CSIS warns Canadian universities on research ties with Huawei



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U of T President Meric Gertler, on the left, welcomed Huawei President Ren Zhengfei during his university visit. Canada has arrested Zhengfei's daughter Meng Wanzhou at the request of the US authorities, who want her to be accused of violating Iran's sanctions south of the border.

University of Toronto

Canada's spy agency is warning the country's top universities to be cautious about its extensive research relations with Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. amid growing concerns about cyber-intelligence about the Chinese telecommunications equipment giant.

The Globe and Mail learned that officials from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, including assistant intelligence director Mike Peirce, delivered the alert to the research vice presidents of a group of major U15 intensive research universities at a meeting in Ottawa in October. 4. There is at least one planned follow-up meeting with CSIS staff to speak to about 20 McGill University academics on December 19, including several whose research is sponsored by Huawei.

Those attending the October meeting described it as an information session in which CSIS employees did not disclose classified information or provide university-specific guidance but shared their concerns about the development and deployment of next-generation 5G wireless technology in the Canada. CSIS spokesman Tahera Mufti said the agency meets with U15 to discuss national security issues relevant to the group, but will not discuss details of those briefings.

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"The essence of [CSIS’s message] "We have concerns" about Canadian university research partnerships with Huawei, said Martha Crago, McGill's deputy director of research and innovation, who chaired the meeting. "We have security concerns and we need you to recognize that this is a dual-use technology. It can have security implications and commercial applications. ""

The meeting was held well before the December 1 arrest of a senior Huawei executive in Vancouver, but came as the United States pressed Canada and its other intelligence partners to sever ties with the world's second-largest smartphone maker. Despite the CSIS alert to universities, the federal government did not follow the US, Australia, and New Zealand by banning or reducing Huawei's access to Canada's 5G network and committed itself only to analyzing the company's involvement.

Canada has arrested Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of the company's founder, at the request of the US authorities, who want her to be accused of violating Iran's sanctions south of the border. The arrest sparked China's threats of "serious consequences" against Canada if Meng is not released.

A Globe and Mail report in May revealed that Huawei has established a vast network of relationships with leading research-intensive universities in Canada to create a steady stream of intellectual property the company is using to sustain its 5G market position. The company has committed about $ 50 million to 13 leading universities and about 100 teachers and its graduate students have worked on Huawei-funded projects for millions of dollars in government grants.

In dozens of cases, academics, whose work is funded by Canadian taxpayers, have assigned all intellectual property rights to Huawei. The Canadian Department of Global Affairs routinely granted export permits to Huawei, allowing the transfer of research back to China.

The extension of Huawei's incursions into Canadian universities has alarmed Canada's security experts, including Andy Ellis, former assistant director of operations for CSIS, who urged Ottawa to examine the security threat and economic cost of transferring Canadian intellectual property to Huawei.

"If I were Mr. Trudeau, I would say that I want all of you from the intelligence community to tell me the size and breadth of what is happening here and recommend me some actions to mitigate it … [and] if we are at risk, "Ellis said in May.

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Vivek Goel, vice president for research and innovation at the University of Toronto, described the CSIS meeting as a "broad and general discussion" where CSIS staff reviewed "what is happening around the world and more generally across the board. the world that may be relevant to university research and to the people of Canada. "

He said the message was "we should be exercising due caution in all our work."

The geopolitical tensions generated by Huawei and its close ties with a Chinese administration committed to establishing the country as a global superpower have left Canadian universities in a difficult position. Several employ prominent telecommunications research scholars and received Huawei funding for their academics and students – particularly after the collapse of giant Nortel Networks, which used to fund research heavily here.

Several universities sponsoring research agreements with Huawei have emphasized that they work with companies that have the legal right to operate here and take the lead of the federal government, which gave no indication that they should stop trading with Huawei.

"An individual university can not do national security assessments," said Nick Manning, a spokesman for the University of Waterloo. "We have to work closely and wait for the guidance of the Canadian government. If we had advice, we would act accordingly.

Crago said the CSIS briefing made her tell McGill employees and academics the need to diversify their sources of research funding. She also said there will be a follow-up meeting with CSIS staff later this month when she hopes they can give researchers "a sense of what kind of awareness" they should have when it comes to funding with Huawei.

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Scott Bradley, vice president of Huawei Canada, said that Chinese telecommunications have always acted within Canadian law.

"Huawei Canada has long understood and is aware that Canadian security authorities regularly discuss the security and integrity of networks and technology with Canadian operators and Canadian universities. We fully support this dialogue, "Bradley said in an email Sunday.

"Huawei Canada has worked closely with our clients in the university sector to build a model of protection, oversight and transparency that has operated unblemished without a single incident in ten years. We are committed to building this success and doing what it takes, now and in the future, to continue to meet Canada's security requirements. "

Three of Canada's five partners in the "Five Eyes" intelligence sharing network – US, Australia and New Zealand – have banned the use of Huawei equipment in the construction of 5G networks due to national security concerns under heavy pressure from British operator BT O Group Plc also recently announced that it will remove Huawei equipment from its 4G network and will not buy its new 5G technology. Industry sources told The Globe last week that it would cost Canadian operators Bell and Telus more than $ 1 billion if they had to start and replace equipment from the Chinese supplier. The two have used Huawei equipment in non-core parts of their existing 4G / LTE networks and are working with Huawei to provide equipment for their 5G launches.

The Canadian and British governments are examining whether they will follow suit and will adhere to the Five Eyes peer-imposed ban. Japanese media reported last week that its country plans to ban the government from buying 5G equipment from Huawei and ZTE Corp., while South Korea's SK Telecom snubbed Huawei when it unveiled its list of 5G preferred suppliers in September.

Alex Younger, head of Britain's MI6 spy agency last week said in a speech: "We need to decide how comfortable we will be with the Chinese ownership of these technologies and those platforms in an environment where some of our allies have taken positions. "

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Three former Canadian intelligence chiefs have warned that the deployment of Huawei products and 5G technology in telecommunications networks may provide China with the ability to conduct remote spying and maliciously modify or steal information or even shut down systems. The heads of six US intelligence agencies also told the US Senate intelligence committee in February that Huawei's 5G technology could be used for spying and "putting pressure and control" on the US infrastructure.

Huawei, whose founder Ren Zhengfei was an engineer with the People's Liberation Army, provided equipment to several Canadian operators despite having been barred from selling routers and switches to their major networks or government networks.

Last week, CSIS director David Vigneault warned in a speech about growing state-sponsored technology-based espionage, including 5G mobile networks, and noted that academics are "less aware" or protected from potential threats.

"Hostile states often target companies or universities that are active in emerging technology – the kind of potentially revolutionary breakthroughs that can bring huge profits," he said, without highlighting any specific country or institution.

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