US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien warned the UK government that any decision to allow China’s tech giant Huawei to participate in the country’s 5G technology rollout would risk providing Beijing with access to the personal information of British citizens, as well as permit the Communist Party to “steal” its national intelligence secrets. The comments were made to the Financial Times amid the ongoing discussion within Boris Johnson's government of whether to ban the leading fifth-generation technology provider from being part of the UK’s 5G networks.
“They are just going to steal wholesale state secrets, whether they are the UK’s nuclear secrets or secrets from MI6 or MI5”, O’Brien reportedly said, referring to Britain’s intelligence services. “It is somewhat shocking to us that folks in the UK would look at Huawei as some sort of a commercial decision. 5G is a national security decision.”
The official also suggested that Beijing would also be able to “micro-target” individuals in order to get access to their personal data.
“If you get all the information on a person and then you get their genome, and you marry those two things up, and you have an authoritarian state wielding that information, that is an incredible amount of power”, O’Brien explained to the Financial Times. “Why the UK would sign up for such a programme is astonishing.”
Washington has long been urging its European partners to exclude Huawei from participating in national 5G rollouts, citing security concerns amid accusations that the company allegedly spies on behalf of the Chinese government, something that has been strongly denied both by Beijing and Huawei executives. The US blacklisted Huawei and 68 of its subsidiaries from doing business with American companies this May, but many US partners have been reluctant to follow its lead, including Germany and France. During the interview, O’Brien also heavily criticised German Chancellor Angela Merkel for defending her position not to ban Huawei, despite some recent vocal opposition from within her own party.
UK has not been too eager to ban the telecoms giant from its 5G networks despite pressure from the Trump administration, but the option still remains on the table, especially due to London’s membership in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance which also comprises Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US. According to reports, Washington has previously warned Britain that its inclusion of Huawei in build-up of its 5G infrastructure would potentially limit intelligence sharing between the partners.
In July, Huawei’s UK office warned that excluding the company from Britain’s 5G infrastructure build-up would cost its national economy about $8.7 billion and result in more expensive 5G networks, while also raising prices for general users.