Letting Huawei build our 5G network is like handing your front door key to a stranger
That’s the chilling warning of security expert EDWARD LUCAS
WOULD you hand over a room in your house to strangers, giving them door keys, with no guarantee of their motives or behaviour?
Of course you wouldn’t! You might even call it ‘madness’.
Certainly, ‘madness’ is the blunt verdict of the United States, our closest ally, as Britain considers whether to entrust its most important electronic infrastructure — the new 5G phone network — to Huawei, a Chinese firm with close ties to that country’s Communist Party.
Senior U.S. officials have provided the Government with a dossier of new allegations against Huawei, while a team of American experts arrived this week in a last-ditch effort to persuade the Prime Minister to block Huawei’s involvement here.
America, along with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Taiwan, have banned use of the company’s products with their mobile networks because of fears it could compromise national security.
Boris Johnson, however, has pooh-poohed the warnings, and dismisses fears that the UK’s vital intelligence-sharing relationship with America could be cut off if, later this month, the National Security Council decides to proceed with Huawei’s involvement.
Anyone opposing Huawei, he says, must explain what alternative they suggest.
The PM has strong backing in Whitehall. The head of MI5 no less, Sir Andrew Parker, has said he sees no reason why using Huawei technology should damage Britain’s ties with America.
The arguments for adopting Huawei’s technology are tempting. The next big leap in technology is the ‘Internet of Things’.
It merges the ubiquity of mobile phone signals with the data flows of the internet, offering a revolution in cost, convenience and adaptability.
Imagine household devices that warn you if they need servicing or are about to wear out before they stop working. Pedestrian crossings that alter their timing according to the number of people waiting.
Cars that park themselves, book services, and communicate with other vehicles to avoid collisions.
This will all be made possible because of 5G — the fifth generation of mobile-phone technology.
For readers with a technical bent, the first generation was the most basic mobile phones. Each one since has had greater ability to send, receive and process data, much of it valuable.
Other European countries seem bent on allowing Huawei to sell them the 5G products that could help shape our economy and daily life for a generation. So why shouldn’t we follow suit?
There is no doubt countries that move most quickly to the Internet of Things and roll out 5G devices and systems will have an advantage.
Their businesses will sustain lower costs. Innovative technologies will flourish. Investment, jobs and wages will rise.
And as the leading provider of 5G equipment and services, Huawei — the world’s largest provider of telecommunications equipment — stands to profit on an enormous scale while exerting its influence into every aspect of our lives.
Since Huawei exploded on to the world stage over the past decade, it has run rings round Western competitors.
Its products are cheap, upto-date and effective. Many readers will have come across its phones, such as the P30. But the company also produces the less visible systems, software and hardware that make mobile networks function.
There is a catch, however. On the surface Huawei is just another company and strenuously denies it is under the influence or control of the Chinese state.
Yet an investigation into the company’s structure and values by The New York Times concluded ‘its soul is steeped in Communist Party culture’.
‘We’ll strive for the realisation of Communism until the end of our lives,’ said its founder Ren Zhengfei, a former military intelligence officer. He founded the company 32 years ago with a few thousand pounds of borrowed money.
Last year its sales reached £100 billion — nearly a fifth up on 2018. Critics wonder if its success is due solely to the brains and hard work of its staff, or if it has also enjoyed help from Chinese authorities.
For years, Britain has dodged the question of whether to allow Huawei into our telecommunications infrastructure.
In Banbury, Oxfordshire, an outstation of GCHQ, the Government’s intelligence and communications headquarters, is examining the company’s products in order to see if they contain secret capabilities that could be used for sabotage or espionage. The boffins from our electronic spy agency have found nothing malign. That presumably is the basis for the MI5 director’s loyal support for the current Government line which itself stems from a view to profitable trade deals with China in a post-Brexit world.
But British experts have repeatedly complained about sloppiness in Huawei’s procedures. Documentation is incomplete or confusing. It is hard to work out how software is written or the way devices are designed.
Modern technology is so complex that ruling out any possibility of mischief is like certifying that a haystack contains no needles.
So the real question is not what Huawei does now, but what it might do in the future.
Technology allows it to update its products remotely — in effect, the company will indeed have a room in our house over which we have no control.
The key point to remember is that all Chinese companies are mandated by law to help the country’s intelligence and security services — in secret.
Huawei’s managers may want to do nothing more than raise their colossal sales. But by trusting Huawei we are also trusting the Chinese Communist regime, with its record of brutality, mischief and mendacity.
At home the Chinese authorities use a sinister combination of surveillance capabilities to create a Big Brother state far worse than anything George Orwell conceived in his novel 1984.
And already we are seeing signs of Chinese security agencies collecting data on people outside the country — to stifle dissent, harass critics and find targets who could help their influence abroad. If the regime in Beijing chooses to step up that effort, Huawei, willingly or not, will be an accomplice.
By letting Huawei in, we admit a potentially hostile power into our midst.
The Prime Minister likes to quote — in ancient Greek — Homer’s Iliad about the Trojan war. Well can I suggest that he refreshes his memory on the matter of the Trojan Horse during that war?
It was the trap which doomed Troy. The Greeks, pretended to give up their siege of the city, leaving a huge wooden trophy — apparently as a gift.
The Trojans wheeled the horse into their city, not realising an elite force of Greek soldiers were hidden inside. The result was disaster.
Modern technology would seem like magic to the inhabitants of the ancient world, just as their beliefs seem like superstition to us.
But the question facing Britain is simple. Do we put convenience and modernity ahead of security?
Or, to put it another way, could the gift of Huawei’s 5G technology turn out to be our Trojan Horse?
In short, our freedom and security are at stake in the decision over Huawei. We should choose these values over the superficial promise of short term gain.
Mr Johnson should remember another line — this time in Latin — from Virgil, describing the fall of Troy: Timeo Danaos
et dona ferentes. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Only this time it’s the Chinese.