United States intelligence chiefs from the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security warned Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull not to enlist Huawei's help in its efforts to deploy the fifth generation of mobile networks, AFR reported Friday, citing people familiar with the matter. The officials are said to have personally briefed Mr. Turnbull on the matter earlier this month, urging the head of the state to reconsider Canberra's collaboration with Huawei due to the tech giant's close ties to Beijing that raise various security concerns, insiders claim. The chiefs reportedly identified "Beijing's cyber espionage" as one of the top risks on their joint cybersecurity agenda.
Should Huawei be responsible for supporting 5G buildouts in Australia, it could effectively seize control of the country's next-generation network and use it for spying or other nefarious purposes, Washington officials reportedly warned. The intelligence chiefs are also said to have raised concerns about the existence of a Chinese government committee within Huawei whose purpose remains publicly unexplained. Wireless carrier Optus recently announced plans to launch Australia's first 5G network in early 2019 after agreeing to a collaboration with Huawei. The world's largest manufacturer of network equipment also entered into an alliance with the Australian division of Vodafone and is participating in the 5G working group organized by Canberra's Department of Communications as of late 2017. The upcoming launch of Optus-enabled 5G will be partially supported using Huawei's equipment.
Washington has effectively blocked Huawei from doing business in the United States earlier this year and even pressured AT&T from dropping its retail partnership with the company that would have seen it become the first stateside carrier to sell Huawei smartphones in history, also due to spying concerns. Various mobile service providers around the world recently said they never saw any evidence of Huawei spying on anyone despite submitting the firm's equipment to rigorous security inspections for years. Huawei was banned from participating in Canberra's 2012 tender bidding process meant to find a partner to deploy a high-speed broadband network in the country. In a recent statement on the matter, Optus says it's extremely cautious with all equipment procured by third-party manufacturers and is fully committed to ensuring its offerings are maximally secure going forward, adding that there's no need for the Australian government to intervene in its 5G deployment plans.