Diamond glass could make your phone’s screen nearly unbreakable—and its inventor says the FBI enlisted him after Huawei tried to steal his secrets.
when Huawei, a potential customer, began to behave suspiciously after receiving the meticulously packed sample glass that was a prototype for use as indestructible smartphone screens. Khan was more surprised when the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation drafted him
sent for testing to a laboratory in San Diego owned by Huawei Technologies Co. But when the sample came back last August, months late and badly damaged, Khan knew something was terribly wrong.
If the new investigation bears fruit, it could, along with the indictments, bolster the Trump administration’s effort to block Huawei from selling equipment for fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless networks in the U.S. and allied nations. The U.S. believes Huawei poses a national security threat, in part, because it could build undetectable backdoors into 5G hardware and software, allowing the Chinese government to spy on American communications and wage cyberwarfare. the U.S. House Intelligence Committee labeled Huawei a national security threat and urged the government and American businesses not to buy its products. Huawei denied all the claims.
the government searched the Huawei lab in San Diego where Akhan’s glass had been sent. This story is based on documents—including emails and text messages exchanged among Huawei, Akhan, and the FBI—as well as reporting from the sting operation in Las Vegas and interviews with Khan and Shurboff.
To many, Shurboff’s story might have sounded far-fetched. Not to the FBI. “They took a very keen interest immediately and wanted to know more,” he says. Things moved quickly. The Akhan executives found themselves on regular conference calls with officials from the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice. Taking the lead on several of these calls was David Kessler, the assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn who, it turned out later, would prosecute Huawei’s CFO.
Since 2012, under pressure from the government, the major U.S. telecommunications companies have essentially blacklisted Huawei, refusing to carry its smartphones or use its equipment in their networks. But most of the world kept on buying from Huawei, choosing not to believe (or to ignore) the allegations that the company has consistently denied. At the same time, U.S. tech companies have remained free to sell parts to Huawei. Qualcomm Inc. is one of Huawei’s big suppliers. So are Micron Technology Inc. and Intel Corp.