Allowing Chinese tech firm Huawei to participate in the UK’s 5G network would be fatal, a former US security chief has warned.
Tom Ridge, former secretary of homeland security, said the incoming prime minister must sit down with American security officials to review the UK’s approach to the controversial company.
“It’s one thing for countries to spy on one another to protect and promote their self interest,” Ridge told reporters in London.
“But it’s another thing to allow a potential adversary to embed in a piece of infrastructure with the capability to glean even more information.”
He added: “To embed that capability in your critical infrastructure – in telecommunications – is potentially fatal.”
Mobile providers EE and Vodafone have already launched 5G in parts of the UK using Huawei equipment in non-core areas of their networks.
However, the government insists it is yet to reach a final verdict on its approach towards the Chinese company.
The row over Huawei has proved to be a key area of disagreement between the UK and the US, which has urged its allies to ban the firm over concerns its technology could be used for state-sponsored spying. Huawei has always denied the allegations.
Ridge, who was named as the US’s first homeland security secretary in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, said it was “mind-boggling” that UK security professionals had reached a different conclusion from some of its allies.
He said any decision to allow Huawei to build next-generation mobile networks could cause “complications” for intelligence-sharing agreements, such as the so-called Five Eyes alliance between the UK, the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Ridge said that the upcoming change of Tory leadership offered the chance for a review of government policy towards Huawei.
“The new administration has the opportunity to revisit, without criticism, the assessment,” he said. “I think we’ve got to have our professionals sit down together.”
However, Ridge played down suggestions that the debate over Huawei could sour diplomatic relations between the US and the UK.
The so-called special relationship between the two countries has been under increased strain in recent days following the leak of sensitive memos written by British ambassador to the US Sir Kim Darroch.
Darroch has since resigned his post over the emails, which contained blunt criticisms of US President Donald Trump’s administration.
Asked about the leaks, Ridge expressed regret at Darroch’s resignation, adding that he did not approve of the president’s “Twitter diplomacy”.
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