When news that the United Kingdom was in talks with Huawei to provide non-critical 5G networking equipment broke, the government immediately went on a witch hunt to find the source of the leak.
Former UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson was allegedly the source of the information which became public as one of the members of a secretive National Security Council (NSC) meeting that discussed the proposals.
All members of the council are required to sign the Official Secrets Act. Parliamentary figures, MI5, MI6, GCHQ, and other intelligence officials may attend or be part of the council.
As Huawei has been branded a “national security risk” by countries including the United States and New Zealand, the discussion was intended to stay private.
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The inquiry led investigators to Williamson, who has served as Defence Secretary since 2017.
In a letter to Williamson, UK Prime Minister Theresa May said there was “compelling evidence” that he was the source of the leak and his conduct during the investigation had not met the same levels of cooperation as other NSC members.
May also said that “no other credible version of events to explain this leak has been identified.”
“It is therefore with great sadness that I have concluded that I can no longer have full confidence in you as secretary of state for defence and a minister in my cabinet and asked you to leave Her Majesty’s government,” the PM added.
In response, Williamson strenuously denied any involvement and said, “I am confident that a thorough and formal inquiry would have vindicated my position.”
The PM requested that Williamson resign from his position. However, the former Defence Secretary rejected this option, as “to resign would have been to accept that I, my civil servants, my military advisers or my staff were responsible: this was not the case.”
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As a result, Williamson has been fired. Penny Mordaunt has taken up the role as the UK’s first female Defence Secretary.
If it is found that Williamson has breached the Official Secrets Act, this may lead to criminal prosecution. However, Scotland Yard told the BBC that no investigation is underway and it is a matter for NSC and the Cabinet Office.
The inquiry into the leak relates to Huawei’s potential contribution to next-generation wireless networks in the UK. The government is considering the Chinese networking equipment maker’s provision of antennae and non-core infrastructure, but with some countries deeming the firm a risk due to its ties with the Chinese government, there may be a political backlash.
US President Trump has already warned Germany that the US will share less intelligence should the country include Huawei in 5G network development.
The UK has not made a decision on Huawei’s participation but a decision is expected by next year.
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Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported that “backdoors” had been found in Vodafone networking equipment purchased from Huawei to manage Italian fixed-line networks. However, the Chinese networking giant told ZDNet that this term was inaccurate; instead, technical flaws did exist which were fixed upon discovery.
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