An influential Republican U.S. senator is warning Canada that Washington could stop sharing valuable intelligence information if Ottawa allows China’s Huawei Technologies Co. to supply gear for next-generation 5G networks.
Rick Scott, who sits on the armed services and homeland security committees, told The Globe and Mail Thursday that Congress is serious about denying sensitive U.S. intelligence to allies.
Legislation was tabled in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives last month to cut off intelligence sharing with countries that install Huawei equipment in 5G networks.
Ottawa is in the midst of conducting a national-security review to determine if Huawei should participate. Even with that review continuing, Telus Corp. said on Thursday that it will begin building out its 5G network with Huawei gear.
The Trump administration, U.S. national intelligence agencies and Congress have led a global campaign against the giant Chinese telecom, arguing that it poses a risk to Western national security. Other countries building 5G networks without Huawei for this reason include Australia, Japan and Taiwan.
The United States and Australia say Huawei answers to China’s ruling Communist Party and could be compelled to help Beijing spy on or sabotage Western networks.
“I have co-sponsored legislation to make sure it doesn’t happen," Mr. Scott said. “We are not going to share our intelligence with countries that decide to do business with Communist China with regard to anything we perceive as a security risk. We can’t do it."
The legislation would outright “prohibit the sharing of United States intelligence with countries that permit operation of Huawei fifth-generation telecommunications technology within their borders.” A bill with the same wording was tabled in the House of Representatives by Republican Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of former vice-president Dick Cheney.
“The United States has to be very cautious in sharing intelligence with countries that decide to use Huawei because we are very comfortable that Huawei will be infiltrated by the Chinese communist government,” Mr. Scott said.
Senator Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, is also urging Canada to exclude Huawei from its 5G networks. While his party also supports banning Huawei from 5G, he said it is too early to say whether there would be bipartisan support for legislation to curb intelligence sharing.
“For a variety of reasons it would be a mistake for Canada to rely on Huawei, but it’s premature to entertain discussions about limiting intelligence sharing. We need to focus on working with our allies like Canada and the U.K. to promote secure alternatives to Huawei, rather than cutting off avenues of co-operation,” Mr. Warner said in a statement to The Globe.
Mr. Scott pointed to a Wall Street Journal report on Wednesday that said U.S. officials had informed Germany and Britain late last year that Huawei can covertly access mobile-phone networks around the world through back doors designed for use by law enforcement.
He was confident that the same information was also shared with Canadian national-security agencies.
The Globe has reported that Canada’s military and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) want Huawei banned while the Communications Security Establishment, which handles electronic surveillance, argues that robust testing and monitoring of Huawei 5G equipment can mitigate potential security threats.
“Why would you take the risk? We know Communist China is our adversary. We know they spy on us. We know they steal information,” Mr. Scott said. “We know all these things so why would you take a chance with the Communist Chinese government to do business with Huawei? There is no ifs or buts – Huawei is controlled by the Chinese government.”
China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law requires Chinese companies and citizens to “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work” when asked, and its 2014 Counter-Espionage Law says that, during an investigation, “relevant organizations and individuals” must “truthfully provide” information and “must not refuse.”
Canada is the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partnership – which also includes the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand – that has yet to make a decision on whether to ban Huawei from 5G. The U.S. and Australia have blacklisted Huawei while New Zealand has blocked one domestic telecom carrier’s proposal to use Huawei gear to build a 5G network.
Last month, over strong objections from the U.S., British Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided to give Huawei a limited role in its 5G networks.
“Boris Johnson made a big mistake," Mr. Scott said. "That is going to make it very difficult for America to continue to share intelligence with the U.K.”
Mr. Scott praised Canada’s military for privately urging the federal government to ban Huawei from 5G.
On Monday, The Globe reported that the Department of National Defence believes Huawei is not a trusted vendor because its 5G equipment could be used for Chinese espionage or to disable critical infrastructure during an international crisis. It is also concerned that allowing Huawei into 5G could jeopardize security co-operation with the United States.
“Your military has already been vocal that this is not a good decision for Canada so I am hopeful the Canadian government will make the right decision so we can continue to share information,” Mr. Scott said.
Former CSIS director Richard Fadden said restricting information sharing is “not an irrational thing” for the Americans to contemplate.
“If we adopt Huawei, we would not be just endangering our national security, which is my main argument against it, but we would potentially be endangering U.S. national security,” he said.
Mr. Fadden cautioned against Canadians writing off the U.S. campaign against Huawei as merely a Trump fixation: “In this particular instance, his concerns about Huawei are shared by the U.S. intelligence community and we now have an indication it’s shared by at least some elements of the U.S. Congress.”
Ward Elcock, another former CSIS director, said he expects that the Americans would scale back what they share. “Probably a lot of sharing would stop, and we do get a lot of value from that.”