The car's left the driveway on the globalization of IT, but the United States apparently still thinks it has the keys. International deals of all sizes have been coming under increasing scrutiny over supposed security questions, and the atmosphere doesn't seem to be getting better anytime soon. Well, at least until after November.
International IT mergers and foreign business with the United States government are in the line of fire in the wake of the political feast that was the Dubai ports debacle. It goes without saying that the government needs to prevent highly classified technology from falling into the wrong hands, and there are procedures to do so. But now as then, the sensitivities of the voting Lou Dobbs fans (love ya, Lou) seem to be trumping real discussion of security, economic stability, and the trade-offs necessary to ensure each.
Take the proposed Alcatel-Lucent merger (eww, the French). Lucent-owned Bell Labs still does some sensitive eavesdropping work, but it's a shadow of its glory days. Yet politics are afoot, with a senator talking up the need for watchful eyes and observers saying he's just the first of many.
Tack that on the tail end of the scuttled Israel-based Check Point bid for Sourcefire's already open-source technology, and you've got a matzo ball of politics. But still the soup wouldn't be complete without fears that China's Lenovo will spy on the United States through American-assembled, IBM-serviced systems doing unclassified work at the State Department. Of course, slashing deals individually isn't enough, so Rep. Duncan Hunter, R.-Calif., has introduced legislation that would make foreign investment in critical "systems" more difficult to begin with.
Politicians may run into walls. Big U.S. companies are doing tons of work overseas, and that's increasing toward tons and tons as offshoring accelerates. Meanwhile, a defense advisory board admits that keeping even all classified work inside the United States would be too expensive, and the GAO has found (caution, PDF) foreign companies working on weapons system software.
Time to restate the thesis. The questions need to be about what technology we must keep to be safe, and how much we're willing to fork over to keep it that way. They don't need to be about who can rabble-rouse the most and who can pose as a strongman.
Note: This was originally an InformationWeek blog entry, posted on March 30.