US Senator tables bill to ban intelligence sharing with Huawei friendlies

The Republican Senator for Arkansas, Tom Cotton, has tabled a bill which would ban US agencies from sharing data with countries do not ban Huawei.

With the UK reportedly on the verge of making a decision on whether Huawei should be allowed to sell network infrastructure equipment to its telcos, the US has once again piled on the pressure. Cotton, one of the more actively-aggressive politicians towards China, has introduced a bill which would ban US agencies from sharing information with Governments which have given the greenlight to Huawei.

“The United States shouldn’t be sharing valuable intelligence information with countries that allow an intelligence-gathering arm of the Chinese Communist Party to operate freely within their borders,” Cotton said.

“I urge our allies around the world to carefully consider the consequences of dealing with Huawei to their national interests.”

While there has been numerous promises to end intelligence sharing agreements to those governments who do not follow the US lead, this is the first official step towards making the threat a reality. This is the strongest statement made by the US to date directed towards European allies who have thus far refused to ban Huawei from providing equipment for 5G networks.

With many European telcos having already signed memoranda of understanding (MOU) or commercial contracts with the under-fire Chinese firm, this proposal from Cotton will certainly raise a few eyebrows.

Country Telcos with relationship with Huawei
UK Three, Vodafone, EE
Germany Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica Deutschland
Switzerland Sunrise
Bahrain VIVA
Austria T-Mobile Austria
Spain Telefonica
Indonesia Maxis
South Korea LGU+
Finland Elisa

Huawei has stated it has now signed more than 50 commercial 5G contracts with telcos around the world, though not all customers have been named to date. The firm has said 60% of these contracts are with European telcos. This will present numerous headaches from an intelligence and national security perspective.

Alongside the named customers, various countries have also suggested they would not ban Huawei. India, Italy, France and Norway are amongst these countries without having a telco in a named 5G relationship with Huawei.

Interestingly enough, the proposed bill only mentioned 5G equipment. Those telcos who have purchased equipment from Huawei for their 3G and 4G networks will not necessarily have to go through the expensive rip and replace process, unless the wording of the bill is changed as it progress through the various branches of US Government. There might be requirements from a backwards compatibility perspective, but this has not been included in the wording of the bill.

For countries like the UK or Germany, allegiances and confidences will be tested, as the US once again attempts to bully allies into line.

Although this could be viewed as the most serious threat to Huawei’s business to date, it is always worth noting that this could backfire quite spectacularly for the US. Although Governments will rely on the US for intelligence, the same dynamic works the other direction. Should the bill pass to law and should the US’ allies continue to ignore its demands, the US will find itself very isolated in the intelligence community.

One of the differences between the US and other nations seems to be the way the network is viewed. Some countries, the UK and Germany for example, view the network as having intelligent segments (the core) and ‘dumb’ ones (radio and transmission). One possible solution to the Huawei conundrum has been to allow Huawei products in the ‘dumb’ segments of the network but not the intelligent ones.

Some might believe that risk can be mitigated should Huawei be allowed to contribute to the ‘dumb’ segments of the network, though these semantics are largely irrelevant if the US views the network as a single entity. If this bill passes, it is Huawei or no Huawei, no compromises.

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