This story, by Stephen Chase and Robert Fife, in the Globe and Mail, is troubling on two levels:
- First, it exposes what I believe to be a key issue in the US vs. China struggle: the danger posed (or not) by Huawei to the global (or maybe not so global) 5G initiative; and
- Second, it exposes a rift in Canada’s security and intelligence community which, while perfectly understandable and, in my opinion, healthy, ought not to be reported upon in the media.
Bottom-line upfront, as they say, I agree with CSE (the Communications Security Establishment) which Messers Chase and Fife tell us says that “robust testing and monitoring of Huawei’s 5G equipment could mitigate potential security risks,” according to an unnamed official. That is also the position of e.g. France, Germany and many European countries, possibly including the United Kingdom. There is already a danger of a balkanized internet, which will have massive socio-economic repercussions, and it is not at all clear that the US and Australia will end up with the best or even the second-best version. I understand that as the Globe‘s writers say “The Americans and Australians say Huawei answers to China’s ruling Communist Party and could be compelled to help Beijing spy or sabotage Western networks. Chinese law says companies must “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work” when asked.” I also understand, even though I have been retired for several years, that America (and Europe) have fallen behind on the technological front while Asia, especially South Korea (Samsung) and China (Huawei) have surged ahead ~ especially in 5G which will power the ‘internet of things,’ including autonomous vehicles.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is Canada’s main counterintelligence agency: it is charged with keeping us safe, here at home, from foreign spying and their views on the Huawei threat must be heard with the greatest of respect. But CSE is one of the world’s best Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) agencies and its views, especially on the threats posed by cyber-technology, must be treated with at least as much respect.
The second thing that troubles me is that an official felt that this issue needs to be made public.
Disagreements amongst specialists are neither rare nor new. I am one of those who finds disagreements between intelligence agencies to be normal, healthy and even productive. But it appears that one side or the other in this dispute is perceived to have the upper hand with (I guess) the Privy Council Office (because that’s where arguments like this are usually resolved) and someone feels so strongly about the outcome that they have decided to go public to try to pressure the government. There is a top-level NATO meeting coming up on 3 and 4 December (more about that in a couple of days) and I expect this to be on the agenda with US President Trump pressing very, very hard for Canada and the United Kingdom to come or stay onside with America, Australia and New Zealand. The issue is further complicated by the ongoing Sino-Canadian disputes regarding Huawei‘s Chief Financial Officer who is being detained, on a US arrest warrant, in Canada which has provoked the Chinese to hold Canadians as hostages for her return.
I doubt that Messers Chase and Fife would have written this story if the source was some junior analyst. My guess is that their source “a Canadian official with knowledge of the matter … [who is] … not authorized to discuss the subject publicly,” is fairly senior, senior enough to be credible on her or his own ~ likely someone at about the director-general level in the government. That sort of position would give them very credible “knowledge of the matter.” That leads me to guess that the senior ranks of the intelligence and or security services, or even both, are afraid that the PMO, or the Trudeau-Freeland duo, will make a serious decision for purely partisan, political reasons. That, the idea that our senior security and intelligence officials don’t believe that cabinet can be trusted to act in the national interest, troubles me even more.