Huawei Fallout: UK Defence Minister Sacked Over Leak

The surprising U.K. government position which we referenced in our prior piece on Huawei being a national security proxy for China wasn’t supposed to have been public knowledge. The information concerning the April 23 government meeting was, according to Prime Minister Theresa May, to be closely held and not for public consumption.

The leaked information indicated that Huawei would be allowed to provide basic infrastructure support to the 5G buildout in the UK. We wrote, “… on April 24, the U.K. surprised all with change in economic diplomacy, approving Huawei to be a part of the U.K.’s 5G network buildout. However, Huawei’s participation was restricted to ‘noncore’ portions of the network. While not explicitly defined, it is expected that this will be similar to the level of participation which they currently enjoys within the U.K.’s 4G network.”

UK Defence Minister Sacked

Within the week, repercussions began to be felt across the government, specifically within the Ministry of Defence, which saw the sacking of defence secretary, Gavin Williamson. May noted she had “compelling evidence” that he was responsible and that she “lost confidence in his ability to serve.” While many fingers are pointing at Williamson, according to the BBC, he has strenuously denied that he is the source of the leak.

The leak hasn’t propelled the U.K. to officially state its position regarding including Huawei in its 5G network, and the prime minister noted publicly, “A final decision will be made at end of spring.” Huawei denies that including its gear in the U.K.’s 5G network presents a national security threat.

Huawei Backdoors Vodaphone

In the midst of the above political imbroglio, it was reported by Bloomberg that Vodaphone found backdoors in Huawei equipment installed in Italy. Specifically, in 2011 to 2012, Huawei’s software provided it with the ability to affect unauthorized access to “Vodaphone’s fixed-line network in Italy,” according to the article. Vodaphone’s attempt to remediate involved multiple requests to Huawei to remove the backdoors, to be assured they had been removed only to be subsequently rediscovered. Vodaphone noted that the backdoor issue was finally resolved to the company’s satisfaction, which was evidenced by Vodaphone’s continued awarding of contracts to Huawei and Vodaphone’s CEO, Nick Read, publicly opposing any bans on Huawei 5G, citing costs and delays. Noteworthy is the lack of mention of the real or perceived security risks posed by Huawei.

U.S. Prepares to Ban Huawei

That said, the United States is moving forward, seemingly in high gear, to exclude Huawei from any U.S. carrier’s networks. A Reuters report from May 15 indicated President Trump will be issuing an Executive Order to bar any U.S. companies from “using telecommunications equipment made by firms posing a national security risk.”

Such an Executive Order would effectively ban Huawei, which has been identified as a national security threat by the U.S intelligence community. Indeed, the company’s CFO is currently under indictment and in Canada awaiting resolution of an extradition hearing to face prosecution in the United States.

T-Mobile sued the Chinese equipment provider for theft of intellectual property. Following the civil trial, the U.S. Department of Justice took Huawei to task, noting Huawei’s internal program that rewarded employees who acquired intellectual property of others that advanced the company’s R&D efforts.

Additionally, the FBI identified Huawei s having engaged in a reverse engineering effort of advanced diamond glass technologies, demonstrating what an unscrupulous customer the company is to its vendors.

Huawei’s presence in national networks may impinge intelligence-sharing between the U.S. and other countries as nations stake out their positions on whether the company is a proxy for the Chinese intelligence apparatus. Fallout to other areas of bilateral cooperation remains can be expected.

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Christopher Burgess

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is a writer, speaker and commentator on security issues. He is a former Senior Security Advisor to Cisco and served 30+ years within the CIA which awarded him the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal upon his retirement. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century”. He also founded the non-profit: Senior Online Safety.

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