Former U.S. Intelligence agents warn against HuaweI, escalating cyber confrontations with hostile actors
OTTAWA – As Ottawa studies national security implications of allowing Chinese tech giant Huawei to equip Canada’s next-generation 5G telecommunication networks, two U.S. intelligence and cyber security experts told parliamentarians Wednesday that the risk is real.
“I understand in principle why, particularly for government networks that you’d want all of your telecom equipment made by your own country or by your own ally,” said Christopher Porter, chief intelligence strategist for cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc.
A former Central Intelligence Agency cyber threat analyst, Porter was testifying at Public Safetey and National Defence committee along with Jonathan Reiber who previously worked for the Pentagon as it assembled a “cyber-mission force” of more than 6000 hackers for counter cyber-insurgency and cyber-warfare.
Reiber, head of strategy for cyber security firm Illumio “wouldn’t speak to Huawei specifically.”
On securing a nation against hostile cyber actors, Reiber said that, “for certain elements, say a national security community or public safety community, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say ‘now we’re going to manufacture a certain amount of chips (hardware) on our own.’”
In November of last year the United States asked allies to ban Huawei’s 5G hardware technology from their domestic telecommunication networks. Austrailia and New Zealand have since agreed – both are part of the Five Eyes surveillance network that includes the U.S., UK and Canada. Britain may also abandon its 5G telecom deal with the Chinese company – like Canada it is studying the matter and no decision is expected until April or May.
On ferreting out suspect equipment already in circulation, as well as preventing additional hardware from entering the field, Reiber said it’s possible but only on a limited scale. “I don’t think you could possibly do so in any kind of global way across sectors, across an entire economy. I do think you could do it in certain sub-sectors.”
Under a cloud of diplomatic tensions between China and Canada over our arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, facing extradition to the U.S. for alleged violations of American sanctions on Iran, Porter told MPs that Canada remains a prefered cyber espionage target. Already, domestic institutions have fallen under cyber attack by Iran, China and Russia, Porter said.
“Government, defence, high-tech, non-profit, energy, telecommunications and media have all been impacted much like they have in many western countries,” he noted.
Reiber’s testimony also offered a chilling window into the future of cyber crime and cyber warfare that could escalate into military confrontation, even noting that some in the previous U.S. administration believed Russian cyber-meddling in the 2016 election constituted grounds for a military response.
“I would say the Russian attack on the 2016 presidential election, looked at historically, certainly qualified as an instance where a counter offensive action by the military would have been warranted,” Reiber said. “And there are others from the Obama administration that would’ve said the same thing.”
Porter told the committee that in his FireEye experience, some 95 per cent cyber attacks on Canadian targets were aimed largely at private sector interests, primarily at financial institutions and that beyond regulating cyber security standards for Canadian industry he would “put a great emphasis on diplomacy.”
“This foreign (cyber) threat is to get back at Canada for something we did,” he said.
However, Porter warned of more “destructive attacks aimed at permanently disabling financial services or altering data in ways that undermine trust in the global financial system.”
Chinese tech giant Huawei tweeted on Monday regarding the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, calling her detainment “an unlawful and illegal act.”
The tweet links to a Globe and Mail article that goes over the moments leading up to Wanzhou’s arrest, but doesn’t provide any evidence her detainment was “unlawful” or an “illegal act”. The article is behind a paywall, so only subscribers can actually have access to the story and that it doesn’t match Huawei’s bold claims.
Reaction to the post from Canadians online was generally one of outrage.
Many replied to Huawei’s tweets, upset with the company’s audacity to complain about Wanzhou’s detention while two Canadians remain in Chinese prison, with another, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, sentenced to death for drug trafficking charges.
Nowhere in the article does it explicitly state that the detention of Wanzhou was illegal, with the word “illegal” not appearing once. Rather, the article features details regarding America’s role in Meng’s arrest, with quotes from Chinese diplomats calling the arrest “unreasonable” due to the lack of notice from the Canadian side during her arrest.
“In accordance with the consular agreement between China and Canada, the Canadian side should inform the Chinese diplomatic missions in Canada immediately of its unreasonable detention of Ms. Meng Wanzhou,” said the Chinese embassy in a statement. “But the Canadian government failed to do that, the Chinese side first learned about the situation from other channels. We lodged stern representations with the Canadian side as soon as we learned about the relevant information.”
The Globe‘s article does note that those familiar with extradition practices call Meng’s arrest a “rare” incident, as Washington “typically pursues criminal charges for sanction violations against an individual rather than a corporation.”
“In a case like this one, where Ms. Meng is in all likelihood executing corporate policy, one would expect individuals not to be charged and the corporation would be fined,” said extradition expert Eric Lewis.
Huawei CFO and Chinese tech royalty Meng Wanzhou says the last year of conviction has been a year of “fear and pain.” as she remains cooped up in her Vancouver-area home under house arrest.
Meng was arrested in December of 2018 on an extradition request from the United States regarding the breaking of sanctions with Iran.“The past year has witnessed moments of fear, pain, disappointment, helplessness, torment, and struggle,” said a letter by Meng, posted on the Huawei website titled “Your warmth is a beacon that lights my way forward.”
Meng also noted in her letter that she has switched from her hectic lifestyle of business dealings to long days of oil painting and reading books.
