Huawei Leak Probe Sees Firing Of Defence Secretary

The UK’s defence secretary Gavin Williamson has been sacked with immediate effect after an investigation pointed to him as being the guilty party for leaking the 5G decision about Huawei Technologies.

For his part Williamson has strenuously denied being involved in the leak from the UK’s National Security Council (NSC), but the Prime Minister Theresa May made clear in her letter to him that an investigation pointed to him as being the culprit, and that he had not fully co-operated with the probe.

The Prime Minister has appointed international development minister Penny Mordaunt to succeed Williamson as defence secretary. Prisons minister Rory Stewart was been appointed to Mordaunt’s former role.

Huawei Leak

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

But this leaking of the Huawei decision taken by the secretive NSC to a newspaper was deemed so serious that an internal inquiry began almost immediately, under the leadership of the UK’s top civil servant, Sir Mark Sedwill.

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.

The investigation could have resulted in criminal charges, so serious was the leak taken by the government.

PM’s Letter

The letter from the PM to Williamson makes for interesting reading, as it starts by thanking him for his meeting her last night.

“This is an extremely serious matter, and a deeply disappointing one,” wrote the PM. “It is vital for the operation of good government and for the UK’s national interest in some of the most sensitive and important areas that the members of the NSC – from our Armed Forces, our Security and Intelligence Agencies, and the most senior level of Government – are able to have frank and detailed discussions in full confidence that the advice and analysis provided is not discussed or divulged beyond that trusted environment.”

“That is why I commissioned the Cabinet Secretary to establish an investigation into the unprecedented leak from the NSC meeting last week, and why I expected everyone connected to it – Ministers and officials alike – to comply with it fully. You undertook to do so,” the PM wrote.

“I am therefore concerned by the manner in which you have engaged with this investigation,” she said. “It has been conducted fairly, with the full co-operation of other NSC attendees. They have all answered questions, engaged properly, provided as much information as possible to assist with the investigation, and encouraged their staff to do the same. Your conduct has not been of the same standard as others.”

“In our meeting this evening, I put to you the latest information from the investigation, which provides compelling evidence suggesting your responsibility for the unauthorised disclosure,” said the PM. “No other, credible version of events to explain this leak has been identified.”

Williamson denial

The former defence secretary however is still maintaining that he was not responsible.

“I am sorry that you feel recent leaks from the National Security Council originated in my department” he wrote. “I emphatically believe this was not the case.”

“I strenuously deny that I was in any way involved in this leak and I am confident that a thorough and formal inquiry would have vindicated my position,” he added.

Whatever the fallout of this firing, it is clear that the UK’s decision to restrict Huawei to non-core parts of the 5G network, has not gone down well on the other side of the Atlantic.

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 warned allies that “America may not be able to operate in certain environments if there is Huawei technology adjacent to that”.

And this week a US cyber security official at the State department said that America would reassess sharing information with any allies which use equipment made by Huawei.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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