Jose A. Gonzalez – Especialista en Ciberseguridad y Ciber Inteligencia

correo /en/

mayo de 2020

It seems logical to think that data and intelligence should provide preparedness and “best resolution path” as decision-takers plan actions and objectives for global events such as COVID-19. Countries and also political and economical unions (as the EU) have powerful mechanisms to obtain, analyse and provide intelligence from data, guiding decisions at the macro level in case of global events.

Regarding the micro-level (i.e. citizens), such capability is quite biased by the mass media, social networks and the “stampede effect” produced by mimicking others as, for example, the shop raids to purchase loo paper compulsively during COVID-19 outbreak. Although this bias could be reduced significantly by citizens’ education, adding the correct selection of information sources and the comparison of locals and foreign (i.e. other languages) sources of information, is not achieved in its majority. For the normally educated citizens, noise, disinformation and wrong guidance from politicians is a dense fog to fight against in the personal decision-making process.

Wrong guidance from politicians and media amplification (friend and foe) has shown one of the most dangerous threats to the population. Irresponsible declarations during COVID-19 crisis such as the presidents of Mexico[1], U.S.A.[2], Brasil[3] and the U.K.[4] costs lives, while other countries saved lives[5] by applying tough measures backed by the intelligence obtained from more correct information. In COVID-19 global event, there is a clear cause-effect relation between the correct information, decisions (public and personal, hence the auto-reclusion) and death toll reduction. Some of the already refereed countries as the UK even announced that “coronavirus death toll under 20,000 would be ‘good result’”[6], while others as the U.S.A. president announcing that “Coronavirus will disappear one day ‘like a miracle’”[7] during a press conference on last February 28. This declaration suffered a dramatic turn 34 days after when Trump declared the death toll could reach 240.000[8]. We could only fathom how political leaders could address those that had sworn to protect at the beginning of the crises with such false information. From this point on, imagination could make us wonder about irresponsibility, conspiracy theories, economic moves or simply applying Occam’s sword, not being fitted for the position. Correctness in communication and information, required to support decisions based on intelligence analysis, is another lesson learned that could cost lives.

Regarding information and statistical analysis for decision-taking (intelligence generation), the current crisis relied on scientific data based on quantitative and qualitative methods[5], shown correct from the scientific methods perspective, showing solid accuracy along time in cases such as Ebola[9] and SARS[10].

The only problem with the applicability of the axiomatic scientific methods is the inclusion of human behaviour randomness. When India’s P.M. Modi made a public statement on India’s public TV establishing a country lockdown last March 25th (following China and Europe’s experience), citizens have less than four hours to make a decision: “stuck indoors in New Delhi with no income and no way to earn money”(sic)[11] or return to their families’ house in the rural villages. The announcement caused a massive exodus saturating the transportation system and “spraying” the virus across the country. This exodus indicates that the economic factors of the population should matter and the communication and measures should be appropriated. On the other side, the “well informed” rich population made a movement for their second residence as the crisis began, as former Spanish P.M. Aznar did, “spreading fear and fury“(sic)[12] among citizens. Such behaviour has been qualified by Dr Cyrille Vartanian, one of the six physicians on Noirmoutier, as “Irresponsible and selfish, thought”(sic)[12]. Here we have another lesson learned: send a correct communication to your population’s different profiles including huge social measures and drive by example.

Another different and dangerous aspect is the far-right narrative in democratic governments. At the same time that cyberattacks storms hospitals in the middle of a health crisis[13] and thousands die in Italy and Spain, a government in the heart of Europe point out opposite-sign governments (which are buried in a country-level emergency) about its responsibility in COVID-19 propagation[14]. This is again, another move from someone who tries to stand their political position by using a (far-right) narrative, targetting susceptible individuals and their votes in their countries. The European Union have made enormous efforts to identify and fight against such narratives tagging this one specifically as “Eco-fascism”[15], but some EU leaders simply don’t follow (or don’t read) EU studies. Fortunately, Antonio Costa, Portugal P.M., qualified immediately such declaration as “disgusting” and “against EU spirit”. This example leads us to another important lesson learned: no matter how hard the circumstance, there is always someone who wants to make a profit from it.

All previously announced facts could be seen also as “fake news”, not only generated by the “usual suspects” but also by insiders and P.M., as seen before. Such “fake news” would only:

  • Erode trust in media and governments by normalising disinformation.
  • “Infoxication” and “paralysis by analysis” on citizens by social media influence and saturation operations.
  • Disinformation can and is weaponized by self-serving government officials keen to shift the blame for the spread of the virus[16].
  • Disinformation can lead to panic, confusion, and wrong decisions[17].

