Playing us for suckers.

Huawei NZ has offered to only use NZ citizens to install its 5G equipment as part of the national broadband upgrade. It does so because of concerns about a revised Chinese National Intelligence Law that requires all Chinese citizens and firms to serve the interests of state security. Prior to now, many of the technicians involved in installing Huawei equipment around the world were and are Chinese citizens. After the GCSB advised against using Huawei in the NZ 5G roll-out citing national security concerns and publicizing of the Chinese intelligence law requirement of its citizens, Huawei NZ decided to allay fears by offering to use Kiwi technicians instead.

This is akin to ISIS using white females to deliver package bombs. It is not the method of delivery that matters but the content of what is being delivered.

Huawei technicians in NZ may or may not know what “backdoors” or other bulk collection or data mining filters are embedded in the equipment that they install. That comes from the source, and when it comes to Huawei the source is intimately bound up with the Chinese state and its ruling party. Huawei is not a publicly traded company. Instead, it is a state capitalist enterprise and the CCP has a major role in its direction. Its technical arm is believed by Western intelligence agencies to have close ties to Chinese signals intelligence, which given the intelligence law’s requirement on Chinese firms is part but not all of the reason that Huawei has been banned from 5G roll-outs in Australia, NZ and the US.

Western telecommunications firms also install backdoors in their equipment. Those are used to, via bulk collection and data mining, ascertain customer preferences with an eye to selling advertising. According to Western security agencies, the difference between them and Huawei and its Chinese counterpart ZTE is that the former do not work hand in glove with intelligence agencies and in fact (especially after the Snowden revelations about bulk collection of domestic communications in Western democracies) require warrants from security courts in order to access encrypted communications on private networks.

So the argument goes that Western telecommunications firms install backdoors in their equipment in order to enhance commercial profitability while Huawei and ZTE install backdoors in order to serve Chinese intelligence. This includes collecting political, economic, military, diplomatic, commercial and intellectually proprietary information that extend well beyond aggregating and selling consumer preference data.

That is a big difference that the nationality of the technicians doing the installing of such equipment cannot obscure. Perhaps the Huawei NZ management think the NZ public are gullible enough to believe that the citizenship of technicians is the reason the GCSB advised against using it as a supplier.

When it comes to who to believe in a contest between NZ profit-seekers and national security professionals, especially when the profit-seekers are backed by an aggressive authoritarian state that regularly violates international norms, my inclination on this particular matter is to believe the security professionals, warts and all.

7 thoughts on “Playing us for suckers.

  1. The world is changing and pretending that we can sit on the fence isn’t going to fly for much longer geopolitically speaking. Trump won’t be around forever and when he goes the rest of the country will hold their collective nose and go with the US. For the insiders the choice has already been made and who’d thought it old Winnie has played a blinder.

  2. Knowing the massive rampant incompetence in what New Zealand chooses, in a crime against the English language, “national security professionals” (who are neither concerned with the nation, nor security, nor very professional) I find it extremely hard to trust them. Not that I want to trust the Chinese state either….

  3. Erewhon:

    If you meet Cheryl Gwyn, you might reconsider your low opinion of national security professionals. Admittedly, she is not a career intelligence officer but not all of the latter are self-interested incompetents either (at least in my experience).

  4. Well just as any functional institution or community will have some bad eggs, any dysfunctional institution will have a few competent individuals just because that’s how bell curves work.

    So I don’t disagree about Cheryl specifically, but we are talking about the community as a whole, and just as a few bad apples don’t mean the whole barrel is rotten, conversely, a few good apples don’t mean the whole barrel is fresh.

    We are talking about the assessment of the intelligence community as a whole, and as such any individuals can only be single data points.

  5. Erewhon: Off topic but relevant to your first post

    Re : “ Rampant incompetence “ and “ Crime against the English language “

    New Zealand’s incompetence in part is due to being so monolingual. Our dependence on English makes us unable to appreciate the beauty of indigenous and foreign languages

    It is as if we hide behind the convenience of the adage
    “ English is the business language of the world “
    Ie We speak English so foreigners have to speak English as well

    So for me thinking global in English is perfectly acceptable however thinking local in foreign languages is surely a logical step!

    It is a shame really as it is considered that learning languages assists neurological development

    THAT is our crime against the English Language !!

  6. Erewhon:

    I think that there is a tradition of insular group think in the SIS (less so the GCSB due to the technical nature of their work and the fact that tastings are set as much by foreign partners as by the GCSB). I also think that there is a bit too much political manipulation of analyses coming out of the NAB. The problem seems to be in the criteria by which people are promoted up the ranks rather than competence per se. With lateral thinking “outside the box” discouraged and toeing the line institutionally reinforced, the NZIC tends to have less competence at the top than amongst the junior ranks. I can only hope that Gwyn and the new (ish) directors of the SIS and GCSB work to change that institutional culture.

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