Experts: Chinese train manufacturers cause for concern

China watchers are voicing concerns that Chinese manufacturers setting up operations in the United States pose a “Trojan horse” cybersecurity threat — and one state representative is prepping a bill to ban contracts like the one to build MBTA Red and Orange line cars in Springfield.

“Any Chinese company is vulnerable to being directed by Chinese government authorities,” said Timothy R. Heath, an expert on China at the RAND Corporation. “And there is a growing incentive for the Chinese government to be thinking of ways to cause trouble.”

The soon-to-arrive Orange and Red Line cars are being built for the MBTA in Springfield by CRRC MA, a Chinese company. CRRC didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The T insists it’s taking the necessary steps, including having all software components made in the U.S. The MBTA says it closely manages all digitally connected parts and runs cybersecurity analyses based on Department of Defense standards.

“The safety of the T’s systems is of the utmost importance and the MBTA has robust controls in place to maintain the security of the system,” T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.

Federal authorities have begun to take steps to head off possible Chinese interference, whether that be bugging or creating digital backdoors to take over the operations of the trains.

“Congress, the Pentagon and industry experts have taken the warnings seriously, and now Metro will do the same,” The Washington Post reported in a story about the capitol region’s subway. “The transit agency recently decided to add cybersecurity safeguards to specifications for a contract it will award later this year for its next-generation rail cars following warnings that China’s state-owned rail car manufacturer could win the deal by undercutting other bidders.”

The Post cited retired Army Brig. Gen. John Adams’ October report for the industry group Rail Security Alliance, saying, “We must retain the know-how and technology to … safeguard against disruption of this strategically vital sector of our economy.”

State Rep. Shawn Dooley, a Norfolk Republican, has been saying much the same for a few months.

“Everyone said I was crazy, and now all these experts are saying the exact same thing I did,”

Dooley told the Herald on Tuesday, adding other state officials teased him about his stance over Christmas.

Dooley said he will introduce a bill that would stop companies from State Department-defined “non-market economies” such as China from bidding on large infrastructure projects.

“Do you honestly think they can’t put some sort of chip in there somewhere?” Dooley said. “This Trojan horse concept isn’t new — it’s been around for thousands of years.”

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