Population has free tools to check disinformation (as the free Bellingcat Online Investigation Toolkit) [18], but population lacks the training (or the mood, it really is a job in itself) to check information.

It would be useful to pinpoint which countries are targetted by disinformation and by whom[19], and what countries don’t seems to be targetted by fake news, in an environment where the three big global powers are challenging and chasing each other for a global domination.

For last but not the least, we face the problem of “how to include casualties on statistics”. As we could read in the news[20], every country have different ways to include figures in their statistics. Even some sources claimed that some countries are hiding the real figures [21]. Accounting methods should change and criteria be unified by authorities (WHO) in order to manage consistent and real data for decision-making based on a correct intelligence analysis, which should be more strategic and complement the data analysis.

Let’s hope that for the next crisis to come, countries would learn from this one increasing their data and information acquisition as well as their intelligence analysis based on a broader set of sources. Some countries are more advanced than others in this matter[22] and information, methods and plans should be publicly accessible to everyone. This tiny pale blue dot (paraphrasing Carl Sagan) is the only house that we have, and protecting the economy without thinking on human beings first is nonsense.

Jose A. Gonzalez


[1] Grillo, I. – The New Your Times – “Mexico, the Coronavirus and the Hugging President”, (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[2]  Pilkington, E., Bekiempis, V., Laughland, O. – The Guardian – “Pelosi accuses Trump of costing US lives with coronavirus denials and delays”, (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[3] BBC News (In portuguese) – “Em rede nacional, Bolsonaro critica fechamento de escolas e comércio e compara coronavírus a ‘resfriadinho’” – (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[4] Sridhar, D. – The Guardian – “Britain had a head start on Covid-19, but our leaders squandered it“ – (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[5] Flaxman, S. et al. – London Imperial College – “Report 13: Estimating the number of infections and the impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 in 11 European countries”, (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[6] Sandle, P., Faulconbridge, G. – Reuters. “UK coronavirus death toll under 20,000 would be ‘good result’, says health chief” – (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[7] MSNBC – “Trump: Coronavirus will disappear one day ‘like a miracle’” – (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[8] Fritze, J. – USA Today – “Trump warns of ‘very painful’ time as aides predict US coronavirus death toll could reach 240,000” – (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[9] Kodish, S.R. et al. – NCBI (National Institutes of Health) – “A qualitative study to understand how Ebola Virus Disease affected nutrition in Sierra Leone—A food value-chain framework for improving future response strategies”, (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[10] EK, N. et al.– NCBI (National Institutes of Health) -“Quantitative analysis and prognostic implication of SARS coronavirus RNA in the plasma and serum of patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome”. (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[11] Kidangoor, A. – Time – “Modi’s Hasty Coronavirus Lockdown of India Leaves Many Fearful for What Comes Next” – (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[12] Onishi, N.,  Méheut C. – The New York Times – “Rich Europeans flee virus for 2nd homes, spreading fear and fury” – (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[13] Bizga, A. – Bitdefender Blog- “Mysterious cyberattack cripples Czech hospital amid COVID-19 outbreak” – (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[14] Bernabé, D. –  – “La propagación del coronavirus por Europa contra la narrativa centroeuropea derechista” (in Spanish) – (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[15] Sterkenburg, N., Smit, Q., Meines, M. RAN Centre of Excellence. European Union. “Current and future narratives and strategies of far-right and islamist extremism”. (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[16] Evans, R. , Newsy – Bellingcat – (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[17] McKenna, M., – Wired – “The Ibuprofen Debate Reveals the Danger of Covid-19 Rumors” – (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[18] Triebert, C. – Bellingcat – “Bellingcat’s Online Investigation Toolkit” – (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[19] Colomina, C. – CIDOB – “Coronavirus: infodemia y desinformación” – (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[20] Sevillano, E.G. – El País – “Tracking the coronavirus: why does each country count deaths differently?” – (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[21] Bloomberg – Time – “China Hits Back at Report That It Hid Coronavirus Numbers”– (Accessed April 1st 2020)

[22] Gould, M., Joshi, I., Tang, M. – “The power of data in a pandemic” – Department of Health and Social Care, UK Government – (Accessed April 1st 2020)