Between September 2017 and November 2020, the firm was managed by PCCW – a Hong Kong-based tech company that is partially owned by the Chinese state
A firm part-owned by the Chinese state had access to secret information about Britain’s nuclear weapons by providing wi-fi to the UK’s military headquarters and 45 other defence bases for three years.
Experts fear the security bungle, exposed by The Mail on Sunday, has allowed China to build a ‘comprehensive understanding of British military operations’ and access personal information that could be used to blackmail troops to reveal state secrets.
Telecoms company Media Force has supplied internet to the Armed Forces for nearly two decades and currently provides wi-fi to 46 British military bases across the army, navy and air force.
But between September 2017 and November 2020, the firm was managed by PCCW – a Hong Kong-based tech company that is partially owned by the Chinese state.
PCCW’s second-largest shareholder is a Chinese state-owned telecoms operator called China Unicom, which has an 18 per cent share in PCCW.
Chinese companies are bound by law to ‘support, assist and co-operate’ with state intelligence work.
Bosses working at PCCW also held senior positions at the Chinese government tech firm when it managed the internet networks at British military bases.
In 2017 PCCW’s deputy chairman Lu Yimin was president of China Unicom, while two non-executive directors also held senior positions at China Unicom.
Non-executive directors at PCCW continued to hold high roles at China Unicom until November 2020, when PCCW sold Media Force to British company Wifinity.
Former security officer Philip Ingram described the bungle as an ‘intelligence gold mine’, adding: ‘It is shocking that the Ministry of Defence allowed this to happen.
‘The Chinese government will have built up a comprehensive understanding of British military operations and potentially had access to sensitive information about our nuclear deterrence deployments.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘This is yet another shameful example by the Government of a complete and total failure to take security seriously’
‘They could also have obtained details of work and private mobile phones for a large proportion of the military, leaving them vulnerable to approaches from hostile intelligence services including the Chinese.’
Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who is also co-chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said: ‘This is yet another shameful example by the Government of a complete and total failure to take security seriously.’
A spokesman for Wifinity said: ‘Media Force is wholly owned by Wifinity, an independent UK-based company. There is no direct or indirect ownership by any companies associated with the Chinese state.’
The MoD said: ‘This issue relates to an historic contract and an organisation no longer involved with Media Force.
‘We take information security extremely seriously and as a matter of urgency, will be investigating how this contract was enabled.
‘All sensitive material on MoD IT devices is protected via encryption, with our most sensitive information held on systems which are not accessible through wi-fi.’
By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter