Is this obscure Chinese company set to wreck America from the north?
While the United States and Australia, and the U.K. to a lesser extent, have taken strong action against Huawei – the Chinese networking, telecommunications equipment, and services company that has become the largest telecom equipment manufacturer in the world – Canada refuses to take any national security threats from this Chinese corporation seriously. Over the past decade, Huawei has integrated itself into all levels of Canada's private, academic, governmental, and political sectors to a degree most rational observers would have not so long ago thought impossible.
But according to the latest statements by Canada's federal Public Safety Minister and Liberal Party member of Parliament Ralph Goodale, Huawei "does not pose a risk to Canada's cybersecurity." Goodale's naïve view parrots that of Huawei Canada vice president Scott Bradley but stands in stark opposition to sentiment held by the U.S. national security establishment, as well as many former leaders of Canada's national security agencies. Other center-left politicians, such as former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall – whose provincial Saskatchewan Party was formed as a merger between Liberal Party and Progressive Conservative members – have held a similar line to Goodale over the past few years. Back in December 2012, Wall claimed that there was "nothing to fear from a deal with Huawei."
The 2012 U.S. congressional investigative report on Huawei, which Wall dismissed at the time and Goodale is apparently ignoring, paints a different picture. The report found great concern with the fact that under Chinese law, "Huawei would be obligated to cooperate with any request by the Chinese government to use their systems or access them for malicious purposes under the guise of state security." Testing programs, as Britain has enacted for Huawei's technologies being deployed in the U.K., were dismissed as futile and impractical by the congressional report, since it would be "virtually impossible" to find security flaws intentionally placed and well hidden in Huawei's products by the Chinese government. Confidential reports were also made to the committee by various private-sector representatives that "odd or alerting" behavior in Huawei technologies is well known.
Most problematic for Huawei is that the company acknowledges that the Chinese Communist Party maintains a Party Committee within Huawei, but Huawei officials refuse to discuss what the role or composition of the committee is. The founder of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei, was a director of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Information Engineering Academy, and it is believed that his close connections to the PLA continue, a position bolstered by the fact that Huawei admits providing ongoing technology to the PLA but will not discuss the nature of the relationship.
The Liberal Party is clearly protecting Huawei from even a basic level of due diligence scrutiny – not surprising, given that Scott Bradley, Huawei's vice president for corporate relations, ran as a Liberal Party candidate in the 2011 federal election; "is the brother-in-law of Susan Smith, a co-founder of Canada 2020, an influential think tank with close ties to the Liberal government – and which is partly funded by Huawei"; is registered in Canada's lobbying database as being a former political assistant for the governing federal Liberal Party during the mid- to late 1990s; and is a longtime major donor to the Liberal Party (including up to the present). Similarly, Pierre Bissonnette – Huawei's vice president and general manager – also appears to be a Liberal Party donor.
As Huawei and other state-linked Chinese companies continue to penetrate into and begin dominating strategic sectors of the Canadian economy, the problems are not confined to Canadian national security. Because of the close academic, private sector, and governmental relations between Canada and the United States on a number of defense related issues, what happens in Canada affects not only Canada. It is not just telecommunications traffic originating or terminating in Canada that is vulnerable to foreign influences. So is any traffic passing through Canada – whether intended by those on either end of the communications link or not, as just another of those peculiarities of our globally interconnected telecom networks. Any sensitive information the U.S. shares directly with Canada, or which passes through Canada unintentionally, is at risk.
Canada's national security apparatus is much more vulnerable to politicization than its American counterparts, to an extent even far greater than witnessed in recent times with the FBI and other federal agencies. Canada simply lacks the governmental checks and balances, as well as a critical and robust press, to fully investigate security risks of this type. While much is made of China's state-sponsored hacking directly into U.S. national security targets, Canada is comparatively low-hanging fruit. Cross-border collaboration on a range of national security topics allows foreign entities to get much, if not all, of what they seek from the Canadian side of the relationship, often with multiple levels and branches of the compromised Canadian government turning a blind eye until after the damage is done.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton has instructed the director of the National Security Agency, Lieutenant General Paul Nakasone, to "engage with Canadians" and "educate them on the threat" from Huawei. It is going to take more than education and engagement. The Liberal Party of Canada is already well aware of the risks from Chinese state-linked enterprises operating in critical sectors of the Canadian economy. If Senator Cotton wants to make real progress on this file, and minimize the risks to U.S. national security via Canada's willingness to let Huawei and others do business as they do, then serious economic and other forms of diplomatic pressure will need to be exerted.