Albania is using security screening devices made by a company with deep ties to the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party and its military.
Following an investigation by AP, equipment manufactured by Nuctech is being used by several states, including Albania, despite being banned from the US due to security concerns.
Nuctech is a state-owned security company with its parent company, Tsinghua Tongfang, controlled by the China National Nuclear Corporation. It manages the country’s civilian and military nuclear fuel programme.
In addition, concerns have long been raised over the company’s practices. The issue of data security remains a prominent issue with fears that information collected by the equipment is shared with the Chinese state. Furthermore, in 2006, the Filippino government purchased 30 units of mobile equipment amid claims of procurement abuse, and the company faced accusations of government bribery in Taiwan and Namibia. In Canada, the government rejected a deal over security fears, similar to fears raised in Malaysia.
The US, however, has banned all Nuctech equipment from US airports over security concerns.
According to AP, a growing number of western officials fear Nuctech could be used to sabotage transit points or garner illicit access to government, personal, or industrial data from the items the equipment scans.
“The data being processed by these devices is very sensitive. It’s personal data, military data, cargo data. It might be trade secrets at stake. You want to make sure it’s in right hands,” said Bart Groothuis, director of cybersecurity at the Dutch Ministry of Defense, before becoming a member of the European Parliament. “You’re dependent on a foreign actor who is a geopolitical adversary and strategic rival.”
Nuctech has refuted the claims, saying it complies with European data privacy and security laws.
“It’s our equipment, but it’s your data. Our customer decides what happens with the data,” said Robert Bos, deputy general manager of Nuctech in the Netherlands. He added that the company had lost half its market share in Europe due to the allegations he says are without proof.
Nuctech’s website states the company also provides “cloud computing, big data and Internet of Things with safety inspection technologies and products to supply the clients with hi-tech safety inspection solution.”
This has raised concerns because China has a national intelligence law which means all Chinese companies must hand over any data gained outside the country, to authorities, upon request. Nuctech would be forced to hand over any data requested by the party, which part-owns it.
In 2020, the Canadian government discovered that the scanners made by Nuctech could be used to collect and transmit information and compromise portable electronic devices as they pass through.
“This is becoming more and more dangerous. I wouldn’t mind if one or two airports had Nuctech systems, but with dumping prices, a lot of regions are taking it,” said Axel Voss, a Germany MEP told AP.
“This is becoming more and more a security question. You might think it’s a strategic investment of the Chinese government.”
The Albanian government has been using Nuctech equipment since at least 2012. An OSCE document states;
“Customs Service currently has one Nuctech mobile scanner in the port of Durres. Other four scanners have been installed since 2010, each of them is used at the border crossings of Kakavija and Kapshitca, as well as the smaller port of Vlora.”
The agreement was first established in 2007 when the Chinese government and the Albanian government exchanged letters regarding Container Inspection Equipment. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce provided the funding for the equipment for an unknown value.
Unfortunately, the equipment only worked for 200 hours before it broke down and was declared “out of use”. Nuctech finally made repairs in early 2015, and it has been used since.