Huawei Leak Probe Could Turn Criminal, Warns Government

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Hot water ahead for the leaker of government’s Huawei 5G decision, as minister confirms possible criminal investigation

An internal inquiry is reportedly underway in the heart of the British government, after a decision by the secretive National Security Council about Huawei’s 5G participation was leaked to a newspaper.

There had been calls for an investigation earlier this week following the leak, with some calling for criminal charges. And that now seems a very real possibility, after the BBC reported that the culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, as telling MPs that it is possible there could be a criminal investigation of the leak.

It comes after the Daily Telegraph had reported that the UK’s National Security Council (NSC) had agreed on Tuesday to allow Huawei limited access to help build parts of the network such as antennas and other “non-core” infrastructure.

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Leaked decision

That was despite concerns reportedly raised by senior ministers such as Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt.

A senior minister told the BBC that the leaking from the council was “simply not acceptable”. Others have called for criminal charges, with former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon reportedly saying the leak was “too serious” for a standard Whitehall inquiry

Ever since 2010 the NSC meets weekly at the heart of government. It is made up of senior cabinet ministers and is chaired by the Prime Minister Theresa May, all of whom have signed the Official Secrets Act.

It discusses secret intelligence that is supplied by GCHQ, MI6 and MI5, and can include officials and senior figures from the armed forces and intelligence communities.

In other words, this is the main government committee that handles highly sensitive intelligence information, which should never be leaked.

Co-operation demanded

Indeed, it is reported that while leaks from cabinet meetings are common-place, information from the NSC had never been leaked before.

But someone this week leaked a decision taken there, and now the leaker could be in serious trouble.

The BBC has reported that the top civil servant, Sir Mark Sedwill has written to ministers on the council and their special advisers, demanding their co-operation with his inquiry.

Sir Mark is leading the internal inquiry and he is also the UK’s National Security Adviser.

Lord O’Donnell, the former head of the Civil Service, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme any leaks from the NSC were “incredibly serious, a complete outrage”.

Sir Michael Fallon told the BBC everyone involved in the council should be investigated to find out who the leaker is, while former Conservative chief whip Andrew Mitchell said the security services should be called in.

Controversial decision

The decision to allow Huawei to supply equipment for the UK’s 5G network was always going to be controversial, especially as there is no clear understanding on what constitutes the “core” part of the network, from which Huawei is banned.

There has been intense lobbying efforts by the United States to pressure its allies to ban Huawei and other Chinese suppliers from participating in the build-out of 5G networks.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has previously told allies that “America may not be able to operate in certain environments if there is Huawei technology adjacent to that”.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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