Why are Americans being warned not to buy a Huawei smartphone?

The warning came from U.S. intelligence chiefs on Tuesday.

What's happening?

Chinese smartphone maker and Apple rival Huawei is trying to crack into the lucrative U.S. market, but consumers are being warned before jumping on board.

The heads of six U.S. intelligence agencies – including the FBI, CIA and NSA – told a Senate hearing on Tuesday that Americans could leave themselves vulnerable to Chinese spying should they purchase one of the company's handsets.

Citing Huawei's close relationship with the Chinese government, CNBC reports that FBI Director Chris Wray said on Tuesday that this "provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure.

"It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage," he added.

Can you buy Huawei phones now?

Yes, but only unlocked versions.

As Engadget reports, Huawei has been trying to tie up a deal with a major cellphone carrier and had one in place with AT&T before it was called off, apparently amid pressure from Congress.

You can still buy the unlocked versions of its Mate 10 Pro phones via Amazon and Best Buy, among other companies.

Best Buy just pulled a load of "fake reviews" of Huawei phones that were posted on its site, after the Chinese company allegedly offered early access to its latest model to people who posted positive reviews.

BGR reports this shows how Huawei – which is the world's second largest smartphone company by sales – is "desperate" to sell phones in the U.S.

Why there's a certain irony in this

Tech site 9to5Mac published an opinion piece on Tuesday pointing out the irony in intelligence chiefs warning Americans about potential espionage through their phones.

This is because the FBI itself was locked in a battle with Apple about allowing federal agents to override its security protections so the government could access content on the phones of those suspected of federal crimes.

The website argues that even if U.S. authorities only use this to catch criminals, weakening data encryption software to allow it could present further problems down the line, offering gateways into phones for hackers and fraudsters.

Next Up