s Wireless, meanwhile, will focus on the national security aspects of the deal. Consumer Choice Alliance was first noted by Axios.

The timing of the announcements by Consumer Choice Alliance and Protect America’s Wireless is curious considering the FCC’s public comment period on the merger between Sprint and T-Mobile recently closed; the comment period had been open for months.

Germany’s Deutsche Telekom holds a 63% interest in T-Mobile and Japan’s SoftBank owns 84% of Sprint. That foreign ownership has been cited as a possible concern in the proposed merger between the two companies, particularly considering that executives from both Sprint and T-Mobile have argued that a merger between the operators would be good for the United States and would aid the country in its race to 5G against China.

Such arguments aren’t surprising, though. The Trump administration has cited national security concerns in a handful of actions in the telecom industry, including President’s Trump’s move to prevent Broadcom from acquiring Qualcomm.

Further, China’s Huawei and ZTE have been cited as security threats since 2012, and the FCC has taken steps to prevent U.S. telecom companies from purchasing equipment from the two vendors. Clearwire did use Huawei equipment, though Sprint agreed to remove that equipment following its purchase of Clearwire.

Article updated with additional speakers on Protect America's Wireless media call and details on the relationship between Protect America's Wireless and Consumer Choice Alliance.