Senior lawmakers on U.S. intelligence committees are warning the Trudeau government that Chinese smartphone maker Huawei – which has turned Canada into a key research centre for next-generation mobile technology – is a national-security threat to a network of Canada’s allies.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton and Democratic Senator Mark Warner told The Globe and Mail that the Chinese telecom giant is a grave cybersecurity risk and its smartphones and equipment should not be used by Canada and other Western allies.
Of paramount concern is an all-out drive by the Chinese technology conglomerate to become a world leader in the next-wave 5G telecommunications technology, which is expected to bring near-broadband speeds to smartphones and enable such breakthrough technologies as driverless cars.
A spokesperson for Mr. Cotton, who has tabled legislation to ban the U.S. government from dealing with Huawei, said he instructed the director of the National Security Agency, Lieutenant-General Paul Nakasone, to “engage with Canadians” and other members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing community “to educate them on the threat” and keep Huawei out of their 5G networks.
Five Eyes is an intelligence-sharing network among Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and the United States.
Huawei is largely shut out of the U.S. market and Australia is currently considering blocking the Chinese national tech champion from supplying equipment to the construction of 5G telecommunications infrastructure – a move that would further frustrate the Shenzhen-based company’s ambition to be the world leader in this technology.
In Canada, a Globe and Mail investigation last month revealed that universities, governments and phone companies are helping Huawei – now the largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer in the world – to develop the ultrafast wireless technology, which it is using for hundreds of patent filings. Canadian universities are a pipeline for intellectual property that bolsters the company’s 5G market position.
Chiefs of six U.S. intelligence agencies and three former heads of Canada’s spy services recently said that Huawei is one of the world’s top cyberintelligence threats and its 5G technology could be used to conduct remote spying and maliciously modify or steal information or even shut down systems.
“Certainly this threat demonstrates the need for a concerted, co-ordinated response among allies,” Mr. Warner said in a statement to The Globe. “The significant U.S. presence – government, corporate and citizen – in Canada, and the vulnerabilities telecom equipment and infrastructure can present, should underscore that concern, as does China’s use of coercion, forced co-operation and co-option to acquire sensitive technologies.”
Mr. Nakasone, who heads the U.S. signals intelligence agency, told the Senate intelligence committee that he would not use Huawei products because the company answers to the ruling Communist Party. Article 7 of China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law says that Chinese companies must “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work, and guard the secrecy of national intelligence work they are aware of.”
Two senior members of the intelligence committee in the House of Representatives – ranking Democrat Adam Schiff and Republican Mike Conaway – said national-security concerns should raise alarm bells in any country where Huawei products are sold and could compromise Five Eyes intelligence.
“Given the integration of the U.S. and Canadian economies, Huawei equipment used in Canada is likely to affect both our countries – to our detriment,” Mr. Schiff told The Globe.
Mr. Conaway said: “Huawei poses a serious national-security threat to U.S. government communications. Because of the high level of intelligence sharing between Five Eyes countries, I have concerns that the presence of Huawei in any of these countries could present a significant risk to our co-ordination, and ultimately, U.S. national security as a result.”
Despite these concerns, all major Canadian telecom carriers are now heavily promoting Huawei’s latest smartphone, and Canadian universities have defended the work they do with Huawei, saying they haven’t been told by Canada’s national-security agencies to avoid producing R&D for the Chinese behemoth.
Michael Wessel, a commissioner on the U.S.-China Economic Security Commission, a watchdog that reports to Congress, said Huawei has “dramatically expanded” its relationships with universities around the world, hoping to harvest the best research.
“Huawei’s involvement with Canadian universities raises serious questions as well in light of the strong relationship between U.S. and Canadian technology and telecommunications firms, the integrated nature of our technology infrastructure and the cutting-edge research being done in Canada,” Mr. Wessel said.
“Canada, through its recent rejection of the purchase of Aecon by a Chinese state-owned entry, has shown an increasing sensitivity to Chinese security threats and should act, as the U.S. should, to have their universities quickly sever their ties to Huawei.”
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale did not respond to a request for comment and instead referred The Globe to the Communications Security Establishment, which collects foreign security intelligence and seeks to protect Ottawa’s information systems from cyberattacks.
“While we are unable to comment on specific companies, products or service providers, Canadians can be assured that the Government of Canada is working to make sure the strongest protections are in place to safeguard the systems Canadians rely on,” spokesman Evan Koronewski said.
Given the integration of the U.S. and Canadian economies, Huawei equipment used in Canada is likely to affect both our countries – to our detriment.
— Adam Schiff, U.S. Senate intelligence committee
Huawei vice-president Scott Bradley said his firm has been working “openly and transparently” with the Canadian government and domestic telecoms for a decade to satisfy national-security concerns. He has noted Huawei does not bid on government telecommunications contracts.
“From the outset, we have understood fully as an incoming vendor in the area of telecommunications, let alone a telecommunications company based in China, we would need to work under certain parameters and guidelines to meet the requirements of the government and Canadian operators,” he said. “Similarly, we have had to address these issues in other major markets around the world, including all other G7 nations. In all of these countries, except the United States, we have been able to find a way to meet and address these issues.”
Last week, Mr. Goodale announced $500-million over five years for the establishment of a new Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, measures to help small businesses boost their cyberdefences and the RCMP to tackle online crime. The plan is mostly silent about foreign-owned telecommunications companies such as Huawei.
Former Canadian Security Intelligence Services directors Ward Elcock and Richard Fadden, and John Adams, the former head of this country’s CSE, have told The Globe that Huawei products and 5G technology could provide China with the capacity to spy on Canadians.
Since arriving in Canada a decade ago, Huawei has committed about $50-million to 10 leading Canadian universities to fund 5G technology, which it used as the basis for hundreds of patent filings. The amount the company gives to universities is expected to grow to about $18-million this year alone.
With a report from Sean Silcoff