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German spy chief says Huawei can't be 'fully trusted' in 5G

Dec 06. 2019
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By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Patrick Donahue

Germany's spy chief said Huawei Technologies Co. "can't fully be trusted," signaling security hardliners in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government want to keep the Chinese technology giant out of the country's fifth-generation networks.

Bruno Kahl, the president of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, gave public testimony in Berlin Tuesday in which he was asked about the risk level of Huawei's presence in the expanded 5G network and its ties to the government in Beijing.

"The trust in a state company that has a very high level of dependence on the Communist Party and the country's intelligence apparatus is not present," Kahl told a panel of lawmakers overseeing German intelligence agencies.

Merkel's government earlier this year ruled out an outright ban on the Chinese equipment supplier as Germany builds ultrafast 5G networks, defying warnings by the U.S. government and security hawks that Huawei equipment poses a risk of exposure to Chinese espionage.

That position was reinforced this month by reports the Chancellery had intervened to soften draft securities standards by removing the ability of authorities to identify "untrustworthy" vendors. The Chancellery has denied any intervention, saying there had never been a clause to ban Huawei.

Kahl signaled the government is still processing its security measures, saying "I have not been able to see that a definitive decision has been taken one way or the other." The panel he was addressing was holding its annual public session; it usually meets behind closed doors.

Even after Merkel ruled out a full ban, with an eye toward maintaining trade relations with China, officials in the BND as well as the foreign and interior ministries still wanted tools to potentially keep Huawei out if they sensed a security risk for Germany. The ability of authorities to determine whether equipment contained backdoor features that could be exploited by China is "very limited if not to say hopeless," Kahl said.

Even if it were possible, he added, a software update could "immediately" alter the network and open it to "sabotage or espionage." The company didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kahl underscored that a block on Huawei would have to be for core areas of 5G networks. "There may be areas where a participation doesn't have to be excluded," he said.


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