Five Eyes spies play down split as ‘Huawei leak’ roils UK government

Five Eyes spies play down split as ‘Huawei leak’ roils UK government
Five Eyes cybersecurity chiefs have played down suggestions of a split in the alliance following a politically explosive leak that the UK government will ignore US pressure and give Chinese technology giant Huawei a role in building its 5G networks
.According to an article in The Daily Telegraph, the contents of which were not denied, the 10-member National Security Council (NSC) chaired by the embattled Prime Minister Theresa May agreed on Tuesday to allow Huawei access to noncore parts of the 5G system, but block it from all core parts where data is exchanged.

The report triggered fury among senior Tory MPs who urged May to investigate which member of her senior team leaked the conclusions of that confidential meeting and if the Official Secrets Act had been breached.

An official government announcement on Huawei is not due until next month, although the technical review has been completed.

“What I see playing out here is a discussion among all of us about the realities of where do you define sensitive networks. Where does that start and end?” Rob Joyce, senior cybersecurity adviser to the US National Security Agency told a UK government-sponsored summit in Glasgow on Wednesday.

The heads of the international Five Eyes intelligence-sharing agencies from Britain, US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand were meeting on UK soil for the first time to discuss ways to combat cyber-crime and terrorism.


“You will see us united and linked, that those most sensitive networks … won’t have those technologies from those countries that pose a threat to us whether its China and Huawei or others,” Joyce added.

But he also warned the UK against giving Huawei a “loaded gun”.

“What we will be insistent on is UK decisions can’t put our information at risk, but the good news is that the UK already understands that,” Financial Times quoted him as saying.

Huawei, a leading manufacturer of equipment for next-generation 5G mobile networks, has faced resistance in some Western markets over fears Beijing could spy on communications and gain access to critical infrastructure.

Huawei denies that its equipment is vulnerable to state espionage, but “welcome reports that the UK government is moving towards allowing Huawei to help build the UK’s 5G networks”.

Australia and the US are the only two Five Eyes nations to have banned Huawei from its 5G networks. Canada and New Zealand are considering how to handle the security risk and could now take their lead from the UK, as could other EU member states like Germany.

British intelligence agency GCHQ has repeatedly said Huawei needs to be closely monitored but has not called for a ban.

“There have been different approaches across the Five Eyes and across the allied wider Western alliance towards Huawei and towards other issues as well,” Ciaran Martin, the head of GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC)
told BBC radio.“The review that the secretary of state will announce in due course is about much more than just Huawei, much more than about China, it’s about the fundamentals of how to keep these networks safe from any attacker.”

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But while the Five Eyes put on a united front, probably out of concern not to embarrass the host country, at least four UK government ministers including the Home Secretary Sajid Javid were reported to be unhappy with the decision to give Huawei a role in Britain’s 5G infrastructure.

He was at the National Security Council meeting, as was Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.

“If we allow a company that others don’t trust to operate the critical infrastructure on which so much of our communication relies that does undermine the trust of our partners in our own ability to keep secrets,” Tom Tugendhat, Chairman of the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee told Sky TV.

Other Conservative politicians asked how the National Security Council could not even be trusted to keep its own secrets.

Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames went as far as to call for a criminal inquiry saying the leak will “cause our friends and allies to wonder if we can be considered reliable – whoever is responsible should be dismissed [from] the queen’s service”.

As May struggles to get parliamentary approval for her withdrawal agreement from the European Union, her Conservative Party is beset by power struggles.

If the Brexit deal is not approved before May 22, the Conservatives face a punishing electoral defeat in the European Parliament elections as well losses in local elections on May 2.

The leak about Huawei could have been made in attempt to undermine her authority just as one of her closets allies, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, heads to Beijing for the Belt and Road Forum
.“It’s always dangerous to comment on a leak – and it’s an interesting thought that the NSC doesn’t usually leak; this issue is becoming politicised in a way which many of the NSC’s decisions do not,” Malcolm Taylor, a former senior British intelligence officer who now works for the network security consultancy ITC Secure, said in a statement.

He said however that if The Telegraph story proved correct, it would be “further evidence that the UK is taking a pragmatic, risk-based approach to 5G and Huawei”. “Controlled integration of Huawei into non core elements of the network will provide the best outcome for telcos and end users, whilst engaging Chinese technology which works well and is cost effective.

“I find it very hard to argue with that approach.”

Additional reporting by Bloomberg, The Guardian and Agence France-Presse.