5G Espionage (II)

BERLIN/BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Own report) - An opening is emerging for Berlin to be able to include Huawei in Germany's 5G grid installation - contrary to the massive US campaign. The President of the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) Arne Schönbohm declared that "an anti-espionage treaty" between Germany and China could help, open the possibility of Huawei's participation in setting up the grid. Chancellor Angela Merkel is currently seeking to conclude such an agreement. The industry is in favor of using Huawei Technology, because it promises to be the fastest and most cost-effective construction of the strategically important 5G grid. Experts warn that without Huawei, Germany could lag at least two years behind in the development. Meanwhile it has become known that for years, the NSA has been eavesdropping not only on China's president but on Huawei as well. Allegedly, US spies cannot show any evidence of Huawei being involved in espionage operations - even after having read the emails of numerous employees and those of the company's board chair.

"No Unacceptable Risk"

A turning point in the intense dispute over the Chinese Huawei Corporation's participation in the creation of Germany and Europe's 5G grid, became apparent a few days ago. At the beginning of last week, the results were made known of an official investigation in Great Britain, carried out by the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) - a wing of Britain's intelligence service British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Contrary to US intelligence services' allegations, the British investigation concluded that using Huawei 5G Technology presents no unacceptable security risk. It was stated in London that this assessment is not a decision to involve the Chinese company in the construction of Britain's 5G grid. The government will take that decision. Nevertheless, the NCSC's assessment provides Berlin with a new margin of maneuver. The British intelligence service would know better than all others - through its particularly close "Five Eyes" intelligence network cooperation with US services - how well-founded Washington's accusations against Huawei are.[1] If they give a go ahead, the German government can consider this reliable. In the middle of last week, Ciaran Martin, head of NCSC confirmed the assessment that, in principle, there are no objections to Huawei.[2]

"A Political Decision"

After being handed a golden opportunity by London, Berlin is now also becoming active in the matter. It was reported on Wednesday that Chancellor Merkel seeks to reach an "anti-espionage accord" with China. Her economic advisor Lars-Hendrik Röller recently visited the People's Republic of China for negotiations in this matter. If Beijing accepts, the German government will not oppose Huawei.[3] The President of BSI, Arne Schönbohm has repeated, in the past, having found no evidence of Huawei being involved in espionage activities, the installation of so-called backdoors in German grids or similar manipulations. In the middle of last month, the BSI president had said that the decision to exclude the Chinese company from the construction of the German 5G grid would be a totally "political decision."[4] Yesterday, Schönbohm declared that “no spy clauses" could definitely play a role,"[5] however, he stressed that such clauses would have to be part of a government-to-government deal.

In the Economic Interests

Berlin is attempting to avoid the Huawei boycott - loudly insisted upon by Washington - because of pressure from Germany's business community. In late January, it became known that, according to an internal document, the Deutsche Telekom calculates that removing Huawei from the list of suppliers of fifth-generation networks would delay operation of the technology by at least two years.[6] The fact that Huawei has the most advanced technology available, that it offers the best service and has the greatest experience with 5G - because it is market leader on its home market, China - explains why its exclusion would cause the delay. According to an investigation by the consulting company Deloitte, between 2015 and August 2018, the People's Republic of China had installed nearly 350,000 cellphone grid relays, supporting the new standard. European countries have installed much fewer, and the USA not even 30,000.[7] German companies also fear that if Huawei were excluded, there may be fewer Chinese contracts, which is an important argument, due to the high significance of access to China's market. German associations, such as the Federation of German Industries (BDI), also strictly reject decoupling the Chinese telecommunications industry, as Washington seeks to impose. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[8]) Due to a lack of their own capabilities, in fields such as autonomous driving and artificial intelligence (AI), German companies are currently dependent on intensive cooperation with Chinese companies.

Struggle for Autonomy

On the other hand, Berlin is being confronted with Washington's efforts to thwart Germany's attempts to develop an autonomous global policy. US initiatives are motivated by the fact that the German government explicitly strives to "achieve a par" with Washington. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[9]) This would mean a loss of US influence. Whereas the Obama administration had sought to maintain its control by tightly integrating Germany and the EU, the Trump administration is choosing open confrontation.[10] Currently it is seeking to prevent Berlin and Brussels from successfully developing their own initiatives, particularly their efforts to salvage the nuclear deal with Iran, and making the Nord Stream 2 pipeline operational. In addition, US punitive tariffs and its trade war with China is inflicting palpable trade losses on German companies, with Berlin being in no position to defend itself. If the German government should give in on the conflict over Huawei, it is no longer perceivable, what its desired autonomy should consist of.

Reading over the Shoulder

As the decision-making moment approaches, a report has confirmed suspicions that – contrary to US allegations - there is neither public nor even secret evidence to back the claim that Huawei is collaborating with Chinese official institutions or even Chinese intelligence services. Documents made public by Edward Snowden indicate that the USA's NSA intelligence service had begun to spy on Huawei in 2006. According to this report, US intelligence agents obtained access to the company's internal network at approx. 100 different points, stealing a list of more than 1,400 names of customers, as well as internal training instructions for Huawei engineers and cracked the secret source codes of a number of Huawei products.[11] In 2009, this eavesdropping operation was not only expanded to include other Chinese telecommunications enterprises and banks, but also Beijing's foreign and trade ministries and President Hu Jintao. The eavesdropping was also intensified in relationship to Huawei. It is reported that the NSA had read "a large portion of the employees email traffic" – "including the mails of the company's Board Chair, at the time, Ren Zhengfei and the Supervisory Board Chair, at the time, Sun Yafang." In spite of this comprehensive attack, it is reported that not a single shred of evidence has been uncovered, indicating the influence of state authorities at Huawei, or the installation of backdoors or other manipulations.

"Everything that the US Government Wants"

Aside from the fact that the report sheds a clear light on the constant allegations of a need for defense against Chinese and Russian internet spying, the author points to another illuminating aspect: not a single case is known, to date, where the Chinese state or Chinese companies have surreptitiously installed "notorious kill switches that can shut down complete wireless network sectors." The Snowden documents however show "that the NSA has infected tens of thousands of computers with a sleeper software, that can be activated at the flick of a switch and do whatever the US government wants it to do - even, if in doubt, shut down a foreign country's cellphone network."[12] As the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) has noted, meanwhile, "the US company Verizon's products are no longer being used in the network of the German government and parliament" - for good reason.[13]


[1] See also Spionage bei 5G.

[2] Jack Stubbs, Foo Yun Chee: Britain managing Huawei risks, has no evidence of spying: official. reuters.com 20.02.2019.

[3] Silke Wettach, Julian Heißler, Jürgen Berke: Merkel will Anti-Spionageabkommen mit China. wiwo.de 27.02.2019.

[4] BSI-Chef hält sich aus Streit um Huawei und 5G heraus. handelsblatt.com 14.02.2019.

[5] Guy Chazan: German cyber security chief backs 5G "no spy" deal over Huawei. ft.com 28.02.2019.

[6] Patrick Donahue, Stefan Nicola, Brian Parkin: Deutsche Telekom Warns Huawei Ban Would Hurt Europe 5G. bloomberg.com 28.01.2019.

[7] Deloitte: 5G: The chance to lead for a decade. O.O. 2018.

[8] See also Der neue Systemkonflikt (II).

[9] See also Die Welt regieren and State of the Union.

[10] See also Weltpolitik unter Druck and Europe's "Geopolitical Identity".

[11], [12] Holger Stark: Konzern unter Verdacht. zeit.de 20.02.2019.

[13] S. dazu Spionage bei 5G.