Finding one person or one nation to blame is just going to waste time. Focus is on the here and now, and then recovery.
Published Feb, 2020.
At times like these, finding someone to blame or accusing various Governments or Organisations of acting too late or irresponsibly is a luxury one can only afford in times..... not like these. Of course, there will be criticisms, there will conspiracy theories and who knows, maybe some of them might be true. But what remains, is what it is. So the UK Government will be trying to find a fair balance between delivering some positive soundbites (the 'noble lies' we referred to) and keeping order, and the mammoth task of committing resources at the right time and in the right places.
Of course, this is a war. It is a war we have been preparing for and a war which unlike in previous years (the Spanish Flu being the obvious one) we can actually win. So, from that perspective, that has to be encouraging. One can only imagine what we would have done without the medication, the scientists, the emergency services, the civil servants keeping the Whitehall machine well oiled. It is hands to the pump and perfectly suited to the typical bulldog British spirit. We also have some other positives to take from this. For the first time in a situation of this type and scale, we can see countries working together (in the main) to share information and resources. If we take Trumps apparent attempt to clinch the antidote supply from the Germans as the actions of a dick, then overall despite Brexit, we can and are working alongside our European neighbours in many ways behind the scenes.
What the Government and specifically PM Boris is asking of us as citizens is pretty simple and frankly, is all we can do. This virus is airborne and therefore if we are not in the same space as the virus, we are unlikely to get it. Meerkat simplicity perhaps, but true, nonetheless. Isolation isolation and isolation....and just when you think you cannot stand it any longer, then more isolation. The life of a hermit is a safe one indeed nowadays and with the benefit of Amazon and 'porch delivery', we have the facilities now to live safely.... not as before. If the really radicalised conspiracists i.e. the drum beating Christian fraternity so splendidly represented in middle America are going to be true to form, then this is probably Armageddon or Gods way of punishing the overindulgent, unholy folk. Although, given that the homeless person with his cardboard box is probably safer than the average City trader at the moment, then maybe the meek really shall inherit the earth. We jest.
It is not surprising that the Government has to be positive but even that is riddled with danger. Underplaying what has the potential to be 10-15 times deadlier than seasonal flu is not something taken lightly. So, as mentioned earlier, Boris has to tread a careful path. Also, this is so early in the process there is simply not enough statistically significant empirical evidence to support any predictions. There are AI predictive models being used across the World to fill with daily data from literally thousands of sources and variables. Scenarios with probability assessments and within each of those, further plans and contingency measures taken to be switched on at a moment’s notice. This is why international cooperation beyond normal is absolutely essential. The MAGA supporters might poo poo the overwhelming evidence on climate change and the need for harmonisation, but when they see coffins, body bags and hospitals unable to cope, and tangible consequences, all of a sudden maybe then they will feel more inclined to replace the A for America, will A for ALL. The social media fuelled "me me me" egocentric generation of snapchatters and tweeters may also for the first in their short lives realise that life is not like a series of ads on a YouTube video where we can just click "skip" to get past the bad parts. ALL nations regardless of culture, ideology, politics, religion, are comprised of human beings, and human beings have an inherent predisposition to bond in times of trouble. It might be contrary to the ideals promoted by the internet age, but human DNA has been around much longer than binary code and microchips and as long as lessons are learnt, then maybe some positive will come out of this. However, before we start placing daisies behind our ears and growing our hair way too long, one thing we also know about the human DNA thing, is that it has some dangerous faults. Which is why there are law enforcement agencies, a judiciary, an executive and organisations like MI6 and MI5, who work tirelessly behind the scenes to stack the odds a little more in our favour.
As things stand at the moment, the common enemy is not human, albeit man-made, and It is certainly a time for faith. Faith in your Government and the machine and faith it has the capability to, as Boris puts it, to "send the virus packing'. Criticisms and recrimination can take a back seat until this is all over. That said, it might be worth just mentioning the latest snippet from the PM which suggested we could see the worst of this over within 12 weeks. If you believe that you will believe anything. We are in this for the long haul and we all have to remember this is the beginning and it is very early days. It's a cliché, but "hope for the best prepare for the worst" is the order of the day. Certainly from an economic perspective, the effects of the 2008 banking crisis will seem like child’s play compared to the repercussions which are going to be felt long after the last Corona antidote has been administered. When one considers what we saw with the Government intervening and partially nationalising some of the Banks, on what scale will that now happen across the board? We are seeing it already in some European countries already and state intervention may result in an all new economic blueprint for the future. Who knows? Perhaps cross that bridge etc etc.
