MI5 Shrugs Off US Huawei Warnings

MI5 Shrugs Off US Huawei Warnings

The head of the MI5, Sir Andrew Parker, has told British media he is confident that US intelligence sharing with the UK will not be affected if Britain adopts Huawei technology in future 5G mobile phone networks. 

Over the weekend, Parker said he has “no reason to think” that Britain’s current diplomatic relationship with the US, which includes extensive intelligence-sharing operations, would be negatively impacted by a decision to allow Chinese technology to be utilised in UK’s 5G network roll-out. 

His comments come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is set to face last-minute lobbying by Washington’s National Economic Council and National Security Agency in London today. The US has previously warned that the adoption of Chinese technology in British 5G networks could undermine current intelligence sharing efforts. 

In fact, Washington has long been vocal about the security risks posed by a Chinese-led 5G roll-out, whether in the UK or elsewhere. The global adoption of 5G via Chinese technology, the theory goes, risks giving Beijing access to sensitive corporate and personal data from all over the world, let alone possible kill switches that could be used to cripple the West during a conflict. 

“[The US Federal Communications Commission] cannot ignore the risk that the Chinese government will seek to exploit network vulnerabilities in order to engage in espionage, insert malware and viruses, and otherwise compromise our critical communications networks,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told a federal commission last year. 

US opposition to China’s dominance in the 5G market takes specific aim at corporate giants Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp. Both companies have typically opaque ownership structures and close ties to Beijing’s authoritarian leaders, while Chinese National Intelligence Law requires all organisations to “support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work.” This includes handing over 5G data, if Beijing so demands. 

Accordingly, US President Trump signed an executive order last May that declared a national emergency and barred all domestic firms from using telecommunications equipment sold by firms that “posed a national security risk.” In December, the House of Representatives passed a bill barring the government from buying Huawei-made equipment. 

At the same time, China has been putting pressure on Britain’s Johnson- already keen to stay in Beijing’s good books- not to do anything that might put bilateral ties at risk. Johnson’s next moves will no doubt be used as an indicator as to how the British leader plans to guide the post-Brexit British ship.

For the time being, all four mobile networks in the UK have launched 5G services, with Vodafone, BT, Three and EE all utilising Huawei level at the “non-core level,” namely base stations and antennas. “Core” network operations, where customer details are kept and through which calls are routed, so far remains off limits to Chinese technology. 

The Johnson administration is reportedly set to review the issue, and make a decision, by the end of this month. 

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