DAVID DAVIS: Huawei deal is biggest blunder since MI6 hired Philby

DAVID DAVIS: Huawei deal is the most devastating security blunder since MI6 hired Philby, Blunt and Burgess

Allowing the Chinese firm Huawei to provide parts of our new national telecoms network is the worst intelligence decision since MI6’s recruitment of Kim Philby. 

In fact, given our future dependence on so-called ‘fifth generation’ or 5G technology, this failure is worse than Philby and his fellow spies, Burgess, Maclean, Cairncross and Blunt, all rolled into one.

Our most important intelligence allies are furious. Donald Trump’s chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was in Downing Street last week to try to change the Government’s mind – and no wonder.

Boris Johnson should reverse his decision on Huawei. The Chinese must have nothing to do with our 5G networks. Then, he should grasp the nettle and seize the leadership of the Five Eyes on resolving this problem

Offering greater capacity and high reliability, 5G will be up to 100 times faster than our current networks. 

It will help create new industries, new products and trillions of pounds worth of added value in the world economy.

In short, it will revolutionise the way we live. Our media and entertainment, our social networks and our games will all be provided by these new fast channels.

More significantly, they will be essential to our electricity and water supplies, our credit systems, our GP surgeries and hospitals, traffic lights, cars and even our access to emergency services.

Huawei spends almost £11.5billion a year on research, and has 80,000 researchers, so it is not hard to guess who will win the arms race of deception that will follow. One of the tech company’s offices is pictured above in Reading

It goes without saying that anybody who can interfere in our 5G networks can cause mayhem, seizing control of, say, dams, air traffic control and electricity generators. Or they could paralyse the internet, bringing the nation to a halt.

The damage could range from traffic jams to mass fatalities – and that is quite aside from the capacity for espionage.

Some people suggest we should discount America’s fears because, they say, Donald Trump is parti pris, that he is engaged in a geostrategic struggle with the Chinese for trade and influence.

Allowing the Chinese firm Huawei to provide parts of our new national telecoms network is the worst intelligence decision since MI6’s recruitment of Kim Philby, who is pictured above.

But allies including Canada, Australia and New Zealand are concerned, too, and you cannot say the same applies to them. 

The Australians depend more than any other developed country on Chinese markets for their exports, yet in 2018 they took the brave decision to exclude Huawei from their 5G system because they view China as a threat to their future security.

They understand their Chinese neighbours rather better than we do.

China has spied aggressively on Western states for decades, stealing military and technological secrets on an industrial scale.

Only two weeks ago, the United States Department of Justice released documents describing an attack by the 54th Research Institute of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army on an American consumer credit reporting company, Equifax.

According to the US, four members of this unit exploited security weaknesses to steal the personal records of 150 million American, Canadian, and British citizens. 

Why would the Chinese government steal the credit ratings and financial records of 150 million people?

The only explanation is that this was a trawl for people who are under financial pressure and could be susceptible to bribery or blackmail.

Do we really want to expose more British citizens to this sort of intrusion and criminality?

Huawei argues that it is not the same as the Chinese State, yet no sizeable Chinese company is ever truly independent of the Communist Party. 

In 2017, China passed a law requiring all Chinese companies to take instruction from its intelligence agencies. Huawei has no choice but to do as it is told.

Some people suggest we should discount America’s fears because, they say, Donald Trump is parti pris, that he is engaged in a geostrategic struggle with the Chinese for trade and influence. But allies including Canada, Australia and New Zealand are concerned, too, and you cannot say the same applies to them

After inspecting Huawei equipment, our Government claims there are no ‘backdoors’ that would allow covert surveillance, yet it was only two weeks ago that the US national security adviser said that they have ‘evidence that [Huawei] wireless networks around the world have been compromised with access points’. 

It might seem embarrassing, then, that our Government was in fact aware of this some time ago.

In a quite staggering admission, British inspectors have now claimed that the security weaknesses apparent in the Huawei software and hardware are down to no more than ‘bad engineering’.

What’s more concerning still is that once the 5G system is operational, there will be very frequent updates to the software, and every new update will itself carry the risk of new access points.

Huawei spends almost £11.5billion a year on research, and has 80,000 researchers, so it is not hard to guess who will win the arms race of deception that will follow.

It is easy to see how we got into this invidious position. Huawei’s strategy was simple: it offered Britain impossibly cheap equipment and zero cost, long-term credit. 

And that, in turn, led to a heavy dependence on the network which, reinforced by lobbying from the providers most dependent on Huawei (BT and Vodafone), is why Government officials are too embarrassed to recommend a change of course today.

It is claimed that eliminating Huawei would cost hundreds of millions and put back 5G by two years.

Yet, even if that were the case, it would be worth it. Do we really want to jeopardise our national security for less than one per cent of the cost of HS2?

The Government says that Huawei technology is superior, but that is not true.

It is the Swedish company Ericsson that holds the world record on speed of 5G transmission.

Huawei, Ericsson (Swedish), Nokia (Finnish) and Samsung (South Korean), are broadly on a par. Australia is already rolling out 5G using technology from Ericsson and Nokia.

And the fastest 5G networks in the world? They are in the US, with no input from the Chinese.

It goes without saying that anybody who can interfere in our 5G networks can cause mayhem, seizing control of, say, dams, air traffic control and electricity generators. Or they could paralyse the internet, bringing the nation to a halt

We are at a critical juncture. If we carry on with Huawei, we risk fracturing the vital Five Eyes intelligence alliance of Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States – a sort of Nato for the digital age.

And that would be nothing short of a huge victory for our enemies.

It is a sad fact that we have let ourselves become dependent on foreign countries for significant parts of our country’s technology – and we must react accordingly.

The American Attorney General, William Barr, has suggested that America should buy a controlling stake in Nokia and Ericsson, a move unlikely to receive the approval of the Swedish or Finnish governments.

But there is little doubt that the Five Eyes nations should now take collective action to protect the networks that will underpin our future – and that starts with 5G.

Other countries are already taking action. Last week, Japan published a Bill to provide cheap loans and tax breaks to companies innovating in the field. We should take note.

But first, and as an overwhelming priority, Boris Johnson should reverse his decision on Huawei.

The Chinese must have nothing to do with our 5G networks. Then, he should grasp the nettle and seize the leadership of the Five Eyes on resolving this problem.

We can learn the biggest lesson of all from China itself which, like Russia, is looking with clear eyes at a world in which cyber warfare is a reality.

China takes these risks very seriously indeed.

It is time we did, too.

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