Chinese mobile masts loom over the Munich Security Conference

MUNICH – The world’s security elite will gather in Munich this week, linking their mobile phones to Chinese telecommunications equipment around the venue.

Heads of state, security chiefs, spies and intelligence officers flocked to Germany on Friday for their blue-ribbon annual conference. Munich Security Conference, The VIP list for the event features US Vice President Kamala Harris, German President Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and hundreds of other heads of state and government, ministers and foreign dignitaries.

The meeting takes place at the five-star Hotel Bayerischer Hof. with its ice-theme polar bar On the roof of the hotel, you can see the city skyline, many telecommunication antennas between the church towers. Some of these antennas, within 300 meters of the hotel, are equipped with hardware supplied by controversial Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, POLITICO found through visual confirmation, conversations with several equipment experts and industry insiders with knowledge of the area’s networks. Information obtained from inside sources.

A mast on top of the Hotel Bayerischer Hof building is also potentially equipped with Huawei gear, two industry insiders in talks with suggested.

In previous years the question of allowing Chinese 5G suppliers into Western countries has become a bone of contention between Berlin on the one hand and Washington and like-minded partners on the other. This week’s gathering also comes as the US continues to hammer Germany’s economic dependence on Beijing new report Showing the German trade deficit with China has exploded in 2022, and amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing over surveillance balloons in the US, Canada and elsewhere.

“The reliance on Huawei components in our 5G networks continues to pose an incalculable security risk,” said Maximilian Funke-Kaiser, a liberal member of the German Bundestag and digital policy speaker for the government party Free Democratic Party (FDP).

“The use of Huawei technology in mobile networks here is contrary to the goals of Germany’s security policy,” Funke-Kaiser said, calling the vendor’s involvement in German 4G and 5G “a mistake given the Chinese company’s closeness to the state.”

Huawei has consistently denied posing a security risk to European countries.

delve into the data

Despite extensive reporting, POLITICO was unable to obtain on-the-record confirmation of which vendor’s telecom equipment was used for which mast. Operators and vendors declined to disclose the information, citing contractual obligations, and local officials said they did not have the information available.

The security risks associated with Huawei equipment also vary, and even among close allies in the West. Some capitals argue that the real risk of Chinese telecoms equipment is excessive reliance on a Chinese firm in a volatile geopolitical situation – just as Europe relied on Russian gas for its energy needs.

But others argue the risk is deeper and that China could use Huawei’s access to equipment and data in European mobile networks – especially in areas of critical importance and high sensitivity – to put the West’s security at risk. Huawei has been implicated in several high-profile espionage cases, including african union headquarters,

The Munich Security Conference takes place at the five-star hotel ‘Bayerischer Hof’ Ronald Wittek/EPA-EFE

Asked about Huawei’s presence in Munich, Mike Gallagher, a Republican and chairman of the US House Select Committee on China, said Politico’s findings were “disturbing” and “worried everyone who attended the conference.” Should be.”

US Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Mark Warner, a Democrat who is attending the conference, said it was “a timely reminder that we need to work with like-minded allies to promote safe and competitively priced alternatives to Huawei equipment.” continue to work with.”

Marco Rubio (Republican, Florida), vice chairman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, said US diplomats “should be aware of the risks and take the necessary precautions.”

Munich Networking

from one Speech by Vladimir Putin of Russia in 2007 to the US President Joe Biden’s Virtual Address At the start of its mandate in February 2021, the conference seeks to set the agenda for global diplomatic and international relations. Its organizers see it as an open space for debate on geopolitics and world affairsWith attendees from around the world and an advisory board where Chinese state officials sit alongside Western diplomats and industry veterans.

The convention’s guest list also reveals something else: The gathering is viewed critically by US government officials. This year, the US is sending its largest-ever delegation, with Harris accompanied by dozens of government officials, security chiefs and congressmen, including Democrat Leader Chuck Schumer, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and others.

For these American attendees — and Western partners who see eye-to-eye with the US position on China’s telecoms giant Huawei — the networks around campus prove troublesome.

One online map The website of Germany’s telecoms agency, the Bundesnetzzentur, shows 13 locations for masts and antennas in the vicinity of the Hotel Bayerischer Hof. The agency also provides information on which locations are used by the country’s three main operators – Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefónica.

Politico shared pictures of seven masts near the hotel along with four Specialist specialist in Telecom Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment. These experts established that at least two The Chinese telecoms giant was equipped with gear from Huawei.

