Britain’s Johnson Poised to Give Huawei Role in 5G Development

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears set to give the go-ahead for Chinese telecom giant Huawei to play a role in the development of Britain’s 5G wireless network — a move that risks jeopardizing intelligence-sharing between Britain and America, according U.S. officials.  Despite last-ditch lobbying by the U.S. to block Huawei, British officials say it is a “foregone conclusion” Johnson will allow Huawei participation.That would confirm a “provisional” decision made by his predecessor, Theresa May. Last year, she said Huawei should be allowed to build some so-called “non-core” parts of Britain’s future 5G data network, discounting U.S. alarm.Johnson’s final decision could come as early as this week, officials say.For a year, the Trump administration has urged Britain to ban Huawei from participating in the development of Britain’s fifth-generation wireless network. U.S. officials say there’s a significant risk that the company, which has close ties to Chinese intelligence services, will act as a Trojan horse for Beijing’s espionage agencies, allowing them to sweep up data and gather intelligence.FILE – Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Oct. 16, 2019.Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have urged all Western allies to shun Huawei on security grounds. They have specifically warned Downing Street that Britain’s participation in the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing arrangement — the U.S.-led Anglophone intelligence pact linking Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Britain — would be imperiled.Australia and New Zealand have banned Huawei from developing their 5G networks. As yet, Canada has not.Senior U.S. security officials flew to London last week and warned Johnson and his ministers that allowing Huawei to supply even some non-core equipment of the future 5G network would be “nothing short of madness.”Cost factorBut Johnson has faced strong counter lobbying from China — and also from British telecom providers and mobile phone companies. They have already been installing Huawei technology to start setting up the new network in more than 70 cities in Britain. They warn that delaying the rollout of 5G would cost the British economy billions of pounds. Ripping out masts and other equipment already in place would cost British providers hundreds of millions of pounds and could delay by up to five years the 5G network.Last week, Johnson expressed frustration with the U.S. over the issue, saying in a BBC radio interview that he didn’t want “to prejudice our national security or our ability to co-operate with Five Eyes intelligence partners,” but that he wanted Britain to have “access to the best possible technology. We want to put in gigabit broadband for everybody.”Johnson added, “If people oppose one brand or another, then they have to tell us what’s the alternative.”Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks at the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London, Britain, Jan. 20, 2020.U.S. officials reportedly told Johnson that Britain shouldn’t prioritize costs over security.Johnson has some U.S. supporters.”It is a difficult decision for a number of countries, the U.K. being one of them,” said Robert Manning, an analyst at the Atlantic Council.Huawei alternativesManning sympathizes with Johnson’s complaint that the U.S. isn’t offering any alternatives to Huawei.”On one level, this is all a fallout from America First policy. We should have sat down with our allies a long time ago to sort out what you have to worry about and what you might have some leeway on. There is a certain demonization going on, ” he told VOA.British technology experts say it is easier for the U.S. to avoid using Huawei equipment, as it is building a less sophisticated 5G network and doesn’t require the advanced antenna-sharing technology Huawei has developed. They say Huawei will provide not just faster mobile data connection but easier connectivity between internet-based devices, from laptops and smart refrigerators to self-driving cars.U.S. giants Cisco and Qualcomm are the go-to 5G equipment suppliers in America. But like Europe’s Ericsson and Nokia, they can’t currently provide the same advanced equipment as Huawei or at the same low price.Security risksBritish intelligence agencies are split on whether Huawei poses a security risk.  Andrew Parker, head of MI5, believes U.S. alarm is overblown. He has said publicly that the security risks can be managed if Huawei has access to the less sensitive parts of the new network, and is monitored closely and its equipment screened.He has also discounted U.S. threats to review intelligence-sharing, saying there is “no reason to think” Washington would follow through with its threat, as the U.S.-U.K. partnership is “very close and very trusted.”But U.S. officials have told VOA that Parker is wrong to think that U.S. intelligence agencies would overlook the spying fears. They also warn that a possible Johnson fudge, whereby Huawei’s equipment would be allowed in less sensitive parts of the network, wouldn’t assuage their concerns.Top officials at Britain’s GCHQ, the eavesdropping spy agency and the country’s largest intelligence, aren’t as sanguine as Parker, and remain worried about the risks of handing Huawei unprecedented access to British citizens’ sensitive data.FILE – An analyst points to a screen at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s electronic intelligence service, in London, March, 14, 2014.They agree with U.S. intelligence assessments that restricting Huawei to the “edges” of the new network would make little difference to the security risk. They told Britain’s Sunday Times that giving Huawei such access would be akin to “letting a fox loose in a chicken coop.”Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who when in office ruled out using Huawei for 5G development, said the nature of 5G technology made it impossible to separate the core from non-core elements of the future network. He said Huawei could be forced by Chinese law to hand over information to Beijing’s espionage agencies.”Do you want to give China the capability to materially interfere with what will become one of the most fundamental technological platforms in the modern economy?” he said in a radio interview last week.The Chinese government says Huawei is a private company and poses no security risk to the West. Huawei has dismissed U.S. allegations that it could undermine Britain’s national security as “baseless speculation.”Beijing has also made thinly veiled threats, suggesting a decision to ban Huawei could result in Britain being punished when it comes to trade and investment.Britain hopes to pull off post-Brexit trade deals with both Washington and Beijing to help compensate for reduced trade with Europe.
 

