Huawei leak inquiry launched

Cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill has instituted an inquiry aimed at discovering who leaked confidential discussions about UK mobile operators’ use of Huawei in their future 5G networks to the press

A formal inquiry is being set up to uncover which government minister was responsible for leaking the outcome of the National Security Council’s (NSC’s) discussions on the subject of whether or not networking and telecoms equipment made by Chinese supplier Huawei should be cleared for use in the UK’s 5G networks.

The leak to the Daily Telegraph’s deputy political editor Steven Swinford alleged that prime minister Theresa May had taken the decision to approve the use of Huawei equipment in non-core parts of 5G networks, despite objections from some of her most senior ministers.

The NSC exists as a closed door forum in which the security services – GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 – are able to share information with ministers, bound by the Official Secrets Act.

On 25 April, Labour’s Jo Platt used an urgent question in the Commons to call for the resignation or removal of whoever leaked the information to the Daily Telegraph. She was backed by MPs from across the political spectrum, including former shadow defence secretary Nicholas Soames.

Responding to these questions, culture secretary Jeremy Wright told the Commons that Britain’s intelligence agencies needed to feel they were able to advise ministers on issues pertaining to national security in complete confidence.

“If they do not feel that, they will not give us that advice and government will be worse as a result. That is why this is serious and that is why the government intends to treat it seriously,” he said.

Wright told MPs that in light of the leak, the government could not rule out a criminal investigation.

Sedwill, who is also a national security advisor, has now written to all the ministers on the NSC, as well as their advisors, to establish the leak’s source.

This would include defence secretary Gavin Williamson, home secretary Sajid Javid, international development secretary Penny Mordaunt and international trade secretary Liam Fox, all of whom are against the use of Huawei in 5G networks and all of whom have already publicly denied any involvement.

Besides the prime minister and the culture secretary, ministers thought to be broadly in favour of Huawei include business secretary Greg Clark, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington, and chancellor Philip Hammond.

In an opinion article, the Daily Telegraph said that it had published its original article in the public interest, and that even though the government would no doubt have preferred to inform the public of the final decision on Huawei in its own time, “thwarted PR opportunities” did not mean the government was justified in setting up a “heavy-handed or even criminal” inquiry which risked damaging the freedom of the press.

Core distinction not relevant?

The use, or not, of Huawei’s equipment in non-core parts of 5G networks – meaning passive network elements, such as antennas, that transmit data but do not read it – has become a source of controversy within the government.

Because of the nature of 5G, which will very likely see much more core network functionality likely to be pushed to the network edge to facilitate use cases such as pervasive industrial internet of things (IoT) deployments or autonomous vehicles, some have argued that the distinction between core and non-core parts of the network is not as relevant as compared to 4G networks.

This was a view expressed by Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugendhat, who also said that allowing British operators to use Huawei equipment could “cause allies to doubt our ability to keep data secure and erode the trust essential to Five Eyes cooperation”.

The US government has already warned that countries that do allow Huawei equipment to be used in their 5G networks may find Washington less inclined to collaborate with them on intelligence sharing.

Read more about the Huawei affair

April 2019

  • Culture secretary tells MPs that a final decision on use of Huawei in UK 5G networks has not been taken, and says government is taking the leak of confidential discussions at the National Security Council very seriously.
  • The Cabinet Office has used an NCSC conference to lay out government’s approach to the security of 5G networks, as controversy grows around using equipment from Huawei.
  • The UK’s National Security Council has approved the use of Huawei’s networking equipment in parts of the country’s 5G mobile networks in spite of widespread opposition.
  • John Suffolk, global cyber security and privacy officer at Huawei, tells Huawei Analyst Summit growth is the best answer to US criticism.
  • Troubles continue for Huawei as new bans and government reports put security into question, but the company is attempting to fight back against the criticism.
  • If the UK government decides to impose tighter restrictions, or an outright ban on the use of Huawei in national 5G networks, the country faces severe consequences, according to a report.
  • Huawei has become one of the world’s largest technology companies by revenue, suggesting the accusations over its ties to the Chinese government are failing to have much impact.

March 2019

February 2019

January 2019

December 2018

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