The House Intelligence Committee is conducting a remarkably detailed and bipartisan investigation (subscription required) of ties between two Chinese telecom equipment giants, Huawei and ZTE, and the Chinese government. Widespread security fears have been targeted at these companies over concerns that their equipment would enable Chinese interception of US telephone calls, expanding American cybervulnerabilities from computer networks to all communications.

The companies insist that they should be treated like any other commercial competitor and they have dismissed the concerns.  Huawei even demanded an investigation to answer the questions that have swirled around them for years.

About now, ZTE and Huawei must be feeling like John Jacob Astor, the first-class Titanic passenger who reportedly quipped, “I asked for ice, but this is ridiculous.”

The House investigation has surpassed the usual hearing routine of four-and-a-half minute questions from Congressmen and 30 second answers. The committee travelled to China and interviewed top telecom executives for hours at a time, then followed up with pages of specific questions on topics covered by the interviews. The questions are accompanied by several pages of discovery-style instructions on the scope of documentation to be supplied.

This investigation may not have the effect Huawei originally hoped for. (“I remain concerned about the national security threat posed by the potential expansion of Huawei and ZTE into our telecommunications infrastructure,” Chairman Rogers said in releasing the questions.) But if the companies continue to cooperate we will learn a lot.

And if they don’t? Well, that will certainly be educational too.