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Malawi is Home to Africa’s First Drone Academy

Malawi this month opened the first African Drone and Data Academy, with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF.  The academy aims to improve drone technology skills across Africa, beginning with Malawi and neighboring countries.Karen Asaba developed an interest in drones at Uganda Flying Labs, a Kampala-based drone mapping and data hub. As a student at Malawi’s just opened African Drone and Data Academy, she gets to learn how to build one.”Right now, we are learning how to assemble a drone from the start, considering its weight, considering the central gravity, considering the GPS and all the electronics that are involved in making the drone,” she said.Asaba is one of 26 students from across Africa in the first three-month course at the academy, learning to construct and pilot drones.Instructors are seen teaching students at the African Drone and Data Academy in Malawi. (Lameck Masina/VOA)The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is backing the program, which this year is expected to train 150 students.UNICEF says the academy, and the launch of Africa’s first drone corridor in Malawi in 2016, will promote drones for development and humanitarian use.Rudolf Schwenk, the country representative for UNICEF in Malawi, says the drones will have broad practical applications.”For example, transporting medical supplies to remove areas or transporting samples very fast, where it will take a lot of time to transport them.  We have also worked on emergency preparedness and response because with data and drone imagery, you can see where flooding will happen,” Schwenk said.Thumbiko Nkwawa Zingwe, a student at the newly-launched African Drone and Data Academy, says the course he has taken there has insipred him to start a space agency in Malawi. (Lameck Masina/VOA)The drone course was developed with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, better known as Virginia Tech.Kevin Kochersberger, an associate professor at Virginia Tech, explained the course’s components.”We go through three modules in this program. They have gone [through] drone logistics, drone technologies so they become very functional in drone[s] – not only being pilots, but they operate and maintain the drones as well,” Kochersberger said.The drone academy has inspired some students like Thumbiko Nkwawa Zingwe to reach for the stars.I have a vision that I can start a first Malawian space agency, which can be utilizing geo-information data for different applications. For example, here in Malawi we are so susceptible to floods as a geo-hazardous anomaly,” Zingwe said.The African Drone and Data Academy’s first graduates are expected in March.The academy plans to partner with Malawi University of Science and Technology for a free master’s degree program in drone technology by 2022.   

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Sources: Merkel Seeks to Delay Huawei Position Until After March EU Summit

Chancellor Angela Merkel has asked her conservative lawmakers to wait until after a March EU summit before taking a position on whether China’s Huawei can take part in the rollout of Germany’s 5G network, sources involved in their talks said.Merkel believes European Union coordination on the issue is important and she has been unable to bridge differences within her CDU/CSU bloc, the sources said.Merkel’s conservatives are divided on whether to support a proposal by their Social Democrat (SPD) junior coalition partners that, if approved, would effectively shut out the Chinese technology giant from the network.
  

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Extradition Hearing for Huawei Executive Begins in Canada

