Exclusive: The Vietnamese Cellphone Company That Tried to Smuggle Missile Parts — and the Spies Who Stopped It
A secretive U.S. national security unit dedicated to protecting America’s telecommunications infrastructure foiled an attempt by Vietnam’s leading cellphone company to smuggle cruise missile parts, OneZero can reveal.
Team Telecom is made up of representatives from Homeland Security, the Department of Justice (including the FBI), as well as the Department of Defense, and reviews foreign investments in U.S. communications assets for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
A previously unreported 2016 investigation into VTA Telecom, a subsidiary of Vietnam’s state-owned phone company Viettel, uncovered efforts to procure and illegally export missile engines and guidance equipment. A Viettel executive, Huy Quang Bui, quietly pled guilty to the charges, served a short sentence in federal prison, and was deported to Vietnam.
The revelation that an Asian wireless operator was actively purchasing military hardware comes at a tough time for foreign technology companies hoping to operate in the U.S. In May, the FCC denied a license for China Mobile USA to operate in the U.S. following Team Telecom’s recommendation that the move would “raise substantial and serious national security and law enforcement risks.”
That same month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order giving the federal government the power to block U.S. companies from buying foreign telecom equipment that could pose a risk to national security. This move was aimed squarely at the Chinese networking giant Huawei amid concerns over cybersecurity and surveillance.
Huy Quang Bui is not your stereotypical international arms smuggler. According to court documents, he was a diligent student growing up in the countryside outside Hanoi in the 1990s. His father was a teacher and the keeper of a local temple, while his mother worked in a Russian garment factory to put Bui through college.