There have also been some notable silences in all this and various topics have not yet been covered more fully, but that may well change. Russia for example is very much keeping its cards close to its chest as one might expect. What exactly is happening and why it has taken the path it has, is well beyond this writer’s paygrade and the scope of this piece. With so much disinformation from Russia and virtually no sure-fire way of verifying their data, it may as well be simply ignored. What will provide us with more information than the data itself, is change in the delivery of that data to the West and signs of any changes in the subject matter. From a purely logical perspective, if we start with a basic assumption that all data from Russia is inaccurate, then all we do know for sure are details about the delivery of that data i.e when, who by, why has there been a shift from x to y, what has not been included, what has been included etc. In essence, the fact that that is information, is fact. At least it would allow for some interpretation and hopefully when combined with other information sources at the disposal of the West, then a more colourful picture can emerge.
So, what of the intelligence services? All is relatively quiet and that is of no surprise. So, we can only speculate on what business continuity arrangements are being followed as a result of what has happened. The thrust of this piece comes from a 'realists' perspective and so talk of conspiracies should be saved for another time. However, the danger with calling a possible threat or a possible cause, a conspiracy theory is that it is all encompassing possibly to the detriment of legitimate concerns. Sure, where patient zero came from and why will be the cause of speculation for some time yet. In keeping with the theme here however, that is the past and it is fruitless to pontificate at this stage. What is potentially worthy of legitimate consideration is the notion that if (and that is a huge if) there are organisations or factions that want to exploit vulnerabilties, whether pre-planned or not, it would be remiss of intelligence organisations not to entertain the idea. However, with cap suitably doffed it would be impertinent for this writer to think for one minute that these scenarios have not been meticuously considered already. We have often quipped that the Chinese, on the whole, seem to prefer the 'long game' and that is no great secret, rather it is part of their identity. But surely even the staunchest suporter of consipracy theories would find it hard to table an argument that this was anything other than poor (very poor) management on the part of the Chinese government. It is however, as they say, what it is, and so now more than in times BC (Before Corona), the proverbial sentry guards must be doubled, nay tripled. We have already seen the cyber-velociraptors test the perimeter fences fo the Czech systems and the US Department of Health. What we really have to stop however, is the larger players going to school on their put and taking notes we do not want them to have.
In terms of the day to day running of operations at home, we know that certain important jobs at GCHQ, MI6, MI5 and others will be desk based analytical roles. We have discussed the importance of the neurodiverse community in organisations in general, at great length throughout this site. GCHQ for example is a leading proponent when it comes to showing how people within that 'label' have far more superior skills in certain areas than those who are not. So, when we hear of 'social distancing' and working at home alone. it would be safe to say that for a relatively high proportion of staff at GCHQ, it will be business as usual. Maybe the same can be said for many other roles such as those carried out by management teams, project leaders, intelligence offices and in fact most likely the majority of those located at Vauxhall Cross. It is hard to conceive that it would be even a marginal risk for that majority, let alone one that would cause any disruption. There are other locations of course spread across the UK, notably Manchester where people can be deployed. The risk area as we see it would be for the less well known, we hate to say it, less glamorous roles. The goods and services staff, drivers, delivery staff, procurement teams, the administrative teams, operations managers, project managers and coordinators and so on. It is a long list of people who, might be perceived as the 'forgotten ones' but ones that nonetheless have a vital role in keeping the huge intelligence machine working. With respect, many of these people may have had their commitment to noble, patriotic causes tested over the years and had them fade somewhat as a result, as with most of us who eventually settle into a routine, look at the net salary figure on the pay slip each month, and carry on. These are not groups of people easily moved from one location to another. They have families, ties and commitments and £24k a year is not worth dying for. So, the organisation will be making allowances for that and from a logistical perspective we would submit, that is where the challenge must be. The most common option at the moment proposed by employers and the Government is for people to work from home, and in the case of some SIS staff that may well be possible. However, how on earth will they manage it when the net widens, and security classification means that staff cannot simply flick open a laptop at home. Once again therefore we return to the notion of faith and that in times like these, we simply have no other choice but to put our faith (not in the biblical sense) in the contingency planning that has been in the pipeline for years. That, and ensure we all do what little we can to live like Howard Hughes.