The first stage of an extradition hearing for a senior executive of Chinese telecom giant Huawei begins Monday in a Vancouver courtroom, a case that has infuriated Beijing, set off a diplomatic furor and raised fears of a brewing tech war between China and the United States.  Canada’s arrest of chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei’s legendary founder, in late 2018 at America’s request shocked Beijing.   Huawei represents China’s ambitions to become a technological power, but has been the subject of U.S. security concerns for years. Beijing views Meng’s case as an attempt to contain China’s rise.  “This is one of the top priorities for the Chinese government. They’ve been very mad. They will be watching this very closely,” said Wenran Jiang, a senior fellow at the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia.  Washington accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. It says Meng, 47, committed fraud by misleading HSBC Bank about the company’s business dealings in Iran.   In this file photo taken on Nov. 6, 2019, the logo of Chinese telecom giant Huawei is pictured during the Web Summit in Lisbon.Meng, who is free on bail and living in one of the two Vancouver mansions she owns, denies the allegations. Meng’s defense team has pointed to comments by U.S. President Donald Trump they say suggest the case against her is politically motivated.  Meng was detained in December 2018 by Canadian authorities in Vancouver as she was changing flights — the same day that Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met for trade talks.  Prosecutors have stressed that Meng’s case is separate from the wider trade dispute, but Trump undercut that message weeks after her arrest when he said he would consider intervening in the case if it would help forge a trade deal with Beijing.   China and the U.S. reached a “Phase 1” trade agreement last week, but most analysts say any meaningful resolution of the main U.S. allegation — that Beijing uses predatory tactics in its drive to supplant America’s technological supremacy — could require years of contentious talks. Trump had raised the possibility of using Huawei’s fate as a bargaining chip in the trade talks, but the deal announced Wednesday didn’t mention the company.   Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for cellphone and internet companies. Washington has pressured other countries to limit use of its technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft.  “I think this is the beginning of a technological war along ideological fronts,” said Lynette Ong, an associate professor at the University of Toronto. “You are going to see the world divided into two parts. One side would use Chinese companies and the other side would not use Chinese companies because they are weary of the political implications of using Chinese platforms.”James Lewis at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said the U.S. wanted to send a message with Meng’s arrest and that there is good evidence that Huawei willfully violated sanctions.  “The message that you are no longer invulnerable has been sent to Chinese executives,” Lewis said. “No one has held China accountable. They steal technology, they violate their WTO commitments and the old line is, ‘Oh, they are a developing economy, who cares.’ When you are the second-largest economy in the world you can’t do that anymore.”  The initial stage of Meng’s extradition hearing will deal with the issue of whether Meng’s alleged crimes are crimes both in the United States and Canada. Her lawyers filed a a motion Friday arguing that Meng’s case is really about U.S. sanctions against Iran, not a fraud case. Canada does not have similar sanctions on Iran.   The second phase, scheduled for June, will consider defense allegations that Canada Border Services, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the FBI violated her rights while collecting evidence before she was actually arrested.  The extradition case could take years to resolve if there are appeals. Virtually all extradition request from Canada to the U.S. are approved by Canadian judges.   In apparent retaliation for Meng’s arrest, China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor. The two men have been denied access to lawyers and family and are being held in prison cells where the lights are kept on 24-hours-a-day. “That’s mafia-style pressure,” Lewis said.   China has also placed restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola oil seed and meat. Last January, China also handed a death sentence to a convicted Canadian drug smuggler in a sudden retrial.   “Canada is fulfilling the terms of its extradition treaty but is paying an enormous price,” said Roland Paris, a former foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “This is the kind of world we’re living in now, where countries like Canada are at risk of getting squeezed in major power contests.”

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Intellectual Property Theft a Growing Threat

The new U.S.-China trade agreement includes provisions that are aimed at curbing forced technology transfers, in which companies hand over technical know-how to foreign partners. For many high-tech businesses, the intellectual property behind their products represents the bulk of their companies’ value.  To learn more about the risks of IP theft, Elizabeth Lee recently visited the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where companies talked about the risks to their technology secrets.

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While Shuttered at Home, China Exploits Social Media Abroad

China says its diplomats and government officials will fully exploit foreign social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter that are blocked off to its own citizens.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Monday likened the government to “diplomatic agencies and diplomats of other countries” in embracing such platforms to provide “better communication with the people outside and to better introduce China’s situation and policies.”
Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have tried for years without success to be allowed into the lucrative Chinese market, where Beijing has helped create politically reliable analogues such as Weichat and Weibo. Their content is carefully monitored by the companies and by government censors.
Despite that, Geng said China is “willing to strengthen communication with the outside world through social media such as Twitter to enhance mutual understanding.” He also insisted that the Chinese internet remained open and said the country has the largest number of users of any nation, adding, “we have always managed the internet in accordance with laws and regulations.”
The canny use of social media by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong has further deepened China’s concern over the use of such platforms, prompting further crackdowns on the mainland, including on the use of virtual private networks.  

