THE Huawei scandal has exposed the executive power now wielded by civil servants and cost the Defence Secretary his job, but don’t let personnel machinations distract you from the scandalous sacrifice of national security, the US special relationship, and Brexit.
Theresa May’s government wants to hand over the development of Britain’s digital infrastructure to a company which is obliged to co-operate with the Chinese state in intelligence, and which Britain’s allies have warned Britain against for years.
Just days ago, Vodafone revealed that Huawei supplied hardware from 2009 to 2011 with unadmitted backdoors that would allow Huawei unauthorised access to the carrier’s fixed-line network in Italy. Vodafone asked Huawei to fix the backdoors; Huawei claimed the backdoors were accidents; but the backdoors weren’t fixed the next time Vodafone checked.
These backdoors are easy to understand even if you hate technology. You might put anti-virus software on your electronic device to protect remote parties from accessing your data or spying on you with its integral microphone and camera, but if the hardware has been constructed to respond to its builder, your software protections don’t count.
Those who build the infrastructure or own the infrastructure always have capacity to insert backdoors – the question is not whether they can, but whether they would. We are more confident that an American company would not, given US criminalisation of corruption by US persons abroad, and tight rules that demand a highly specified warrant before the government can demand information from a network. All those laws and rules are accountable to a democratic government and a constitution that guarantees freedom of speech and freedom from unwarranted searches and seizures. These protections are much stronger in the US than any other country, despite the George W Bush administration’s abuses of power – much stronger than in the EU or Britain. Nobody can doubt that Britain can trust an American provider more than a Chinese provider.
The US Congress made public its concerns about Huawei’s activities inside America as early as 2012. The US government also publicly warned allies of the risks. It went so far as to warn Britain that intelligence sharing within the Five Eyes (US, Canada, New Zealand, Australian, Britain) might be curtailed if Huawei got control of British infrastructure. In January 2019, the US Department of Justice indicted Huawei for thefts of trade secrets, wire fraud, evading sanctions on Iran, and obstruction of justice.
Germany and other continental states tightened their oversight. By contrast, the Theresa May administration made a public debate a secret matter: the issue was reserved by the National Security Council.
The National Security Council seems to be expanding its purview in order to hide public interests from the public, including even Brexit. The British government does not need to hide the debate about 5G. If the British government has evidence of suitability, it should be able to release it. The government isn’t proposing a military deal that deserves secrecy. It’s proposing a civilian telephone infrastructure. If the British government has decided that Huawei offers no risk, why on earth is it hiding this decision in the National Security Council? The whole process smacks of dirty tricks.
Here is where the Huawei scandal links back to a larger scandal of machinations to favour the EU over the US, to favour macro-economic vanity over national security, to favour authoritarianism over democracy.
Huawei is already embedded in Britain’s elite: in 2015 it appointed to head its UK board Lord Browne, the former chair of BP, who was ennobled by Tony Blair’s administration and served David Cameron too. At the same time, it appointed to its UK board as non-executive dierectors Dame Helen Alexander, formerly leader of the EU-loving Economist Group and Confederation of British Industry (now deceased), and Sir Andrew Cahn, a former civil servant who resigned from Cameron’s Trade and Investment Department in 2011 in order to chair Huawei’s new British advisory board.
The following year Britons voted to leave the EU, and Americans voted for Donald Trump to become President. The US hasn’t had a more pro-British President in decades, but May’s government has contrived to further embed Britain in European defence and security union. The civil service is pro-EU and anti-American. The civil service’s favour to Huawei is fundamentally anti-American, just as its favour to the EU is fundamentally anti-American.
The positions of leader of the civil service, Cabinet Secretary, and National Security Adviser are held by one person, Sir Mark Sedwill. May personally appointed him to all three positions, without considering other candidates, after having him as her Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, before she became PM. He is the most responsible unelected official for Britain’s further surrender of sovereignty since Brexit, while lecturing MPs on avoiding ‘no-deal Brexit’ (that is: Brexit).
Now this is where an international dispute gets back to an inter-personal dispute. The now-former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson pushed against Sedwill’s attempts to grab authority over the Ministry of Defence too. Williamson had been May’s chief whip and thus chief enforcer of May’s ridiculous policies to Remain but claim Brexit, and to run down our military and diplomatic capacity in favour of increased spending on the NHS and welfare. Yet Williamson reinvented himself as the Ministry of Defence’s champion. He became pro-Brexit, anti-EU, pro-NATO, and thence pro-US.
On 11 February, he gave his most significant speech as Defence Secretary (incidentally: to the pro-EU Royal United Services Institute). He described NATO as ‘the bedrock of our nation’s defence’. He urged continental members to meet their promise to spent 2 per cent of GDP on defence. He urged them not to be ‘distracted by the notion of an EU army’. He characterised Brexit as ‘a great opportunity’. He said: ‘Brexit has brought us to a moment, a great moment in our history, a moment when we must strengthen our global presence, enhance our lethality, and increase our mass.’
Part of strengthening Britain’s global presence was his proposal to deploy an aircraft carrier in international waters that China claims as its own. China immediately suspended its plan to send a delegation in June to sign a collection of economic and financial deals. Yet within two days of the leak last week that the National Security Council had decided to let Huawei into Britain’s 5G, China announced that it would arrive in June to sign those deals after all.
So there you have the full sordid web of anti-American interests, inter-personal backstabbing, civil service authoritarianism, weak premiership, and economic corruption that make this government put Huawei before security. May’s government is sacrificing national security, the special relationship, and Brexit in favour of Chinese money and EU integration.