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Government denies claims former CIO John Suffolk will be hauled before MI6 for joining Chinese firm

Kathleen Hall

The Cabinet Office has denied claims in the Daily Mail that former government CIO John Suffolk is to be grilled by MI5 and MI6, after Suffolk announced he is to take up the position of security chief at Chinese telecoms firm Huawei.

But Suffolk must seek advice from security authorities about any risks to the confidentiality of communications which might be of concern to those authorities. This must happen before his appointment commences later this year, said the Cabinet Office.

Suffolk received a slap on the wrist from the Cabinet Office after announcing the move but failing to mention all of the government conditions attached to its approval.

A Cabinet Office spokesman was keen to stress that an "unprecedented" number of conditions had been made before the government gave him the green light to accept the Huawei job.

Suffolk later gave a sardonic apology and posted an extract on his blog from the government letter following the prime minister's approval. "I would not wish to be party to the Cabinet Office getting a reputation for opaqueness, being economical with the truth or avoiding answering FOI [Freedom of Information] requests," he said.

But Suffolk said he agreed with the appointments commission process: "It is right that when former officials leave service before they join a new organisation it is validated that the role has been given on merit and not on past official dealings."

Suffolk added that he undertook no procurements with Huawei during his seven years in government, or had any commercial information on its competitors. "I led the transparency agenda on technology - so there was no advanced policy information either," he said.

The government's security concerns come after US intelligence agencies reported they suspect equipment from Huawei contains secret backdoors in the software that could let Chinese intelligence services read the traffic or take down critical national infrastructure networks. Huawei has always denied these claims.

The full list of conditions from the Cabinet Office on Suffolk's appointment:

  • Waiting for six months before taking his appointment .
  • No advice or dealings with any work relating to the UK government for two years - this includes advising other companies, internal advice and working on any bid or contract.
  • For two years, he should undertake no lobbying and have no contact with any government employees for the purpose of recruiting their services, on behalf of his new employer or any company associated with it.
  • He cannot imply HM government endorsement of any of his new employer's products or services in any dealings he has with other companies or organisations.
  • He would not draw on any privileged information that was available to him as a civil servant.
  • John Suffolk must seek advice from security authorities about any risks to the confidentiality of communications which might be of concern to those authorities.

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