Huawei under scrutiny in 2008, cables show

Rory Callinan -Apr 2, 2012

Cyber security officials in the department of the federal attorney-general were investigating ''issues'' with Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company, as long ago as 2008, and a Telstra official allegedly told US officials in the same year that the company was a ''security risk''.

The revelations were contained in US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks last year and suggest the company was on Australian intelligence agencies' radar screens for years before it was banned late last year from tendering for contracts associated with the national broadband network.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation had advised that Huawei's involvement in the network could compromise national security because of concerns about cyber attacks originating in China.

The cables reveal that in 2008 the attorney-general's office for cyber security was examining Huawei as part of a national security review of the then broadband network project bids.

''Director Lionel Markey [of the attorney-general's office] told the econoff [economics office of the embassy] that they were always aware there would be 'contention' about components for the NBN,'' said the cable dated December 2008. The Attorney-General's Department was ''consulting with a range of Australian government agencies, including the Defence Signals Directorate and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

''Markey said the GOA [Australian government] was well aware of issues related to Huawei. He indicated that GOA agencies would likely contact USG [the United States government] counterparts for further information.''

The same cable said the battle for the tender was getting ''uglier'' and noted there was speculation that Telstra had leaked the Huawei security issue story after its bid was disqualified.

''A Telstra official told econoff in mid-November that Optus would use Huawei and implied that would be a security risk for Australia. Others speculate it could be from competing equipment manufacturers seeking part of the $4.5 billion pie.''

The US embassy declined to comment about the cables on Friday. Telstra declined to comment on whether the Telstra official involved had been identified.

A Huawei spokesman said there were no security issues with the company and said the company's record ''speaks for itself''.

''As the world's leading NBN provider, Huawei remained hopeful of playing a role in Australia's NBN, but ultimately that is a decision for the Australian government and NBN Co,'' the spokesman said.

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