Where did COVID-19 come from?
Here conspiracy theories abound, as the reality is the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is only a scientific assessment. However, based on over 50 years research into coronaviruses and that the international scientific community is quick at checking and commenting on all of the relevant works and studies in the scientific community, their current assessment is probably accurate; it is certainly extensively peer reviewed.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) situation report of 21st January 2020 said that on 31st December 2019, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) China office heard the first reports of a previously unknown virus behind a number of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, a city in Eastern China.
On 11 and 12 January 2020, WHO received further detailed information from the National Health Commission China that the outbreak is associated with exposures in one seafood market in Wuhan City.
In February nature magazine reported that, “Chinese scientists suggested, on the basis of genetic analyses the prime suspect was the scaly ant eating pangolin. However, it then went on to say that scientists have now examined that data and say that although the animal is still a contender, the mystery is far from solved.
Other animals that are known as host of various coronavirus strains are Bats and they, like the Pangolin, were sold live in the Wuhan market. MERS and SARS were originally corona viruses hosted on bats, so it is now thought that they are the most likely contender.
Apportionment of its source is made slightly more conspiratorial by the fact that Wuhan is the site of China’s only facility designated at Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) and is known as the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control (WHCDC). It was constructed in 2004 following the SARS emergency to conduct research into countering such viruses. Level 4 facilities are designed to stop the escape of even the smallest particles, so accidental escape is highly unlikely. Despite sensational speculation in some press circles, there is no evidence in the scientific community that the COVID-19 disease is a result of WHCDC activity.
The next question has to be, what is CoronaVirus and what is COVID-19?
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US (CDC), coronavirus is the name for a family of viruses that were first identified in the 1960’s. They are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface (envelope) and there are four main sub-groupings known as alpha, beta, gamma, and delta.
People around the world commonly get infected with some human coronaviruses and in recent years it has been identified that coronaviruses that infect animals can evolve and jump the species gap to humans. Three recent examples of this are; severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS (SARS-CoV-1), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS which were both identified as beta viruses and now we have coronavirus disease 19 or COVID-19 which has been designated as a novel corona virus, i.e. it doesn’t fit into any already known category and therefore any immunity to other types of coronavirus that is present in a species can be bypassed by this strain. The name of the virus that causes COVID-19, the disease, is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2).
Comment: Much is already known about coronaviruses, about their protein makeup, their genetic coding, their transmission, their strengths and their weaknesses, there has been over 50 years research into them already and SARS and MERS have given recent impetus to the scientific community. SARS-COV-2 is closely related to SARS-COV-1 which emerged in 2002. Therefore, the scientific fight against COVID-19 disease is not from a standing start, it is from a position of many years research. Comment Ends.
Sun Tzu and the Art of Fake News
“That is #FakeNews” is one phrase that has rocketed to fame last year. President Trump’s legacy has already been left in Twitter land but why has it come to the fore, is it new and more importantly is it something that individuals or enterprise should be concerned about? Philip Ingram MBE the editor of HQ Magazine takes a look at fake news, but with a 6th century twist.
There are elements of the press who seem to suggest that fake news is something new, it isn’t, and it has its roots back to the 6th century, but before I delve that far back I want to take a quick look to only 74 years ago. The Second World War shows just how important “fake news” was to the war effort; fake news, when targeted for an effect is also known as Propaganda. William Brooke Joyce, nicknamed Lord Haw-Haw, an American-born, Anglo-Irish Fascist who became the Nazi propaganda broadcaster to the United Kingdom during World War II was probably the most famous mouth of fake news, but the Japanese had English speaking female broadcasters who were nicknamed Tokyo Rose.
The use of fake news or propaganda was not limited to the Germans or Japanese and arguably the greatest military success of the Second World War, D Day, was enabled by fake news through an operation called Operation Fortitude. With this being linked to a military operation this is where I want to bring in 6th century teachings.
Sun Tzu the 6th century Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher, arguably the greatest military tactician and strategic thinker ever, said in his book the Art of War, “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.” His teachings have stood the test of time!
Operation Fortitude was a massive deception operation conducted by the Allied Forces to lead the Germans to believe that they would be landing in Pas-de-Calais and Norway, masking the true invasion through Normandy.
The aim was also to make them believe that the Normandy landings in May 1944 and in the south of France in June 1944 were mere diversions, so that the German army would concentrate its troops in the wrong place. The German authorities clung to their belief that the landing would occur in Pas-de-Calais right until September 1944. Operation Fortitude held onto the principals set out so eloquently by Sun Tzu. The bluff worked but highlights how a country with extensive national intelligence assets looking at a situation unfolding, can be deceived.
The Russian term маскировка (maskirovka) literally masking, was defined in the International Dictionary of Intelligence from 1990 as the Russian military intelligence (GRU) term for deception. Vladimir Putin would have “grown up” in an organisation where maskirovka was a normal part of everyday thinking. At every level of my military training we studied maskirovka, so imagine my surprise when Robert Hannigan, the ex-director of the UK spy agency CGHQ, said of the Russian threat in an interview this year, ‘We didn’t see Russian use of disinformation coming‘. It clearly demonstrates a naivety with the UK’s senior intelligence officials, charged with keeping our politicians abreast of the threat to that which underpins our way of life, democracy.
This failure highlights that those self-same senior intelligence officials have forgotten one of Sun Tzu’s most famous quotes. “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles; … if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle.”
Should we be worried? Well in my professional opinion, I think we should be extremely worried. This is not just something targeted country on country, it is being exploited by terrorists and so-called ISIS are masters at it, it is being exploited to gain commercial advantage especially when rumours can be generated in the money markets, huge sums can be gained, or lost.