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US Scanning Cyberspace for Signs of Iranian Aggression

U.S. government officials are watching and waiting, with many believing it is only a matter of time before Iran lashes out in cyberspace for the U.S. drone strike that killed Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani last week.According to the latest advisory from the Department of Homeland Security, there are still “no specific, credible threats” to the United States. But officials say Iran’s public assurances that it is done retaliating mean little.“Iran has been one of the most malicious actors out there,” a senior State Department official said Thursday. “We’re very concerned about Iran’s capabilities and activities.”U.S. government officials have been hesitant to comment in any detail on what Iranian cyber actors have been up to in recent days, though they note Iran’s capabilities are on par with Russia, China and North Korea when it comes to using cyber to target industrial control systems or physical infrastructure.“DHS [Department of Homeland Security] is operating under an enhanced posture to improve coordination and situational awareness should any specific threats emerge,” a department spokesperson told VOA.The spokesperson added DHS is coordinating with U.S. intelligence agencies, key private sector companies and organizations, and is ready to “implement enhanced security measures, as needed.”Iranian Cyber ActivityBracing for a ‘significant’ attackIntelligence officials say much of Iran’s cyber activity is driven by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), sometimes using front companies or sometimes carrying out cyberattacks themselves.Past Iranian cyberattacks have ranged from distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS), which block access to websites by overwhelming the server hosting the site with internet traffic, to efforts to deface websites or attempts to steal personal data.An alert this week from the FILE – The Twitter and Facebook logos, Nov. 26, 2019.Ramping up disinformation campaignsAnd once the U.S. airstrike took out Soleimani, the Iranian disinformation machinery went into action.“As that news came out, we saw them ramp their program and start pushing that stuff out,” Hultquist said.The disinformation from Iran’s proxy forces in the Middle East further increased Tuesday during Iran’s retaliatory missile strike on Iraqi bases hosting U.S. and coalition forces — “in terms of reports coming in about certain hits that happened and numbers of casualties from the Iranian response,” said Phillip Smyth, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has been tracking social media activity by the Iranian-backed militias.But Iran-linked cyber actors have also eyed more ambitious campaigns.In October 2018, for example, Facebook and Instagram removed 82 accounts, pages and groups from their platforms.The posts, Facebook said, focused on “politically charged topics such as race relations, opposition to the [U.S.] president and immigration.”Facebook Removes 82 Iranian-Linked Accounts

        Facebook announced Friday that it has removed 82 accounts, pages or groups from its site and Instagram that originated in Iran, with some of the account owners posing as residents of the United States or Britain and tweeting about liberal politics.At least one of the Facebook pages had more than one million followers, the firm said. The company said it did not know if the coordinated behavior was tied to the Iranian government. 

Analysts said while those Iranian disinformation efforts paled in comparison to the campaign run by Russia in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, the effort showed signs of increasing sophistication, which has continued to this day.Some former U.S. officials and analysts also suspect Iran may be targeting news outlets.The Kuwaiti government Wednesday said the Kuwait News Agency’s Twitter account was hacked after it posted false reports that the U.S. was withdrawing all troops based in the country.Separately, hackers claiming to be working on behalf of Iran defaced the website of the U.S. Federal Depository Library Program.Despite suspicions and concerns, though, officials have yet to definitely attribute either attack to Iran. And there is a risk that such attacks are actually the work of other cyber actors.For example, former officials said there have been instances in the past where Russian cyber operatives hijacked Iranian infrastructure or malware to launch intrusions of their own.Targeting AmericansIran, though, has other tools it can use to strike the U.S. and the West. “Iranian cyber actors are targeting U.S. government officials, government organizations and companies to gain intelligence and position themselves for future cyber operations,” U.S. intelligence agencies warned in their most recent threat assessment.Iran’s Cyber Spies Looking to Get Personal

        Iran appears to be broadening its presence in cyberspace, stealing information that would allow its cyber spies to monitor and track key political and business officials, including some in the United States.A new, U.S. intelligence report released Tuesday warned Iranian cyber actors "are targeting U.S. Government officials, government organizations, and companies to gain intelligence and position themselves for future cyber operations."The latest Worldwide Threat Assessment also said Tehran has been…

The U.S.-based cybersecurity firms FireEye and Symantec have said their research shows Iranian-linked cyber actors have paid particular attention to telecommunications and travel companies, mining them for personal data that could prove useful in such cyber campaigns.Not everyone, however, is convinced Iran is positioned to launch a major cyber offensive.“A lot of the doom and gloom headlines that are out there right now, I think, are overblowing or overhyping the immediate cyberthreat coming from Iran,” Hoover Institution Fellow Jacquelyn Schneider said.“The reality is that Iranians have been conducting these cyberattacks over the last year, if not longer,” she said, adding that while there may well be an uptick in attacks, “they’ve been trying this entire time.”Still, a former U.S. National Security Agency threat manager cautions even a small cyberattack can inadvertently do widespread damage.“There’s always the potential that an attack or an intrusion, which is physically or strategically designed to only impact a certain geography or certain network, creeps to other parts of the network,” said Priscilla Moriuchi, now head of nation-state research at the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future.

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