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How Australian intellgence grew Huawei's woes

Video Credit: Reuters Studio - Duration: 03:12s - Published < > Embed
How Australian intellgence grew Huawei's woes

How Australian intellgence grew Huawei's woes

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei is a favorite bogeyman for the Trump administration over cybersecurity fears.

But Australian intelligence services were lobbying allies over the perceived threat to 5G long before it was on the Americans' agenda.

Cassell Bryan-Low and Matthew Larotonda report.

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How Australian intellgence grew Huawei's woes

The United States' much-publicized campaign against Huawei, the Chinese telecoms and mobile phone giant, has been waging for months.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO, SAYING: "(…) open doors for Beijing's spymasters." (SOUNDBITE) (English) HUAWEI CHAIRMAN GUO PING, SAYING: "Huawei is not owned, controlled, or influenced by the Chinese government." It includes that effective ban of Huawei equipment from U.S. networks and block on Huawei from buying American technology without approval.

But some current and former officials from the U.S. and its allies have told Reuters that they believe the Trump administration was initially slow to act over some of the alleged cybersecurity risks relating to 5G -- the next generation of mobile networks -- including urging other countries to ban Huawei, which is the industry leader.

In fact, Australia - not the United States - took the early lead in warning about Huawei and 5G.

Australia had for some time been focusing on 5G security risks and by 2018 was already pressing Washington about the perceived threat posed by 5G in Huawei's hands.

Cassell Bryan-Low is on the team that uncovered the story.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) CASSELL BRYAN-LOW, REUTERS EDITOR AND REPORTER, SAYING: "Intelligence officials in Australia were looking into security concerns around 5G technology and any risk posed by Chinese telecom equipment makers like Huawei.

And part of that what they did was they conducted a theoretical exercise looking at what attacks could Australia theoretically mount if it had 5G equipment in other countries and what they found was the offensive potential was so great that if the tables were reversed it'd be very difficult for them to defend against such offensive attacks.

These findings alarmed them so much that this was a key part of that decision last summer to effectively ban Chinese companies like Huawei from taking part in 5G networks." The U.S. and Australia fear 5G could be exploited for spying and sabotaging infrastructure.

Huawei has always flatly denied that it has been a party to espionage and says it would never install backdoors in its products that would allow Beijing to spy on other countries.

The United States has also never publicly produced hard evidence that Huawei equipment has been used for spying.

Still, Australia took its concerns to its allies -- including during a visit in early 2018 to the States by then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

One Australian source told Reuters that the U.S. was receptive to Australia's concerns, but that restricting Huawei from 5G networks didn't seem a high priority at the time.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) CASSELL BRYAN-LOW, REUTERS EDITOR AND REPORTER, SAYING: "What this illustrates is that despite the U.S.'s very public vocal campaign to get other countries to ban Huawei from 5G it wasn't necessarily the first to act on this.

And indeed Australia appears to be ahead in both focusing on 5G concerns but also pressing others to take action.

The U.S. will say its end goal is to get allies to ban Huawei from 5G altogether (SOUNDBITE) (English) CASSELL BRYAN-LOW, REUTERS EDITOR AND REPORTER, SAYING: "Ultimately it remains very early days for 5G with networks only just being rolled out.

The security debate will no doubt rage on in the years ahead."




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