Two industry insiders said that if a network operator has a Huawei-equipped mast in Munich, it is likely to equip all masts in the region from the same vendor. Operators usually use a single provider for large areas. This means at least one other location is also likely to be equipped with Huawei gear, insiders said. Three other locations, including the mast on the roof of the conference venue, are used by one operator using Huawei equipment, but those locations are part of infrastructure that is shared by multiple operators, meaning they are not equipped with Huawei gear. Equipped but this is unconfirmed.

The findings are in line with recent reports on Germany’s telecommunications infrastructure.

Europe’s biggest economy is Huawei’s bastion in the west. A report from boutique telecoms intelligence firm Strand Consult It is estimated that Germany relies on Chinese technology for 59 percent of its ongoing 5G network deployment., The country was already heavily dependent on Chinese equipment in its 4G network, where Strand estimates Huawei has a 57 percent share.

In February 2021, US President Joe Biden made remarks at a virtual event organized by the Munich Security Conference – four years after the Trump administration undermined the alliance. Biden emphasized the United States’ commitment to NATO. Pooled photo by Ana Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“If you look at the percentage of Chinese equipment in Germany, you can say it is the most insecure country in Europe,” said John Strand, founder of Strand Consult. “Welcome to the Munich Security Conference: we cannot guarantee your security,” he quipped.

Black Hole of Telecom Intelligence

Establishing with certainty how many of the 13 masts are equipped with Chinese telecoms gear is extremely difficult. Both the German operators and their vendors have a policy of not disclosing which equipment they are using in which location, citing contractual obligations on confidentiality.

Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone confirmed that they use Huawei in their German antenna networks. Telefónica stated that they use a “mix of European and international network suppliers” in Germany. Still, all declined to comment on whether they use Huawei in Munich.

Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei all declined to comment on whether they were providing gear in the Greater Munich area, referring questions to local operators.

Government regulators also do not disclose which suppliers provide gear for certain locations. The Federal Network Agency and the Federal Office for Information Security admitted that they did not know which equipment was fitted to which mast; Both were referred to the Ministry of the Interior for a reply. The Ministry of the Interior stated that “it is usually not known which important components are installed on which radio mast.”

Hotel Bayerischer Hof sent questions about the mobile infrastructure on its roof to the organizers of the security conference.

The Munich Security Conference itself said in a statement: “In principle, we do not comment on the exact details of the infrastructure to be used for the main conference in Munich. We are working to secure the conference venue, the participants and the digital space accordingly.” He is in close touch with all the concerned authorities for the same.

The Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) does provide self protection The network for official events, but the Munich Security Conference is “outside BSI’s responsibility,” BSI said in an email.

Germany’s Telecom Obscurity

Through its 5G equipment it is possible for Huawei to spy on users of the network or intercept communications because the very design of 5G makes it difficult to monitor security, the head of the UK’s intelligence service MI6, Alex Younger, Said to the audience in his second public speech.

But John Li, director of consultancy East-West Futures and an expert on Chinese digital policy, said it is “not a clear technical matter” whether Huawei equipment in existing telecommunications networks represents a physical security risk.

“Some non-Western countries are moving to upgrade their telecommunications infrastructure with Huawei as a key partner,” Li said. “It’s still primarily a political issue about how suspicious the Chinese state’s ambitions are and its relationship with Chinese companies.”

In an effort to coordinate a common approach to vendors, the European Union has5G Security ToolboxGuidelines in 2019 and 2020 to reduce security risks in the network. Some major European countries, including France, have imposed tighter restrictions on their operators, including limiting their use of “high-risk vendors” – a term widely understood across Europe to refer to Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE. Is — in certain strategic geographies.

In Germany, however, it took years for policymakers to agree on their own framework for 5G security. In April 2021 – more than a year after the EU’s joint plan was revealed – it passed measure This allowed the government to interfere in operators’ contracts with Chinese vendors.

But those interventions have not yet barred Huawei’s use in certain geographic areas.

A spokesman for the ministry said via email, and the interior ministry — which has veto power to ban or withdraw certain components if it views them as “disrupting public order or security” — has more have not intervened.

So far, the spokesman said, specific orders to cut Huawei off from German networks “have not been issued.”

Alex Ward, Maggie Miller and Tristan Fiedler contributed reporting.


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