Trump’s Huawei warning to UK an empty threat: Former senior British intelligence officer

Article by Lucy Ingham – Verdict

The threat by US President Donald Trump to block the UK’s access to the Five Eyes intelligence sharing community unless it bans Huawei technology from being used in its 5G network is very unlikely to be followed through, according to a former senior British intelligence officer.

Trump is expected to raise the topic of Huawei when he meets UK Prime Minister Theresa May today, and is likely to echo previous suggestions that countries using the Chinese technology giant’s products in their 5G networks will not be able to continue current high-level intelligence sharing with the US through Five Eyes.

However, Malcom Taylor, former senior British intelligence officer and now director of cybersecurity at ITC Secure, believes this is an empty threat.

“I doubt very much that the US government would limit the UK’s role in the Five Eyes partnership; this would be perhaps Trump’s most dramatic step yet, in my view, and I cannot see it happening,” he told Verdict.

Huawei vs Five Eyes? Despite Trump, the UK may be able to have both

Should the UK refuse to back down on its use of Huawei – which it currently appears to be planning to use on “non-core” parts of its 5G infrastructure – Taylor expects that the current Five Eyes arrangement would ultimately continue. However, he does accept that “this president does do the unexpected and even arguably the unwise”.

“Unwise in this case because so doing would damage US national security; the UK agencies play a significant role in the alliance – it is a symbiotic partnership,” he said.

“I expect that NSA and CIA will, in the end, make the case for the UK’s role to continue largely unchanged. The question is: will Trump listen?”

Politics could leave Huawei out in the cold

While the US has repeatedly accused Huawei of conducting espionage activities on behalf of the Chinese government, the company has maintained that this is simply not the case. As it stands, there has been no direct evidence of any such behaviour.

As a result, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has recommended a managed risk approach, which the UK appeared to be planning to follow. However, this does not take into account the increasingly political aspects of the situation.

“I still maintain that managing the risk posed by Huawei (and there is a risk to be managed) is correct; it will be interesting to see how this discussion plays out and how forcibly NCSC argues,” said Taylor.

“Nevertheless I do predict the UK will roll over.”