Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei Technologies, long considered a threat to U.S. security, has its e-mail spied on by the National Security Agency, according to reports published Saturday in The New York Times and Germany'sDer Spiegel.
Both news organizations attributed the spy activities to NSA documents from Edward Snowden, the former NSA staffer who leaked documents and fled to Russia, showing that the NSA was able to tap into Huawei servers in Shenzhen, picking up information about the inner workings of the company.
Huawei makes routers and switchers that connect a third of the world's population.
"Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products," the Timesquotes the NSA document as saying. "We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products," it added, to "gain access to networks of interest" around the world.
The NSA began targeting Huawei in early 2009.
Among the people whose emails the NSA was able to read were Huawei president Ren Zhengfei, Der Spiegel said.
The operation, which Der Spiegel claims was coordinated with the CIA, FBI and White House officials, also netted source codes for Huawei products. One aim was to exploit the fact that Huawei equipment is widely used to route voice and data traffic around the world, according to the report. But the NSA was also concerned that the Chinese government itself might use Huawei's presence in foreign networks for espionage purposes, it said.
In 2012, the House Intelligence Committee recommended that Huawei be barred from doing business in the United States, citing the threat that its equipment could enable Chinese intelligence services to tamper with American communications networks.
In January, the company rejected a previous Der Spiegel report claiming that its equipment was vulnerable to hacking. The magazine had reported that the NSA was able to install secret "back doors" in telecoms equipment made by Huawei and other companies.
Der Spiegel's latest report claims the NSA also targeted top Chinese officials, such as former President Hu Jintao, as well as ministries and banks.
Contributing: USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham and The Associated Press