Former government security expert John Suffolk is about to face a grilling by spy chiefs over his appointment as head of cyber security for Chinese firm Huawei.
Suffolk is apparently due to meet with Cabinet Office officials to discuss concerns over the information that could be passed on to the mobile equipment manufacturer. Presumably security chiefs don’t want another Kim Philby on their hands.
Huawei has a reputation for top level links with the Chinese government and military, with boss Ren Zhengfei having once been part of the People’s Liberation Army.
It has seemingly been hoped that by putting Suffolk in the firm the firm’s image as a spy network could be softened.
And Suffolk is obviously keen to show that he can earn his crust for the firm, immediately denying any links to authorities.
“I’ve seen no evidence of a link between the company and the Chinese government beyond a commercial one,” he said, continuing that “if by seeing me working for them British customers get reassured about Huawei not being linked to the military, then that’s a positive thing.’
But he may have to try a little harder if he is to allay the serious fears over the firms motives in the past.
Such concerns over the connections of the powerful firm and the Chinese authorities have already sparked reaction in the US. Huawei has been blocked from deals with the US, reluctant to open its doors to a massive potential security risk.
It is feared that if Huawei is able to get a foothold in foreign markets it could quite easily begin to listen in on telecommunications networks.
This meant that a proposed deal to set up a wireless network on the London Underground was treated with suspicion earlier this year.
But the UK government has not exactly given the impression that it is doing enough to protect our telecomms networks. When we highlighted similar concerns to the government over fellow Chinese mobile firm ZTE we were given short shrift.
Following an announcement that ZTE would be embarking on a partnership with BT the government show a shocking lack of motivation to address quite significant concerns of security. But it seems that behind closed doors there the threat is being taken seriously.
So now, in what the Daily Mail describes as an ‘unprecedented move’, Suffolk will be told to keep his trap shut over any sensitive state secrets that he may have picked up during his days in Whitehall.
He was once given one of the highest possible levels of clearance, so spooks from MI5 and MI6 are keen that he should not hand any information over.
But with Huawei looking to double its workforce in the UK to 1,000, authorities will certainly be keeping an eye on developments.