with Tonya Riley


Cybersecurity hawks on both sides of the Atlantic are making last-ditch pitches for the United Kingdom to ban the controversial Chinese telecom Huawei from its next-generation 5G networks as it plans to decide as soon as this week week.

It's a final parry in a global battle that has sparked a rift so wide between Washington and its closest allies that U.S. officials have considered drastically reducing the intelligence they are willing to share with the U.K. and Canada. 

U.S. officials took their concerns directly to British counterparts with President Trump warning Prime Minister Boris Johnson against Huawei in a Friday phone call and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pressing his case in London throughout the weekend. 

Lawmakers in both nations, meanwhile, ratcheted up pressure on British leaders from the sidelines. 

Conservative Member of Parliament Tom Tugendhat warned on Twitter that partnering with Huawei could amount to Britain giving up all sovereignty over its data — a statement echoed by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

A British member of the European Parliament, Richard Tice, took to Twitter with a capital lettered message of “BAN THEM” and a warning that “our national security is at risk.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) tweeted “If UK allows Huawei into their 5G network, they will have taken their sovereignty back from Brussels and handed it to Beijing,” a reference to the deadline at the end of this month for Britain to leave the European Union.

Though no final decision has been made, Britain appears likely to allow Huawei to build at least some portions of its 5G network while banning it from core infrastructure that touches the most data. 

That will be a serious blow to U.S. officials who have crisscrossed the globe sounding an alarm about Huawei but so far has convinced only a handful of nations to ban the company from 5G networks including Australia, New Zealand and Japan. 

Johnson may be considering capping Huawei’s market share in British telecom networks as one way to limit its role, the Financial Times’s George Parker and Nic Fildes reported, citing people close to the conversations.

U.S. officials say Huawei can’t be trusted to not allow Beijing to use its networks for spying and sabotage — a charge Huawei steadfastly denies. The danger is especially high with 5G networks, which will carry orders of magnitude more data than existing telecom networks, officials say.

The U.S. government, meanwhile, has also battled internally about how far to take its fight against Huawei, sometimes undercutting its message to allies. 

Most recently, the Pentagon blocked a Commerce Department bid to make it even harder for U.S. companies’ overseas units to sell computer chips and other technology to the company, as my colleague David J. Lynch reported.

“The Pentagon feared additional limits would cost U.S. companies such as Qualcomm, Intel and Micron so much revenue that their research spending would suffer, causing them to fall behind their global rivals and imperiling the American military’s technological edge,” David reported. 

That brought a quick pushback from Huawei critics in the Senate who demanded a briefing on the Pentagon’s move. 

“Huawei is an arm of the Chinese Communist Party and should be treated as such,” a letter from Sens. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Tom Cotton (R-Okla.) states. “It is difficult to imagine that, at the height of the Cold War, the Department of Defense would condone American companies contracting with KGB subsidiaries because Moscow offered a discount.”


PINGED: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is pressing the National Security Agency to ensure the White House is protecting officials' personal devices from being breached by U.S. adversaries following the Saudi government's alleged hack of Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, the Hill's Maggie Miller reports. (Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)

“Until the White House takes security seriously, the most sensitive secrets of this country will end up in enemy hands,” Wyden told reporters Friday describing a letter he sent to NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone.

Wyden specifically asked Nakasone to investigate the security risks of White House adviser Jared Kushner, who reportedly messaged the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman on his personal cellphone. Kushner reportedly communicated with bin Salman on WhatsApp and investigators believe the malware that infiltrated Bezos's phone arrived in a WhatsApp messaging from the crown prince.

“If the Saudi government had access to Jared Kushner’s phone, it'd be practically like putting a bug in the Oval Office,” Wyden told reporters.

PATCHED: California Secretary of State Alex Padilla conditionally approved Los Angeles County's new custom-built voting machines Friday, making it the largest jurisdiction to embrace ballot-marking devices, which have sparked intense disagreements among election security advocates. 

The advocates all agree that BMDs are superior to older voting machines that don’t have paper records of votes, but many say they aren’t as secure against hacking as hand-marked paper ballots. BMD supporters, however, say they’re far more accessible for people with disabilities and adaptable for jurisdictions such as L.A., where ballots must be printed in multiple languages. Los Angeles custom-built its BMDs over the course of a decade rather than buying them from one of the main voting machine vendors. 

Upgrading to a modern system will improve the long-term reliability and security of elections in the largest county in America, Padilla said in a statement. L.A. County covers 5.2 million voters, making it the most populous voting jurisdiction in the country.

The decision arrives just days before top election officials from across the country will meet at the National Association of Secretaries of State convention in Washington to discuss elections security among other issues and make final preparations for the 2020 contest.

PWNED: Former deputy intelligence director Sue Gordon will join Microsoft in a consulting role advising the company on national security, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Tom Burt tweeted Friday.

Gordon resigned from her office in August of last year after being passed over as director of national intelligence. She is just one of several high-ranking cybersecurity officials to exit the Trump administration in the past year. Jeanette Manfra, a senior cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security, officially left this month to join Google's cloud computing division.

Before taking a top post at ODNI, Gordon served in the CIA for nearly three decades, where she was instrumental in enhancing the agency's cybersecurity technology.


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Coming up:

  • The Internet Education Foundation will host the 16th annual State of the Net Conference on Tuesday in Washington
  • The University of Southern California will launch its 50-state Election Cybersecurity Initiative on Tuesday in Columbia, Maryland
  • The National Association of Secretaries of State convention will take place Thursday through Sunday in Washington
  • New America’s Open Technology Institute will host an event titled “Privacy’s Best Friend: How Encryption Protects Consumers, Companies, and Governments Worldwide” on Feb. 4 at noon
  • RSA Conference 2020 is scheduled for Feb. 24-28 in San Francisco