By Greg Weston, CBC News, May 15, 2012
In an exclusive interview in Washington, Michelle K. Van Cleave told CBC News the involvement of Huawei Technologies in Canadian telecom networks risks turning the information highway into a freeway for Chinese espionage against both the U.S. and Canada.
Huawei has long argued there is no evidence linking the company to the growing tidal wave of international computer hacking and other forms of espionage originating in China.
Nonetheless, the U.S. and Australia have already blocked Huawei from major telecom projects in those countries, and otherwise made it clear they regard China's largest telecommunications company as a potential security threat.
Van Cleave, who served as top spy-catcher for the Bush administration until 2006, describes Huawei as a potential "stalking horse" for Chinese military and intelligence objectives.
Even Canada's own intelligence agencies have warned the Harper government of the risks of throwing open the door to Chinese telecom companies.
Despite all the warnings, the federal and Ontario governments have rolled out the red carpet to Huawei, officially praising the Chinese company's partnerships in Canadian telecom projects with Telus, Bell, SaskTel and WIND Mobile.
During a recent visit to China, for instance, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was "honoured" to have witnessed the signing of large contracts for Huawei to provide Telus and Bell with the latest LTE high-speed wireless networks across Canada.
Among its many large customers, Telus has just signed a $250-million contract to provide the Canadian military with secure voice and data services worldwide.
The Ontario government has been equally enthusiastic toward Huawei, giving the telecom giant $6.5 million of taxpayers' money to locate its Canadian office and a "research facility" in the province.
Huawei last year had worldwide revenues of more than $32 billion.
For its part, Huawei has long confronted its critics with claims to be just another multinational corporation owned by its employees, free of Chinese government control, adding it would be commercially suicidal to engage in espionage.
Huawei declined to be interviewed by the CBC. Instead, the company issued a written statement late Tuesday saying, in part, that the company ensures "all our stakeholders, including governments, have a clear understanding of the tools we use to protect the integrity of our customers' networks to the highest standards.
"Over the past four years, we've worked openly and transparently in consultation with our customers and government to meet these requirements."
Van Cleave sees things differently.
"China is a totalitarian government, and Huawei operates at the sufferance of the government, and those relationships are there. Even if Huawei management wished them away, they would still be there."
Van Cleave says the intelligence community fears digital "back doors" could be hidden in the telecommunications networks, allowing spies to steal American and Canadian secrets and ultimately disrupt everything from public utilities to military operations in the event of international conflict.
She says the U.S. government's actions to prevent Huawei from taking over U.S. telecom companies, or participating in major infrastructure projects, "is the right thing to be doing."
The Harper government's own Department of Public Safety warned more than a year ago that Canada's telecommunications network is too important to be left to foreign companies.
Here is another case where the public is being given two very different stories, one from the Chinese company, the other from the counter-terrorism experts in the U.S. (and one might assume Australia, if they were asked) about the security risks involved.
There is no doubt that, should the Chinese government wish to access the details of any information acquired by this large multinational company, headquartered in China, they could and would do so.
There is also no doubt that the Chinese government, through its various agents, has hacked the computers of the Pentagon and other high security agencies in the U.S. government.
There is also no doubt that China has publicly declared that it does not intend to compete on the world stage with other large military powers, preferring to go the cyber-route to intelligence and espionage, as their preferred method of offense and of defence.
So, from the ordinary person's perspective, in Canada and in Ontario, one is prompted to ask, "Why are both Ottawa and Queen's Park governments so ready to permit entry to this company into our private companies like Telus and Bell?
Clearly, there will need to be much more research into the relationship between the Chinese government and Huawei, but, as an outsider, we would prefer to have a different company providing the technological infrastructure for our telecommunications needs.