Former Security Directors Are Concerned About Huawei—But Current CSIS Officials Are Not

Over the past few weeks, security experts in North America have expressed concern regarding growing ties to Chinese tech giant Huawei.

The heads of the CIA, FBI and NSA made recommendations during a Senate Intelligence Hearing in the middle of February to stop using products and services made by Huawei and another Chinese company, ZTE.

FBI Director Chris Wray said the government was “deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks.”

The fallout from those sentiments is starting to show. The massive electronics retailer Best Buy has reportedly stopped selling Huawei phones amid these same concerns.

When it comes to Canada, former security agency directors share similar viewpoints. Ward Elcock, a former CSIS director and deputy minister of national defence, spoke with the CBC about his concerns.

“[Huawei] is essentially under the control of the Chinese government,” he said. “It is hard for me to believe that a company such as Huawei would not do the bidding of the Chinese government and would not build traps, backdoors into its technology on behalf of the Chinese government.”

There is no evidence of such traps or backdoors, as Elcock went on to say that the face it is “distinctly possible” may be enough to keep people on their toes. Elcock went on to express specific sentiment regarding Huawei’s entrance into 5G infrastructure, saying it would be “a bridge too far.”  The Canadian government recently announced a $400 million investment into 5G, and while Huawei is not one of the private partners, they will make use of the technology if they are still operating in Canada over the next five years.

But current officials do not share the same worries. When Techvibes reached out to CSIS, they replied with a boilerplate statement, saying “CSIS is aware of a wide range of targeting against the private sector in Canada. Departments within the Government of Canada work together to ensure that any risks to Canada’s industry sector are identified and addressed.”

The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) stated that they were unable to comment on specific companies, products or providers.

However, during a followup, CSIS did state that “There is no direct request from CSIS to the public to stop purchasing Chinese-headquartered company devices such as Huawei or ZTE.”

Though a direct request from intelligence commissions to outright ban a company’s products would be rare, the Harper’s legislation did ban Huawei from bidding to build the Canadian government’s telecommunications and e-mail network back in 2012.

Huawei has publicly stated multiple times that they have no backdoors or traps in their systems, and fully comply with all regulations and mandates form each country they operate in.