The FIVE EYES signals intelligence alliance between the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand is partially blinded over deteriorating relations between the United States and the other four members of the intelligence sharing pact. The fraying of the alliance is predominantly the result of a hardline stance being taken by the Trump administration against the Chinese telecom giant Huawei. Chief instigators of the aggressive policy include Trump, trade adviser Peter Navarro, Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and National Security Agency director General Paul Nakasone.
The December 11, 2018, arrest by Canadian authorities in Vancouver of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant has damaged relations between U.S. and Canadian intelligence. Meng, currently restricted to house arrest while on bail, is the daughter of Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei. Meng has been charged by the Trump Justice Department with violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. Trump’s public statements have indicated that he sees Meng as a U.S. hostage and a bargaining chip in U.S. trade negotiations with China.
In a wider intelligence context, the Trump administration, acting through NSA and the Pentagon, is viewed as being behind former British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson’s alleged leak of UK National Security Council information on the British government’s deliberations on the involvement of Huawei in the development of Britain’s 5G—fifth generation—mobile telecommunications network. Details of the 10-member council’s debate on Huawei and 5G were leaked to the media and that resulted in Prime Minister Theresa May firing Williamson.
Williamson had replaced Michael Fallon as Defense Secretary in 2017. Fallon resigned after a sexual harassment scandal became public.
On one side of the intra-governmental debate was Williamson, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) director Jeremy Fleming, Home Secretary Sajid Javid (who controls the Security Service (MI5)), Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt (who controls the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)), and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox. These and a few other ministers advocated no role for Huawei in Britain’s 5G network. On the other side, favoring partial use of Huawei offerings in “non-core” segments of Britain’s 5G network were the prime minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond. But Williamson, wanting no involvement of Huawei with Britain’s telecom providers, reportedly leaked the details of the deliberations to the press. Huawei already provides components in Britain’s 4G network.
Opposition Labor and Liberal Democratic politicians have called for Williamson, a noted pro-Brexit Tory, to be prosecuted for violating the Official Secrets Act. Also calling for a criminal investigation of Williamson was Tory MP Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill. Referring to Brexiteers like Williamson, in 2016 Soames compared those pushing for British withdrawal from the European Union to “a growling Alsatian that must be kicked really hard in the balls.”
The Williamson leak resulted in Cabinet Secretary and unofficial national security adviser Sir Mark Sedwill urging May to fire Williamson. Using language familiar to Americans, Williamson charged that he was the victim of a “witch hunt.” He added that Sedwill and May presided over a “kangaroo court” in his sacking. The firing and public humiliation of Williamson had not been seen in the Defense portfolio since June 1963, when War Secretary John Profumo resigned after his exposure in an affair with topless dancer Christine Keeler. That event helped bring down the government of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.
NSA and GCHQ, along with the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) of Canada, have implemented an aggressive signals intelligence operation against Huawei. Code-named SHOTGIANT, the operation has managed to penetrate and copy the proprietary software code of Huawei products. What has the FIVE EYES most worried is an ability to tap into the communications of Huawei’s 5G products and the presence of Chinese intelligence trap doors and Trojan horses designed to capture sensitive information from 5G users.
Not all intelligence officials in FIVE EYES favor a total ban on Huawei. Some argue for a “controlled integration of Huawei,” but only into, as what May favored, “non-core” 5G network segments. This approach balances cost-effectiveness with security and is the approach favored by May.
In February, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that the United States would refuse to share information with countries that used any Huawei technology in their telecommunications networks and infrastructure systems. That statement resulted in British and Canadian intelligence agencies worried that they would be cut off from FIVE EYES and other allied intelligence sharing networks. The result was Williamson leaking May’s willingness to use Huawei technology in “non-core” segments of Britain’s 5G network.
Canada’s intelligence establishment, acting under U.S. pressure, has leaned on two leading Canadian telecom providers, Telus and Bell Canada, to abandon their 5G relationship with Huawei, costing the two firms millions of dollars in developmental costs. Australian and New Zealand intelligence agencies have also sought limitations on Huawei in their countries. The New Zealand government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has not made a commitment on banning Huawei 5G from its future network.
The telecommunications trade war between the U.S. and China has been eclipsed by the wider tariff war over consumer products and raw materials. Australia has banned Huawei and another Chinese telecom firm, ZTE, from its 5G infrastructure. Japan has also imposed a ban on Huawei in its 5G development program. Thailand and the Philippines are suspicious about U.S. espionage claims about Huawei and they have rejected Washington’s pressure to sever links with the Chinese firm.
The Trump administration is waging a propaganda war against China’s One Belt One Road Initiative, of which Huawei’s 5G is an attractive offering to countries like the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, and others in the Middle East, Africa, and even in Europe. Italy and Hungary are strong promoters of the One Belt One Road Initiative, a personal pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).