US official warns China could steal state secrets and “intimate” data on UK citizens if Huawei is involved in 5G networks

US official warns China could steal state secrets and “intimate” data on UK citizens if Huawei is involved in 5G networks
Digital sovereignty

Huawei’s involvement in 5G mobile networks poses a risk for the UK’s citizens and intelligence agencies, US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien has warned, according to Reuters

Using the Chinese telecom firm’s equipment in 5G infrastructure could create backdoors allowing the theft of “wholesale state secrets” as well as “intimate” data on UK citizens, he told the Financial Times in an interview published this week. 

“They are just going to steal wholesale state secrets, whether they are the UK’s nuclear secrets or secrets from MI6 or MI5,” he said. “It is somewhat shocking to us that folks in the UK would look at Huawei as some sort of a commercial decision. 5G is a national security decision.”

US officials have long claimed that Huawei could facilitate spying by the Chinese government. 

Britain, as well as other allies, have been under pressure from the US to exclude Huawei from the development of 5G mobile networks. Huawei was added to the Trump administration’s trade blacklist in May, with an executive order preventing US firms from using equipment from companies that pose a national security risk.

However, the US hasn’t provided any evidence for its claims, which Huawei has fervently denied. And US pressure has had a limited effect in the rest of the world—Huawei has signed 60 contracts to work on 5G networks, including with all four of the UK’s mobile operators. Last month, Huawei opened a 5G Innovation and Experience Centre in London, in an effort to promote its 5G technology. In Europe, Huawei already has a significant presence, and their exclusion would mean increased costs, stifled innovation, and a slower rollout of 5G. 

UK officials have twice postponed a decision on whether to allow Huawei’s participation, and have previously signaled they may allow the company’s equipment in “non-core,” or less critical, parts of the network. 

The issue has divided the Five Eyes intelligence network, which includes the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, with Britain appearing more open to working with Huawei thus far. A decision is expected once Parliament returns on January 7th

Earlier this month, Huawei’s president for global government affairs, Victor Zhang, said he did not believe Boris Johnson would opt to exclude Huawei:

“I am very confident that the UK will choose Huawei because the UK always takes an evidence and facts-based approach and that the decision-making will be based on the nation’s long-term interest and to satisfy society and the benefit of all consumers.”

Photo by Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine [CC0]