UK Fears Huawei Spying For China At Cyber Security Evaluation Centre
Friday, July 19, 2013 - by Seth Colaner
The U.S. government has stated that it’s concerned about China-based Huawei and its ties to the Chinese government and military, and the UK shares that concern. After Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) issued a report stating that a great deal more oversight was needed regarding foreign involvement in the country’s Critical National Infrastructure (CNI), the UK is now investigating the role of Huawei staff at the Cyber Security Evaluations Centre (aka the “Cell”) in Banbury, Oxfordshire.
The Cell’s job is to “test all updates to Huawei’s hardware and software for high-risk components before they are deployed on UK networks”. However, Huawei funds the Cell--entirely. But the concern remains that although its staff is largely security-cleared UK personnel, Huawei is partially controlled by the Chinese government, and the workers are in turn partially controlled by Huawei. It’s not a huge leap to see that if the aforementioned is true, there’s a national security problem to address.
Huawei’s CEO, Ren Zhengfei (pictured, credit: AP via BBC) is a former officer of the People’s Liberation Army, which makes many governments uneasy, and Huawei is the second-largest telecom in the world, supplying services to the UK and many other places. The ISC is concerned that Huawei’s interest in the UK is more political than commercial.
Huawei says that this is not true, and to the point about it being connected or controlled by the Chinese government, Huawei says that it’s 98.6% owned by its employees. Cathy Meng, daughter of Zhengfei, is the company’s CFO and pledged additional transparency and openness.
Is this shrewd national security action on the UK’s part, or is it paranoia? (Or worse, xenophobia?) It’s difficult to say. However, it is worth noting that Huawei entered into a contract in the UK in 2005, and those issuing the contract didn’t inform the Ministers until a year after the deal was done. The ISC report says that this was an oversight that revealed “a disconnect between the UK’s inward investment policy and its national security policy”. In other words, it was a lucrative business deal, but it gave a foreign (and somewhat untrusted) entity access to the UK’s CNI without the government’s input.
If nothing else, it certainly makes sense for the government of any nation to have some say in any dealings that would allow a foreign company with any suspected ties to its foreign government access to its national security infrastructure.