“When I was in Shenzhen, time used to pass by very quickly. Every day, my schedule was fully packed and I was constantly rushing from place to place, and from meeting to meeting… Right now, time seems to pass slowly. It is so slow that I have enough time to read a book from cover to cover. I can take the time to discuss minutiae with my colleagues or to carefully complete an oil painting.”
The letter talks about accepting the situation she is in and saying she is “no longer afraid of the unknown,” and mentions her gratitude.
“Of course I’ve also been deeply moved by the kindness of people here in Canada. Thanks to the kindness of the correctional officers and other inmates at the Alouette Correctional Center for Women, I was able to make it through the worst days of my life.”
Following Meng’s arrest, two Canadians—businessman Michael Spavor and consultant Michael Kovrig—were detained in China.
Northern telecom ready to deploy Huawei 5G while Ottawa dithers on decision whether to ban it altogether
The president of the Canadian telecom partnering with Huawei to upgrade high-speed wireless service for dozens of communities in the far north says they’re waiting for Ottawa’s decision on 5G and could deploy it in the hinterland in short order.
“We’re testing a few things, so (Huawei 5G) is not going live anytime soon, but it’s definitely in our labs,” said Samer Bishay, President and CEO of Ice Wireless.
“Just because it’s the north doesn’t mean they should get the technology a decade later. It doesn’t make sense.”
But as Huawei 5G has raised national security concerns, Bishay said Ice Wireless is “doing its part as a good corporate citizen” by not deploying it and blames “the political stuff that’s kind of driving the whole discussion around it right now.”
“We don’t have anything that says you can’t deploy (5G), and we don’t have anything that says you can. That’s why we’re just experimenting.”
While Rogers has opted to employ Ericsson 5G on its networks, other companies like Ice Wireless await a final decision on Huawei 5G that Ottawa has dithered on making.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and the Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to TPM queries about when the government would make a final determination.
Huawei 3G/4G LTE has previously received certification by the Canada’s Communications Security Establishment Commission, technology that Ice Wireless is currently deploying in the north.
Back in July, Huawei Canada vice-president Alykhan Velshi announced the joint-venture with Bishay’s company to upgrade communications services in northern Quebec and the Arctic where the big three players–Rogers, Telus and Bell–are reticent to tread.
“We cover a large landmass, places that not even Rogers or Telus ventured to build. A lot of those guys roam on our network up there,” Bishay told The Post Millennial in an interview.
However, citing national security vulnerabilities United States, Austrailia and New Zealand–part of the Five Eyes signals and intelligence network that includes the UK and Canada–have banned Huawei from their 5G networks; Britain is also mulling a Huawei ban on its core network.
The 5G technology is purportedly capable of activating “the internet of things”–a Bluetooth world where all our gadgets are operable via smart phone–by enabling up to 10 gigabytes-per-second of data transfer on wifi, fibre optics and satellite conduits.
The downside of this technology, is proliferation of such gadgetry widens an already deep field of existing cyber-threats to national security, involving not just thrill hackers but hostile state actors with strategic intention.
And a recent analysis of the Chinese tech-behemoth’s ownership structure by Fulbright University economist Christopher Balding and George Washington University law professor Donald Clark, found it leads straight to China’s politburo.
“If Huawei (Trade Union) Holding (Company) is in fact controlled by a trade union committee, then given the way such bodies are supposed to operate in China, it makes sense to think of it as state-controlled and even state-owned,” Balding and Clark conclude.
Adding to concerns about Huawei, is a CBC interview that aired at the beginning of November with Susan Rice, former U.S. national security advisor to President Barack Obama, in which she caged Huawei 5G as a clear and present danger.
“It’s hard for me to emphasize adequately, without getting into classified terrain, how serious it is, particularly for countries involved in the Five Eyes,” said Rice, who explained the threat, then suggested the signals intelligence alliance (Five Eyes) between U.S., Canada, UK, New Zealand and Australia would be jeopardized if Canada went ahead with Huawei 5G.
“That would put the security collaboration which serves the security interests of every Canadian and every American, into jeopardy… I don’t see how we can share (intelligence) in the way we have (if Canada allows Huawei 5G). It’s not a joke. It’s truly serious.”
To counter the negative publicity, Huawei Canada went on a charm offensive of sorts this week, ballyhooing the $50 million it has spent on research at Canadian universities to date and the $700 million it added to Canada’s Gross Domestic Product in 2018.
Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan believes China is not an adversary to Canada, despite rising and consistent tensions between the two countries.
While addressing a crowd at the Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax, Sajjan noted that the detention of two Canadian citizens in China was unwarranted, but that the relationship with China is still needed for co-operation on trade, according to AP.
Tensions initially rose late last year and in early 2019 upon the arrest of Huawei CFO and Chinese tech-royalty Meng Wanzhou, who has been out on bail at her Vancouver-area home since her arrest last December on an extradition request from the United States.
Following the arrest, China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor to pressure Canada to release Wanzhou.
In January 2019, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a Canadian national, was sentenced to death after an unwarranted retrial. The sentence was considered a massive strike to relations between Canada and China.
Another Canadian citizen was given the death sentence in April of 2019 for similar charges. Fan Wei, along with 11 other men, were all given criminal charges, though Wei was the only one given the death penalty.