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December 16, 2013 9:20 pm
Ministers should have final say on deals surrounding critical national infrastructure, the prime minister’s national security adviser will propose on Tuesday.
The move comes after parliamentarians raised questions about the oversight of Huawei, the Chinese technology group.
Sir Kim Darroch is expected to recommend tightening the protocols around sensitive infrastructure deals, according to two people familiar with his report, and improved governance at the cyber security evaluation centre in Banbury – established three years ago by Huawei to examine the physical equipment and software it used and ensure that it was not vulnerable to cyber attack.
The proposals follow criticism from parliament’s intelligence and security committee about a lack of ministerial oversight on a deal struck between BT, the UK telecommunications group, and Huawei nearly a decade ago. The committee concluded that it was unsatisfactory that ‘the cell’, as the Banbury centre is known, was run by people who were technically employees of Huawei.
Sir Kim’s proposals come just days after David Cameron, the prime minister, returned from a three-day tour of China.
Concerns were raised about the extent of Huawei’s involvement in the UK communications network after the Chinese company came under fire in the US.
One person familiar with Sir Kim’s report said the government would “put forward a more formal system . . . to ensure that satisfactory people are in charge of the [cyber security] centre”.
This could mean security service personnel from GCHQ, the government’s listening post, taking more direct control in recruitment and staffing at the centre.
Huawei set up the Banbury centre to alleviate concerns about its links with the Chinese state.
The centre is led by a former deputy director of GCHQ and staffed by British nationals with so-called “developed vetting” clearance, required for people with substantial unsupervised access to top secret assets.
However, MPs are concerned that the centre’s work in picking apart the Chinese software and hardware is funded and managed by Huawei.
But the government is also keen to avoid direct criticism of Huawei in the report, given that it is trying to build more commercial ties with Beijing.
“They don’t want to be too specific on Huawei,” said one person familiar with the report. “The tone is much more general around critical national infrastructure and broader oversight.”
The Chinese telecoms group is deeply embedded in the UK’s infrastructure after a deal struck in 2005 with BT to provide parts of its broadband network. Huawei has since won other contracts with UK telecoms groups, including to provide the technology that powers TalkTalk’s internet filtering equipment and television services.
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