It would be "nothing short of madness" to use Huawei gear in Britain's 5G mobile networks, an American national security adviser has reportedly told UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
As reported this morning, a US delegation consisting of deputy national security advisor Matt Pottinger, junior foreign minister Chris Ford, special envoy Robert Blair and three others flew into London yesterday to hand unspecified "intelligence" to British officials.
The delegation refused to clarify publicly what was so compelling about this intelligence that it would convince the UK to shut out Huawei.
One of the delegates did tell the Guardian that "Donald Trump is watching closely", while the officials are also reported to have threatened to reduce intelligence-sharing with the UK if Blighty chooses the Chinese firm for 5G – flatly contradicting domestic spy chief Sir Andrew Parker, who yesterday shrugged his shoulders about the risks.
Those known risks are twofold: Huawei's coding practices are pisspoor, as Britain's Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) found last year; and there is the ever-present fear that Huawei, or people within Huawei, could be forced to abuse their product knowledge to serve the Chinese regime, perhaps through espionage conducted on UK comms networks or helping with denial-of-service attacks.
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Although the US have been claiming for years that Huawei poses a threat to communication security, given the well-documented activities of American spy agencies over the last couple of decades this seems like a hollow concern. It's not implausible, even, that American spies are concerned their level of covert access to the world's conversations will also become available to Chinese eavesdroppers, presenting yet another threat to US dominance.
With Huawei offering a cut-price alternative to US enterprise tech brands such as Cisco, as well as arguably better technology to Western 5G network products, it's little surprise the American government is furiously lobbying on its industry's behalf.
Despite US unease, none of the technical threats said to be posed by Huawei have made it into the public domain. In the absence of evidence such as that gathered by HCSEC, remaining US objections could appear to the onlooker to be mostly political.
Huawei's UK veep, Victor Zhang, said in a canned statement: "We are confident that the UK government will make a decision based upon evidence, as opposed to unsubstantiated allegations. Two UK parliamentary committees concluded there is no technical reason to ban us from supplying 5G equipment, and this week the head of MI5 said there is 'no reason to think' the UK's intelligence-sharing relationship with the US would be harmed if Britain continued to use Huawei technology." ®