A recent report revealed that Chinese technology company Huawei, affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) military, supplied telecommunications equipment to the Netherlands’ largest cell phone network, KPN. That enabled the CCP to have unlimited access to the company’s 6.5 million users, including the phone calls and personal data of the then Dutch prime minister and other political authorities.
On April 17, the Dutch Volkskrant newspaper reported that in 2010 the mobile network KPN commissioned the consulting firm Capgemini to conduct an internal investigation into the security of its core network managed by Huawei. However, according to a weekend report published by de Volkskrant, Capgemini’s confidential report was reportedly concealed by KPN until recently coming to light.
According to the report, Huawei was not only able to spy on the prime minister and other major political figures, along with millions of other customers, but was also able to identify people being spied on by the Dutch state and dissident Chinese refugees in the Netherlands.
Thanks to Capgemini’s analysis, seen by Volkskrant, KPN learned with extreme concern that Huawei had “unauthorized and uncontrolled access” to the core of KPN’s 3G and 4G networks. The report was so explosive that senior executives feared for the company’s future if they published its content at the time, so they decided to conceal it.
“Huawei employees could listen in on every conversation, including those of then Prime Minister [Jan] Balkenende,” the newspaper reported. It added sources indicating that Huawei today still has administrator-level access to the core of its 4G network as part of a network management outsourcing deal.
Capgemini reported that Huawei personnel had access to communications and user information from both the Dutch state-owned firm KPN’s offices and its bases in China.
In short, the intelligence apparatus of the CCP had unrestricted access to the privacy of millions of Dutch citizens.
Six Huawei employees worked at the former KPN headquarters in The Hague when Huawei’s core network technology was being installed in KPN’s systems in 2009. The suspicion mentioned in the report indicates that at least some of them were involved in espionage activities.
According to The Register, a British media outlet specializing in the technology industry, reported that after contacting a KPN spokesman, he described the Volkskrant reports as “tough,” saying, “The purpose of the analysis was specifically to survey the risks and address these internally, so as to improve the security and integrity of KPN’s systems and to facilitate diligent decision making.”
KPN said it decided “not to continue outsourcing the maintenance” of its mobile core network after receiving the report. “With respect to the system and process risks identified in the aforementioned analysis, a remediation and improvement plan was developed and implemented in 2010.” However, they continued to use the same telecommunications equipment provided by Huawei.
The Register states that Huawei’s potential level of access was known in British government circles and was one reason the UK excluded the Chinese company from core 4G networks.
Huawei, which has proven close ties to the CCP’s military with recognized potential as a spying arm of the CCP, has caused widespread security concerns in many Western countries.
The U.S. government during the Trump era blacklisted the firm and imposed sanctions on Huawei and its suppliers, while the Chinese tech firm is vying to dominate the global 5G network.