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IBM's chip business sale gets national security scrutiny

Patrick Thibodeau | Oct. 23, 2014
GlobalFoundries is already talking over security issues with the U.S. government.

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Defense called for a "Defense Trusted Integrated Circuit Strategy" that provides access "to trusted suppliers of critical microcircuits used in sensitive defense weapons, intelligence, and communications systems."

That led to a pilot program with the NSA and formation of the "Trusted Access Program Office" and then to "a contractual arrangement with the IBM Corp., for the manufacture of leading-edge microelectronic parts in a trusted environment," according to a Defense Department report released in July.

If the U.S. loses more of its industrial capacity, "we mortgage our ability to make national security decisions to investors who come from countries who have interests opposed to ours," said Adams.

To give an example of how extreme foreign dependences can go, one problem cited in Adam's report was the U.S. reliance on a Chinese firm as the sole source for a chemical needed to propel Hellfire air-to-surface missiles. Since that report, the U.S. has identified an American company that is scheduled now to begin production of this propellant component in the next few months. The U.S. is giving some tax incentives and other assistance to make that happen, said Adams.

The U.A.E., has seen its trade suffer because of the embargo with Iran. But the U.A.E is also viewed as a conduit for technology shipments to Iran that bypass the embargo.

In late 2007, Iran claimed to have built a small Linux supercomputer using 216 AMD Opteron chips. Imports of microprocessors and other technologies to Iran isn't allowed under the U.S. embargo.

The Iranian High Performance Computing Research Center (IHPCRC) research center included a series of photographs on its Web site showing workers assembling the supercomputer. The chips could not be identified in the photos, but the shipping boxes and the name of company and the initials U.A.E. on the boxes were visibile.

AMD said it has never authorized any shipment of its products to the U.A.E., and said so again in a response to an SEC query2009.

It's unclear how capable Iran's supercomputing capabilities are at this point; Iran's Amirkabir University of Technology, the home of the IHPCRC, had in 2010 a system with 4,600 CPUs, but it did not identify the processor maker.

After Computerworld published the initial story, Iran removed the photographs. The website of IHPCRC appears to have disappeared as well, replaced by a web page about acne medication.

 

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