In May last year many respected media outlets reported concerns by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over false reporting. The FT outlined that the regulators were concerned that fake news was affecting investment decisions and reported evidence that seemingly independent outlets were being paid to promote stories. They reported the SEC as saying, “keep in mind that fraudsters may generate articles promoting a company’s stock to drive up the stock price and to profit at your expense.”
Supporters of so called ISIS are very quick to post across their networks details and pictures from any attack, thereby taking de facto responsibility in the eyes of their supporters even before any official statements are released. This has the effect of stimulating potential copycat or other attacks as well as giving “oxygen” to their terror message, to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher. The manipulation of media messaging is extensively used by todays terror organisations.
The one factor that enables fake news to have such a rapid impact today is control, or lack of it. Operation Fortitude was a carefully orchestrated national plan controlled at the highest levels, so all messaging was coherent and worked to a common aim. Today, fake news can be delivered to millions of people at the click of a button via social media and the average person in the street can send a message that the President of the US may read personally, without it going through his normal staffing and advisory chain. The power of social media is phenomenal.
The Russians continue to use maskirovka as part of their global engagement techniques. We are already seeing proof of their involvement in the US elections and likely in the UK Brexit referendum and more. Sun Tzu highlighted how this works when he said, “Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.” Remember, Robert Hannigan said he didn’t see it coming and those unexpected routes were Facebook, Twitter, big data manipulation, main stream press and good old fashioned human influence, powered by the internet.
Arguably Kim Jong Un from North Korea knows how to play President Trump using Sun Tzu. As the 6thcentury tactician said, “If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.” It is this last line that is keeping the world’s breath held. Kim Jong Un’s understanding of President Trump’s temperament is clearly excellent when he applies Sun Tzu’s principal, “If your opponent is of choleric temperament, seek to irritate him.” Trump gets irritated easily by ‘Rocket Man.’
With the ease of spread of fake news and its ability to influence, it is something that enterprise should be concerned about. The instability caused by state on state activity is one thing but there is clear evidence of state on enterprise actions in cyberspace with the theft of IP. Fake news is another cyber enabled activity and the potential for enterprise on enterprise use of fake news is growing.
As an intelligence officer looking at a threat you ask 2 questions. The first, does the capability exist and the answer is yes. The second, is there intent to use it, and again the proof is that the answer is yes. Now is the time for risk managers in companies to ensure the impact of Fake News is something they plan for, remember it is a cyber enabled threat.
In one of Sun Tzu’s opening statements he said, “If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.” The time has come for preparedness as you cannot evade this threat.
Maintaining business proactivity
By Philip Ingram MBE
Travel is being restricted, people are being told to work from home, meeting cancelled, companies are desperately trying to take business online and remote, events are cancelled or postponed. The great British wartime spirit is being displayed by most as the few riot over toilet rolls, panic buy on a first come first served basis, forget our elderly, our sick, it’s me first; but one thing will be at the back of everyone’s mind; “what next?” This brings out the best in many if not most and the worst in some; a sad reflection on elements of our community. Businesses must be asking “how do I maintain my business proactivity?”
For businesses, many that can afford to are looking for ways to provide support to front line services. Only yesterday I was contacted by the investigation’s software company Altia-ABM asking for introductions to front line services who may benefit from their capabilities for free. We are seeing reports of major manufacturers like JCB and Dyson changing their production lines to make medical ventilators, we are hearing of distilleries switching to the production of alcohol-based hand gel (and not for internal use).
One thing is clear, the current COVID-19 pandemic is changing and will change the business landscape for some time to come if not make a permanent change. However, the first thing to recognise is that capabilities will still be needed, help provided, services delivered. The world is not stopping completely, so businesses that take a proactive approach are more likely to come out the other side of this crisis better than those that don’t. That is just simple logic.
So, what do I mean by a proactive approach in an environment with no meetings, increasingly restricted travel and no events? It is all about communicating, about informing, about contributing. It’s all about keeping a sense of perspective and as much of a sense of normality as possible. The crisis will pass, and a newer version of ‘normality’ will return so it is important that businesses don’t just disengage completely.
So how do you engage, what should you be doing?
First and foremost, inform, inform, inform. Keep your staff and customers up to date with what is happening. Ensure you have clear statements and contact details on the front of your websites if appropriate and in your telephone answering system. You know who your main customers are, make sure you or your team are talking to them throughout this crisis.
Secondly, secure, secure, secure. Threats to your data, your IP are not going to go away and will likely increase over the crisis period. GDPR fines will not be waived for careless data breaches so ensure your working practices for remote working are as secure as your practices in the office. Those that were a threat before COVID-19 hit are still a threat and will see this as an opportunity. Be on the lookout for phishing, malware, ransomware and people exploiting online social engineering opportunities.
Thirdly, engage, engage, engage. Don’t fall into the trap of isolating yourself, your business, your services. There are lots of ways to remain engaged. Talk to your suppliers and customers, keep them reassured. Publish articles, blogs, thought pieces, updates on your website and use email and social media to distribute them widely. Engage on social media, a perfect way to keep your followers confident that all is as normal as it can be. Finally look for different opportunities to communicate. I am doing PODCASTS and will likely start restart VLOGS as well. Webinars have long been an excellent way of delivering informed content and good debate. The key to getting and maintaining your audience is to provide good informative content.
With all of the social media enabled communications means almost enabling the building of a virtual world, this is a perfect opportunity to stand out from the rest and show how progressive you can be making the transition back to proper normality that much easier. So, don’t sit and wat for something to happen, take the initiative and be proactive that is the key to standing out in this crisis