The issue of China's Huawei and its 5G technology is creating deep tensions once again between the US and some European allies, this time threatening the usually iron-clad Anglo-American relationship and defense ties.
The Telegraph Monday evening broke the explosive story that the White House is currently investigating the potential for US spy planes, as well as intelligence networks and officials who ware currently operational in the UK to be compromised by Huawei's presence in Britain.
The report anonymously quotes half a dozen current US and UK officials saying the Trump administration's review is active and could have huge ramifications for the “special relationship” between the historic long-term allies.
Of top concern is said to be state of the art reconnaissance aircraft based in Britain, particularly the RC-135 spy planes, capable of sweeping up vast intelligence from battlefields. The sophisticated aircraft are thought to be especially vulnerable after Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously gave the formal go-ahead for Huawei to help build Britain’s 5G network.
US officials who spoke to The Telegraph emphasized it's not a bluff:
One former official who only recently left the White House’s National Security Council (NSC), which is leading the review, said it was “likely” some assets would be removed from Britain.
The source said: “This was not a bluff. You cannot mitigate the danger Boris Johnson is exposing the UK to by letting Huawei into the network.”
"This review is not a punishment. This is the White House saying 'okay, if they're going to go down this path and put themselves at risk then how do we protect ourselves.'”
The review marks a significant escalation in the Huawei row, with the US now going beyond words of warning and taking concrete steps that could end up harming military and intelligence ties.
However, Johnson has lately sought to assure both key allies like the US as well as the British public that the Chinese Communist government-linked firm would be allowed nowhere near core parts of the network, including tech related to sensitive military and nuclear sites.
President Trump, backed by the Pentagon and intelligence community, has long insisted to European allies and other global partners that Beijing would use its telecoms giants like Huawei as a 'Trojan horse' back-door of sorts into the West's most closely guarded institutions and agencies.
The now confirmed White House ordered review is perhaps the greatest proof thus far showing Trump is not bluffing, also given the same problems with Germany opening the door to Huawei and other Chinese firms for its 5G network. Likely the review was purposefully 'leaked' to British press as a shot across the bow.
"Every military and intelligence asset the Americans have in Britain is being assessed to understand the knock-on implications of letting Huawei, the Chinese tech giant, construct part of the new wireless network," The Telegraph report underscores.
The report continues, describing the vast scope of everything that could actually pulled back:
"The totality of the review means everything from the more than 10,000 US military personnel in Britain to half a dozen barracks to scores of military vehicles will be looked at, not to mention intelligence operations."
It is an inter-agency review which means all relevant parts of the US government - in this case the Pentagon, State Department and 17 different intelligence agencies - will give input to the NSC.
This could mark nothing less than a revolution in US-UK relations, possibly irreversible in terms of future defense and intelligence sharing.
No doubt it dramatically ramps up the pressure on the UK's Johnson, already long feeling the heat from Trump on the contentious Huawei issue. The reaction to the new report out of London is sure to be interesting.