To the people of Britain,
I do not know many of you personally, but I am your friend. For more than 15 years, I worked alongside your military and national security professionals to hunt down al-Qaeda senior leaders, to help respond to the 2007 terrorist attacks in London, and to more broadly secure our respective peoples and our shared values. We are bound by blood and history and our futures also are inseparably linked.
It is because of these strong bonds that I am writing this to you. Friends, the decision taken today to allow the Chinese—particularly the Huawei telecommmunications company—to build your 5G wireless networks is a terrible mistake. That may sound a bit melodramatic—but it is not.
Huawei is an extension of the Chinese government and a part of Beijing’s explicit “civil-military fusion” strategy, where government and industry work together to expand the power and influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Do you think the British intelligence services would relish the opportunity to build and to manage China’s domestic telecommunications networks? Of course they would. It would be an unparalleled opportunity to collect and exploit troves of data that could ultimately prove decisive in understanding and shaping one of the West’s most important geopolitical adversaries.
So why on earth has your nation allowed the Chinese to deploy the functional equivalent of this capability in the United Kingdom? It is a catastrophic vulnerability to one of the world’s premier cyber aggressors and this is why the United States is pressing hard for you to reconsider.
Central to the British Government's decision has been the assertion that the cybersecurity risks can be mitigated. While many experts disagree, there are enough credible voices making this argument that you might be understandably confused or sceptical of dire warnings. But suppose Chinese 5G networks are rendered completely secure, has the threat gone away?
Chinese law says that all information—even your information—that transits, is stored on, or in any other way touches the networks of a Chinese company is considered “Chinese information” and, therefore, must be made available to the country’s intelligence services. Huawei's assurances that your information is protected from these laws are not credible and the fact that these networks can be technically “secured,” will do nothing to change this fact.
Others point to the potential costs or lost economic opportunity that would accompany denying Chinese access to your 5G networks. These costs would indeed be significant and there is little that can be done in the near-term to prevent this—though it can be managed.
But whatever these costs may be, they pale in comparison to the losses of security, sovereignty, and intellectual property that will most assuredly be extracted by Huawei. Why bother with the struggle of leaving the European Union only to run into the arms of the communist Chinese?
Even more, if you think this choice is expensive now, imagine the bill in five years when the nation realises Huawei has been siphoning your information and exporting it to the CCP just as they did in 2012 with the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
More fundamentally, this decision will now set the conditions for how other nations in Europe will make this choice. The risk is that other governments will follow Britain in opting for Chinese technology and Beijing will have secured a strategic foothold that endangers the long-term security of the entire European Continent.
Before making his decision, your Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, asked, “What is the alternative?” In one sense, this is a perfectly reasonable question for serious leaders to ask. A reasonable answer might be to encourage the development of a British telecommunications company that is able to provide for the nation’s long-term needs.
On the other hand, “What is the alternative?” is never a reasonable response when your friend has been warning you not to put a loaded gun to your head.
In the last several weeks, the United States has sent messages from our President, our Vice President, multiple lawmakers, and many intelligence and national security leaders—all with the same plea: friends, please, put the gun down.
I hope for your sake I am wrong—but I fear this is a decision you will come to regret.
This piece originally appeared in The Telegraph on 1/28/20