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Where is the evidence of Huawei espionage?

Crime scene of a murder case. 3D illustration

Before we get carried too carried away with the recent arrest in Poland, let’s remember something; this is a Huawei employee accused of espionage, not Huawei.

Right now, Huawei is the world’s whipping boy. This is a company which is taking the punishment for the nefarious activities of the Chinese government. In Poland, a Huawei employee and another from Orange have been arrested, accused of espionage. But the condemnation should be directed towards the Chinese government and these individuals, not necessarily Huawei.

For the record, we are not suggesting Huawei is completely blameless. The company might be in bed with Beijing, but as it stands there is no concrete evidence to support this theory. The arrest in Poland is circumstantial, evidence that relies on an inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact. It most judicial systems, reasonable doubt is tied into circumstantial evidence meaning it can contribute to a verdict, but alone it is rarely enough to assign guilt.

Huawei could well be a puppet with strings attached to Beijing, but evidence needs to be produced to ensure ‘democratic’ nations are not presuming guilt, a contraction of their legal principals.

The prospects for Huawei are not currently looking good. Effectively banned from any meaningful work in the US, banned in Australia and Japan, under close watch in the UK, ignored in South Korea, condemned by the European Union and in a very suspect position in New Zealand. Eastern Europe was one area where it looked like business was safe, but now the Polish are talking about a ban as well.

With all this heart-ache and headaches for the Huawei executives you have to question how much evidence there has been of espionage. As far as we are aware, nothing of note.

This is of course not to say there isn’t any but look at the situation. The US government is trying to rally the world against Huawei and China on the whole, it has been for years now, and you have to think it would use evidence to turn the tides if it had any. Back in 2012, a House Intelligence Committee told the US government Huawei was a ‘National Security Threat’, but in the six years since this point no evidence has been produced to support this statement. Yet this report has been used as the foundation of all negative sentiment directed towards China and Huawei.

This report, which was the result of a yearlong investigation by the committee, came to the conclusion Huawei and ZTE were a national security threat because of their attempts to extract sensitive information from American companies and their loyalties to the Chinese government. The report stated it had obtained internal documents from former Huawei employees suggesting it supplied services to a ‘cyberwarfare’ unit in the People’s Liberation Army, but this evidence has never made it to the public domain.

For most, the sustained rhetoric of espionage could be viewed as politically and economically motivated. Chinese companies are making an impression on the world and Silicon Valley’s vice-like grip on the technology industry is loosening. This would be incredibly damaging for the US economy on the whole, which has partly relied on the dominance of this segment for success in recent years. In recent months it has been flexing its muscles and some are bending to its will. Deutsche Telekom is an excellent example.

Only last month, DT suggested it was reviewing its relationship with Huawei to ease concerns from the US government. It just so happens government agencies are reviewing its US businesses potential merger with Sprint. Breaking ties with the Chinese vendor would certainly gain favour with Washington, but is this culture of paranoia and finger-pointing something we should be encouraging?

Again, this is not to say there is no evidence to support the accusations. However, if the US government had the smoking gun, surely it would have shown it to the world. Some might suggest it had an obligation to inform its allies of such nefarious activities. Some even more sceptical individuals might also suggest that if there was classified evidence, it would have been leaked by someone over this period. In today’s world it is impossible to keep big secrets secret. Just look at Edward Snowdon’s revelations.

Over in Germany, the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) has said it would take this very approach. Arne Schoenbohm, President of BSI, said that for his agency to consider banning Huawei from the country he would have to see evidence. This statement came at the same time a US delegation had been meeting with officials from the Foreign Ministry to discuss a ban. As no ban has emerged, it would appear the US delegation was unable to table any evidence.

Going back to the arrest in Poland, some might suggest this is enough evidence to ban Huawei from operating in the nation. However, governments have been catching spies for decades and punishing individuals. There is little (or any) precedent to ban the company than individual works for unless there is a direct link between the organization and the nefarious government. Over in the UAE, 31-year-old PhD student at Durham University has been arrest for espionage also, but the University has not been punished. MI5 and MI5 catch spies and potential terrorists every year, but the companies they work for are not accused of espionage.

