Leading GOP lawmakers are threatening to scale back the level of intelligence sharing with the United Kingdom over its willingness to allow Chinese state-controlled telecom Huawei to take over the country's mobile networks.
U.K. leaders are set to decide in the next day if they will permit Huawei, a Chinese telecom the United States views as spying on the communist regime's behalf, to build Britain's next-generation 5G mobile networks.
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That decision has sparked a push by leading GOP lawmakers to enact legislation that would massively diminish the United States's intelligence sharing partnership with Britain if Huawei is granted access to the European ally's sensitive infrastructure.
The lawmakers say they are prepared to completely reassess the U.S.-U.K. intelligence partnership, which ranks among the closest in the globe. A U.K. deal with Huawei, the lawmakers said, is likely to throw a wrench in any post-Brexit trade deals with America.
The first salvo in this developing rift is a piece of legislation currently circulated in Congress that would "prohibit the sharing of United States intelligence with countries that permit operation of Huawei fifth-generation telecommunications technology within their borders," according to a copy of the bill viewed by the Washington Free Beacon.
In addition to cutting off direct intelligence sharing with any Huawei partner, the legislation would ban the sharing of intelligence products developed by the United States.
"We have to recalculate or reassess if they can continue to be among the closest of our intelligence partners," Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) said of the U.S.-U.K. intelligence partnership during a briefing Monday with a small group of reporters. "We have no choice. It's our own security at risk."
Cheney, along with Reps. Jim Banks (R., Ind.) and Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.), warned Britain there would be severe repercussions for any decision that enables Huawei to build the country's 5G networks.
"This intelligence sharing relationship is the closest in the world," Gallagher said. "I do worry this is not only going to compromise that close intelligence relationship but complicate" efforts to reach post-Brexit trade deals.
A partnership with Huawei would "fundamentally" alter "the relationship we have with the U.K.," Cheney added.
While the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has warned global partners against using Huawei, there has been disagreement within the administration that lawmakers have viewed as unhelpful.
Administration officials have been unclear about presenting possible alternatives to Huawei. While there is a consensus that Huawei poses a security risk to the United States and its allies, the Defense and Treasury Departments recently bucked more vocal administration opponents of the cell carrier when they struck down a set of rules restricting American sales to the telecom. President Trump in May issued an executive order banning U.S. companies from using communications technology from foreign companies deemed a national security threat, a ban largely seen as aimed at Huawei.
"The president has always had good instincts on Huawei," Banks said. "Those around him at times have had an inconsistent or incoherent approach to 5G that isn't always helpful."
"The Huawei discussion and skepticism of Huawei and Chinese intentions with selling Huawei around the globe is as hot of a topic on Capitol Hill as it's ever been," Banks added.
Huawei has positioned itself as a global leader in the 5G push. However, its cheaper pricing and other incentives are a ruse for the mass siphoning of sensitive data, the lawmakers alleged, saying that China could use this information to later blackmail leading governments.
"Imagine the damage they will do, the threats and blackmail that will become possible once they're in your system," Cheney said, describing the willingness of some major U.S. allies to partner with Huawei as "dangerous and shortsighted."
"They don't want the data because they're kind-hearted and want to help everyone move quickly," Cheney said. "This isn't an altruistic effort the Chinese are engaged in."
The lawmakers said they have received bipartisan support for legislation banning intelligence sharing with Huawei partners.
The United Kingdom has yet to formally announce its decision on Huawei. It is possible that it could selectively partner with the company while banning it from accessing sensitive areas of the country's mobile networks.