Czech cyber watchdog says its Huawei warning took U.S. by surprise

PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech cyber-security watchdog was not pressured by the United States or anyone else into issuing its warning about the possible security risks posed by Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei, Prague’s cyber attache to Washington told Reuters.

Rather, its December warning took both the United States and Huawei by surprise, Daniel Bagge, the Washington-based representative for the NUKIB watchdog said in an interview.

The United States has urged allies not to use products made by Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of telecoms equipment, saying they could enable Chinese state espionage.

No evidence has been produced publicly and Huawei has repeatedly denied the allegations. But several Western countries have restricted, or are considering restricting, the company’s access to their markets, fuelling speculation of U.S. pressure.

Bagge, however, said NUKIB reached its own conclusions on Huawei and Chinese peer ZTE based on “information from the public domain as well as classified information and information from partners in the intelligence community.”

“We did not consult (about) the warning in any way with the United States nor anyone else. The December warning surprised the U.S. authorities as much as it surprised Huawei.”

His comments, on a trip to Prague, shed light on a decision that thrust the Czech Republic, a small central European country that has attracted much Chinese investment, into the center of a debate about whether Huawei technology poses security risks.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis is due to meet U.S. President Donald Trump in the White House on Thursday for talks that will touch in part on security.

Bagge said the Czech stance on Huawei might have expedited Washington’s invitation to Babis, echoing information from diplomatic sources.

Babis, who has criticized NUKIB for lack of clarity in its warning but said the government has to follow its advice, is also due to meet CIA director Gina Haspel on Wednesday.

NUKIB’s warning did not amount to a Czech ban on Huawei and ZTE technology, but required 160 public and private operators of critical infrastructure to analyze any risks and act accordingly.

Slideshow (2 Images)

No Czech telecoms operator has so far barred Huawei from supplying 5G technology. But NUKIB’s action led the Czech tax authority to exclude Huawei from a tender, later canceled.

The Czech move was prompted in part by Chinese legislation rather than purely technological issues, Bagge said. A 2017 Chinese law requires any domestic organization to “…support, cooperate with, and collaborate in national intelligence work”.

Huawei has denied its products are equipped with back doors to allow access by the Chinese government. It has said it wants to solve the Czech situation in a “friendly and open way”, but has not ruled out defending itself in court.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Michael Kahn; Editing by Mark Potter

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