We suspect the Chinese government is obtaining information through reprehensible means, but if the world is to hold China accountable, ‘western’ governments need to stand by their principles and not undermine the foundations of fair society. The principle which is being forgotten today is the assumption of innocence until a party has been proven guilty.

Two wrongs do not make a right, and we have to ask ourselves this question; are we any better than the oppressive governments if we forget this simple principle of a fair and reasoned judicial system; innocent until proven guilty.

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5 comments

  1. Stephen W. Preston 15/01/2019 @ 4:02 pm

    The author of this article is shockingly ill informed. While I am certain that much of the evidence against Huawei was collected through the national technical means of our Five Eyes partners, the example of Hanjuan Jin was litigated in Federal court in Chicago. The public indictment of Hanjuan Jin can be obtained from the DoJ website. I’ve written an article about it on my LinkedIn profile. In short the founder of Huawei, a former 3PLA officer, was in direct contact with Hanjuan Jin, who was arrested with classified PLA manuals which she used to guide her collection against Motorola.

  2. Jamie Davies Jamie Davies 16/01/2019 @ 10:10 am

    This case seems to be one of corporate espionage not directly linked to Huawei collusion with the Chinese government. Hanjuan Jin was convicted of theft of trade secrets, not an uncommon case in the industry, but found not guilty of working on behalf or for the benefit of the Chinese government and/or its military. There are a lot of suspect activity which surrounds Huawei, your example aides the point I am trying to make; there is a lack of substantial, direct evidence.

    With regard to your certainty in there being evidence collected through the five eyes, firstly, they should show it. And secondly, why aren’t all the member of the five eyes taking the same aggressive approach if they know there is evidence of Chinese espionage.

  3. Derrick 22/01/2019 @ 2:55 am

    Problem is, China is a Dictatorship which means if China wanted to get their greasy paws into the telecom market for spying, hacking, espionage…they could do it even without Huawei’s permission. Huawei might actually be a straight shooter but it’s the Chinese government that’s the problem. And I entirely understand why the US and many other countries would be skeptical about allowing a very large Chinese telecom company into their infrastructure. It probably has nothing to do with evidence but more so what the past has told us in that is China trustworthy? Have they spied before on us? Do we have a good relationship with them? How bad is the dictatorship over there?

    I would be very hesitant allowing a Chinese telecom into my country if I knew for a fact that China in the past has done some nefarious shit and has been caught on several occasions and doesn’t particularly like our country. And the fact that these Huawei executives keep getting in trouble and arrested for international crimes is the cherry on the cake of “access denied”.

    That just shows that the company who once was probably a straight, legit company has been corrupted by the Chinese government and is now showing the repercussions of that…Again, there will probably never need to be any hard evidence, it’s kinda just common sense at this point.

    • b199er 26/02/2019 @ 7:57 pm

      Perhaps the Chinese can reciprocate in not allowing Western tech companies into China? If they can argue they don’t trust the likes of Google and Facebook spying on their citizens. They’ve achieved this in the internet realm with their Great Firewall of China, which has given rise to giants such as WeChat.

      Accusations of Industrial espionage and spying, whether true or not, have an immense economic effect on the industry. While the concern is of legal matters which have a small direct economic consequence. The side-effect, the trade protectionism is immense, and one would be a fool to overlook it’s implications. Huawei now becoming the No. 2 smartphone brand in the world after Samsung in terms of sales volume, the only major hurdle in its way are these security concerns.

      Will Huawei & HiSense manage to break into the West? Will Uber, Tesla, and Google manage to break into the East? Or do we have a stalemate? This is perhaps the risk-free model, the West and the East have their own exclusive markets.

  4. RICHARD 03/03/2019 @ 9:08 pm

    Lol, their phones apparently contain backdoors and “it’s not Huawei’s fault”. Why the hell are they selling shit with that in the EU and which not only doesn’t benefit their customers but also can potentially seriously damage them?!? I’m out for Huawei phones for many years, not the kind of consumer that accepts to be disrespected in this kind of way

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