Leak of meeting to decide Huawei’s UK 5G network fate causes fury

Politicians and security agencies have expressed fury over the leak of a sensitive meeting to decide if the UK should allow Huawei in national 5G networks.

Leaked information from a National Security Council (NSC) meeting appeared in the press on Wednesday just a day after it was held. Prime Minister Theresa May was in attendance to discuss if Huawei poses a substantial risk with security chiefs.

Jon Trickett, Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, said:

“This Tory government has once again proved incapable of coming together to protect the public interest.

Critical issues of national security should be handled with utmost care, not used as political ammunition in a Tory Party civil war.

The government should launch a full investigation to get to the bottom of these leaks, otherwise it risks further extinguishing what little authority it has left.”

British allies such as the US and Australia have banned Huawei from official networks citing national security concerns. They believe Huawei is controlled by Beijing and would be forced to conduct espionage upon request.

Conservative grandee Sir Nicholas Soames told the BBC the leak would “cause our friends and allies to wonder if we can be considered reliable”.

As a fellow ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence partner, the US and Australia have been pressuring the UK to ban Huawei. Canada, another partner, intends to allow Huawei but under strict review similar to current 4G networks.

Rob Joyce, a senior adviser at the US National Security Agency, told the Financial Times: “What we will be insistent on is UK decisions can’t put our information at risk but the good news is that the UK already understands that.”

The leak of the NSC meeting indicates the UK will allow Huawei to help build “non-core” parts of national 5G networks in a similar stance as Canada.

Huawei's previous generation equipment in the UK today is checked for backdoors by security experts at the dedicated HCSEC (Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre) in Banbury.

HCSEC issues annual reports with its assessment of the company. Until last year, the centre only found minor issues but could offer assurance that risks could be successfully mitigated. Concerns with Huawei's engineering processes resulted in HCSEC feeling it could no longer offer this assurance.

A Canadian intelligence official argued last year that excluding Huawei from networks would increase the security risk. Using a myriad of vendors ensures that if the equipment of one is compromised then it represents less of the overall network.

Mrs May's effective deputy David Liddington said that no decision about Huawei has been made but a government review aims to increase “resilience and critically diversity in the entire supply chain”.

He added that “legally speaking [Huawei] is a private company not a government-owned company”.

A criminal investigation to determine who leaked the information has not been ruled out.

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