Foreign Affairs

GCSB: No pressure on Huawei decision

The head of the Government Communications Security Bureau has denied pressure from other countries played a role in the agency’s decision to reject a proposal to include Huawei in New Zealand’s 5G network.

GCSB director-general Andrew Hampton and his NZ Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) counterpart Rebecca Kitteridge have also warned MPs about the threat posed by foreign interference efforts.

The GCSB has come under pressure after it opposed a proposal from Spark to use Huawei 5G equipment in its planned network, saying it had identified a “significant network security risk”.

There have been reports of potential reprisals against New Zealand, including a report in the CCP-owned Global Times which suggested Chinese tourists were turning away from the country in protest.

Speaking to Parliament’s intelligence and security committee, Hampton said the GCSB’s decision had been based on its requirements under the Telecommunications Interception Capability and Security Act (TICSA), rather than any pressure from Five Eyes intelligence-sharing allies or other partners.

“There has been no instances of me being leaned on formally or informally in the decisions I’ve made.”

No timeframe for decision

Hampton said there was no prescribed timeframe for a final decision on Spark’s proposal under the TICSA process, with the company now considering its options and how to address the GCSB’s concerns.

The agency had an open mind as to whether Spark modified its original proposal in a way which addressed the security concerns, or moved to an alternative plan.

If Hampton remained of the view the risk had not been addressed, the Chief Commissioner of Intelligence Warrants would review his decision “to make sure I’m not overcooking the intelligence”.

The final decision could be elevated to Andrew Little, the Minister responsible for the GCSB, if necessary - although that had not happened with any other TICSA applications to date.

“I don’t want to overstate this, but like-minded countries come to New Zealand and go, ‘God, if only we had something like this’.”

Hampton said both the GCSB and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had confidence in the TICSA legislation, which was unique to New Zealand.

“I don’t want to overstate this, but like-minded countries come to New Zealand and go, ‘God, if only we had something like this’.”

He dismissed a report by Politik that New Zealand had essentially outsourced the vetting of Huawei software and hardware to the UK’s Huawei cyber security and evaluation centre.

While some network operators had voluntarily submitted their proposals for the UK centre for assessment, with those results shared with the GCSB, they were not the deciding factor in whether any applications were approved.

“We were comfortable with that, it gives us good information, but we’re certainly not bound by that, it certainly does not override our legislation, and as I said the findings are instructive to us but they’re not the only thing we rely on.”

Hampton said it was unlikely the GCSB would support the establishment of a similar Huawei centre in New Zealand - one proposal pitched by the Chinese company - saying there had recently led to declining, rather than increasing, levels of confidence in the UK centre.

Parliament’s intelligence and security committee in session. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Foreign interference concerns

The issue of foreign interference in New Zealand, a topic which has come to the fore following Kiwi academic Anne-Marie Brady’s work on China’s influence efforts in the country, was also discussed.

Kitteridge said the country, like others, was the target of foreign interference and espionage, with countermeasures a high priority for the NZSIS.

Foreign intelligence services had “the intent and the capability to target our nation’s interests both in New Zealand and offshore”, with the NZSIS aware of attempts to seek out New Zealand IP and technology, covertly gain influence with “decision makers”, and pressure individuals and communities “to subscribe to particular views or actions.”

Speaking to media afterwards, Kitteridge said foreign interference was a significant issue around the world and New Zealand was not immune.

“We need to be very alert to the fact that, because we have this precious open liberal democracy that we have, it does have vulnerabilities to foreign interference and we all need to be alert to that.”

She would not comment on the scale of China’s involvement in any foreign interference efforts, saying the NZSIS did not comment on specific cases.

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