Former Homeland Security Chief: Change in UK prime minister should lead to change in policy on Huawei

Ben Gartside
A staff member of Huawei uses her mobile phone at the Huawei Digital Transformation Showcase in Shenzhen, China's Guangdong province on March 6, 2019. - Photo: WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)

Former secretary of state for Homeland Security Tom Ridge issued a stark warning about the threat of Huawei over 5G servers during an exclusive interview with Yahoo Finance UK.

Ridge, who was the inaugural Homeland Security chief under George Bush described exploitation by Huawei in order to ensure information makes it to the Chinese intelligence services is “virtually guaranteed.”

“To have a company obliged in their intelligence law in helping their government get information, [would mean] exploitation is virtually guaranteed. Hopefully the next Prime Minister will sit down with Five Eyes and they will persuade him risk above cost.”

Ridge continued that allowing Huawei into the UK “would alter information sharing, it would be more cumbersome. This change in government will hopefully bring about a change in policy.”

The US, as well as a number of other countries and agencies, have continually pointed out Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government as well as emphasising China’s National Intelligence Law that says organisations must “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work.”

READ MORE: Huawei expects sales drop to $100bn and smartphone sales to tank 40%

Since then, the US, Australia and New Zealand, has barred local firms from using Huawei to provide the technology for their 5G networks.

It is still unclear what Britain’s official policy is over Huawei. So much so, that a group of major UK mobile operators wrote a letter to the government’s cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill to urge Whitehall to clarify its position over Chinese tech giant Huawei.

The issue over a lack of policy has been exacerbated by the fact prime minister Theresa May will be replaced by either foreign minister Jeremy Hunt or former London mayor Boris Johnson. In April, Britain's National Security Council, chaired by May, met to discuss Huawei. They made a decision to not fully ban Huawei — blocking it from parts of the 5G network but also giving it restricted access to less sensitive parts.

However earlier this year, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, which is part of the UK government’s intelligence and security organisation GCHQ, released a report that severely criticised the Chinese company, by saying there are “significant technical issues in Huawei’s engineering processes” and its approach to software development brings “significantly increased risk to UK operators.”

The Centre also said it can provide “only limited assurance that the long-term security risks can be managed in the Huawei equipment currently deployed in the UK” and that it “can only provide limited assurance that all risks to UK national security from Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s critical networks can be sufficiently mitigated long-term.”

In February, the head of Britain’s foreign intelligence service MI6, Alex Younger warned at the Munich Security Conference against the UK using a single provider of equipment in new 5G mobile networks.

READ MORE: UK's new PM must take 5G decision on Huawei urgently - committee

Secretary Ridge also offered critique towards those who would prioritise immediate economic benefit over security.

“It may be less expensive now, it’s whether it will be in the future,” Ridge said. “Those who say 5G critical to economic development are correct, and those who say that healthcare and productivity bring promise and benefit from 5G are correct. It’s about whether it is done by allies or people who take place in industrial espionage.”

When discussing the security threat, he invoked the cross-party agreement over the issue in the US, and across the other member nations of the ‘Five Eyes’ [the intelligence sharing network between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the United States].

“Any software from China is an issue. In the US there is unanimity with US politics of Republicans and Democrats that Huawei is a security risk, and neither party is willing to be compromised,” he said. “The world is risk based and it’s about managing. End-to-end reliance on Huawei is a risk to avoid... It is one thing to get through software backdoor, and another to let them be involved in software development.”

In this photo illustration a Huawei logo seen displayed on a smart phone with United Kingdom flag displayed on a laptop screen. Photo: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Secretary Ridge was keen to impress the importance of the bilateral relationship between the UK and US, given the furore around Kim Darroch’s departure from the position of the UK’s ambassador to the US. Secretary Ridge defended Darroch’s behaviour, saying that “I thought your ambassador did what he was supposed to do, by giving an honest assessment.”

Secretary Ridge referred to himself as an anglophile, and spoke highly of the importance of the special relationship between the US and the UK.

Regarding politics in his own country, Secretary Ridge was more overtly critical. Speaking powerfully about President Donald Trump’s recent attacks on four Congresswomen, he defended their right to diverge from political norms:

“Even before Trump, these divisions between the parties and the racial tension emerged during Obama.’ That being said it has dramatically and badly been exacerbated by this president’s language and the approach he has taken, long before ‘The squad’ (Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib), like when he said there were good people in the KKK and his comments about hispanics.”

“His comments in the past couple days have not been a surprise that language divides countries. These four women have a different view as to the type of Government and policy, wildly divergent from Trump, the Republicans and much of the Democrats. No matter how divergent, these views are protected by the 1st amendment.

“Just because they are divergent does not mean they are un-American. Our 1st Amendment gives us the right to diverge. I must remind my president that these four women got elected. I regret his comments, I think they’re divisive.”