Josh Steinman
© The White House
President Trump (seated) signs the executive order on cybersecurity as he is joined (from left) by Josh Steinman, Rob Joyce and Tom Bossert, on May 11, 2017.
German hawks working to protect 5G network against espionage

The White House dispatched its point man on cyber security to Berlin this week to drive home President Donald Trump's warnings over Chinese telecommunications equipment maker Huawei Technologies Co.

Joshua Steinman, an adviser to Trump on cyber issues, met with German officials, a U.S. embassy spokesman said without commenting further on the visit. Chancellor Angela Merkel's Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Thursday that security officials tasked with protecting Germany's network infrastructure had spoken with a U.S. counterpart.

Steinman expressed encouragement over a number of security measures proposed by Germans officials to protect the country's future fifth-generation wireless network, according to a person familiar with the discussion who asked not to be identified. At the same time, he applied sharp pressure to make security a priority with Huawei.

The White House press office had no comment.

The Trump administration is making a sustained effort by to block Huawei from key infrastructure, warning that the presence of the Chinese technology giant in 5G networks will open the door to espionage. So far, European allies caught between pressure from Washington and Beijing have refused to ban Huawei from participating in the buildup of the ultra-fast 5G networks.

'Very Impressed'

Without identifying Steinman by name, Seehofer said Thursday that the U.S. official "was very impressed" by his visit to the ministry the day before. Seehofer was joined by the ministry's top security team to brief a group of reporters on the government's digital agenda, including cyber defense measures that encompass the country's 5G buildout.

Seehofer signaled displeasure with a warning by U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell, who said in a letter earlier this month that Trump's administration may cut back on intelligence-sharing with German security agencies if Huawei becomes involved in the country's 5G network.
Horst Seehofer germany cyber security
© Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg
Horst Seehofer
"You always need to have a dialog with allies, not make things public," Seehofer said.

Merkel, who wants to remain engaged with China, defended her government's decision not to impose an outright ban on Huawei. Even as Germany toughens its security standards, singling out individual companies is a step too far, she told a crowd at the Global Solutions summit in Berlin.

"There are two things I don't believe in," Merkel said in an onstage discussion on Tuesday with John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News. "First, to discuss these very sensitive security questions publicly, and second, to exclude a company simply because it's from a certain country.''

Security Risk

Still, Interior Ministry officials are among hard-liners in Merkel's government -- along with the BND foreign intelligence agency and the Foreign Ministry -- who are concerned that Huawei opens a grave risk of Chinese espionage or sabotage for Germany's network infrastructure. They're holding out the prospect that new standards will be rigorous enough to block Huawei.

Germany began to auction 5G spectrum this week. Security measures include the requirement for vendors to sign a declaration of trustworthiness, which will be verified by German authorities in order to grant certification.

Trustworthiness will include guarantees by companies not to hand over sensitive data to governments in their home countries, according to Interior Ministry officials. That appears to be an effort to address concerns that Huawei will be be required by Chinese law to share information with the government.

Steinman's visit isn't the first by a U.S. official. The administration sent a delegation in December for talks with German officials at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin to increase pressure on German security officials as the country prepared its 5G auction.