T invites enemy state into our midst

Chinese rail car maker could be Trojan Horse

WE ARE ALL WELL AWARE that foreign governments have been sponsoring an incredibly diverse series of cyber-attacks on our nation. Whether it is interfering with our elections, hacking into top-secret government files, or stealing the intellectual property of our companies, these governments are not our allies and should never be treated as such. Their goal is to win at all costs, and if we stand in their way, then they will happily roll right over us. Make no mistake, these attacks are not just happening in Washington – they are taking place everywhere and Massachusetts is far from immune.

The MBTA has been taking strides toward significant improvements with its system, just last week awarding a contract for a new signaling system on the Red and Orange lines. Previously it awarded a contract to CRRC, a Chinese state-owned entity to update the rail car fleet for these two lines. But recent news coverage touting the jobs that CRRC brings to the area misses the larger picture of having a Chinese state-owned entity operating in our backyard. With today’s countless cyber threats, it’s clear the MBTA didn’t consider what it means for the safety of riders and their personal information when it agreed to become a client of the Chinese government.

MBTA rail cars and buses shuttle hundreds of thousands of students, tourists, and working professionals in, out, and around Boston every day. In 2014, CRRC won the contract with the MBTA to manufacture the next era of passenger rail cars, and with that, agreed to open an assembly facility in Springfield. The MBTA gave CRRC its entry opportunity into the US market with a unanimous decision to award it a $566.6 million contract to supply 152 Orange Line cars and 252 Red Line cars (plus 120 new Red Line cars added in 2016). CRRC’s bid was 22 percent less than the closest competitor (out of six total bids).

CRRC is not like other global rail manufacturers. A recent release from the Rail Security Alliance, a coalition focused on protecting America’s rail network, notes that CRRC gets its funding and promotion directly from the Chinese government. To add to this anticompetitive edge, three of CRRC’s current board members had leadership roles at other Chinese state-owned entities that were accused of espionage while these executives were employed – one of which was NORINCO, a defense corporation that manufactures military weapons.

China’s government has a well known history of theft of US intellectual property. Just this week, China used a microchip to hack some of the largest companies including Amazon and Apple. The chip was inserted at Chinese factories that supplied one of the world’s biggest sellers of server motherboards – an essential part of a computer server. The servers were then sent around to dozens of companies with the ability – unbeknownst to the companies – to have their systems accessed and modified by attackers in China.

Sounds like something out of a made for TV movie, right?  Heck, the concept of a foreign government infiltrating another nation with praise and gifts (or discounted rail cars) has been happening since the Greeks loaded up a Trojan Horse with elite warriors over 3,000 years ago. And we all know how well that worked out for the residents of Troy.

Unfortunately, it’s not much different than what could happen with the MBTA and other transit systems that have contracted with CRRC. The entity manufactures its rail cars in China and ships the parts to the US where they are assembled at plants like the one in Springfield. Much like a computer server, the rail cars being made today are significantly interconnected. They communicate with other cars, passengers, and external signaling systems that ensure trains run on time – just like the Orange and Red Line signaling systems the MBTA is in the process of updating.

Rail is one of the Department of Homeland Security’s 16 critical infrastructure sectors, and its security should not be taken lightly. Yet the T appears to have disregarded China’s espionage history and very public effort to increase investment in US critical infrastructure through acquisitions, mergers, and joint ventures that help it skirt US regulations.  On the flip side, companies wanting to invest in China are required to hand over trade secrets and technology transfers. Do we really want this double-standard operating in Massachusetts, or in the US?

Meet the Author

Shawn Dooley

State representative, Representing 9th Norfolk District
There is no doubt that CRRC’s plant in Springfield is creating jobs that did not previously exist. There would have been added jobs to the Massachusetts economy regardless of which company won the MBTA contract. However, none of the other bidders were primarily funded by the Chinese government, a country that continually orchestrates elaborate cyber and espionage attacks on US industry. The security of our state and its citizens is more important than saving our transit authority money, and thereby inviting an enemy state into Massachusetts’ rail infrastructure system.

Shawn Dooley is the state representative from Norfolk.