The study, carried out by Professor Christian Balding of Fulbright University Vietnam and the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank, revealed deep links between some of the company’s key staff and Chinese military intelligence – information Huawei had never disclosed before.
According to the report, 11 Huawei staff attended the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Information Engineering University which is widely known as China’s hub for information warfare research. In at least one instance, a current employee of the company held a dual role with the Chinese government entity directly responsible for overseeing the country’s espionage and counterintelligence efforts.
Without releasing information that can identify the individual in question, the study claims that a current Huawei Engineer according to his CV is also a representative of the Ministry of State (MSS) which is responsible for China’s political security and foreign intelligence.
It will be recalled that this is this exact conflict of interest scenario that informed the U.S. president’s recent action against the company. If the company at the cutting edge of 5G development is fully in bed with the Chinese government to the extent described in the study, then it can safely be assumed that 5G networking equipment provided by Huawei will almost certainly have inbuilt Chinese intelligence back doors.
In a mail to CNBC, Balding stated that the only reason he could not categorically say the Chinese government had ordered Huawei to intercept information was the absence of physical evidence such as an email or a voice recording. According to him however, after reviewing over 25,000 Huawei specific CV’s, he could say that there is a great amount of circumstantial evidence linking Huawei and the Chinese state intelligence apparatus.
In his words:
The CVs do talk of behaviour such as information interception and we know of instances where a Huawei employee holds a dual position in the PLA Strategic Support Force which oversees the electronic warfare and similar non-traditional warfare units. So I cannot say it has been ordered, but the inference of positions and behaviour they mention on their CVs appears to indicate they do engage in these acts.
Reacting to the study, Ed Brewster, a Huawei spokesman dismissed its findings, claiming that the presence of ex government staff on Huawei’s employee roster is only a coincidence. He stated,
“We reiterate that Huawei does not work on military or intelligence projects for the Chinese Government. It is also not unusual that Huawei, in common with other tech companies around the world, employs people who have come from public service and worked in government. We are far more competitive thanks to our colleagues’ previous experiences.
Tellingly, Brewster also claimed that Huawei’s recruitment process for people who formerly worked in the government specifically includes investigation to make sure that they have cut off all ties with the government. Exactly how Huawei can be sure of that in a centrally planned, authoritarian country like China is anybody’s guess.
Expectedly, Chinese media with close ties to the central government also leapt to Huawei’s defense, breaking journalistic conventions to describe the study as “ridiculous and malicious.”
Perhaps even more tellingly, Brewster chose to focus exclusively on Huawei’s ex-government employees, completely avoiding the issue of current Huawei employees with concurrent roles in the Chinese government – even though the study explicitly mentioned that as one of its findings.
Apart from vindicating Donald Trump, this study also potentially helps inform the decisions of other countries currently weighing the trade-off between 5G adoption using Huawei infrastructure and risking national security. The U.S. and Australian government bans on Huawei equipment might be the first of quite a few.