Don’t you dare ask Lieutenant Colonel Baena about Tácito, his trolling twitter alter-ego

Catalan MonitorNews Roundup, Vilaweb

Photo: Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Baena (second from the left) during the cybersecurity conference day at ESADE (Credit: Vilaweb)

By: Oriol Bäbler

Date: 22nd November 2018

The card on the lecturers’ table says “Daniel Baena”, nothing else. A tall, short-haired man sits behind it. A zigzag vein makes its way down the side of his forehead. He’s wearing jeans and a tie. I guess in appearances at ESADE one can’t appear in uniform. The conference today is about cybersecurity and Daniel Baena, Lieutenant Colonel of the Civil Guard, has been invited as the head of the judicial police of Catalonia. No one has bothered to mention that the man who has signed-off the reports that feed the judicial cases against Catalan independence process had a trolling alter ego on Twitter Tàcito (Tacitus).

The lawman, in some ill-conceived moment of patriotistic heroism, opened a twitter account, and turned into a troll. In his sights were politicians, journalists and the Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalan Police). These references are in the past tense, not because Baena has changed his opinions – his ideological prejudices continue to taint reports on the independence process – but because Tacitus no longer exists. The account has been deactivated and pearls like this one have been lost: ‘Put the ballot box down on the floor. Slowly. Put your hands behind your head. No sudden movements.” Rather suspiciously, the Lieutenant Colonel has locked down his personal account, which can now only be seen with his permission. Cybersecurity, I suppose.

The moderator of the event, Mario Sol, co-director of the ESADE Masters in IT & IP, is charged with introducing the speakers to the auditorium. Baena is done last. Obviously, Tácito’s name isn’t mentioned at all. “Much decorated, the Lieutenant Colonel graduated in political science and has a master’s degree in security and resolution of civil, political and armed conflicts,” says Sol. The Lieutenant Colonel cracks a half smile, presumably finding the name of his master’s degree ironically humorous in the current political context.

As the conference goes on, in his first intervention, Baena compares the internet to the jungle and asserts that public institutions are poorly adapted in the area of ​​cybersecurity. “They are not sufficiently aware of what is at risk”, he says. At the table, the Lieutenant Colonel is a voice of authority, the voice of what is called the rule of law (the grey area of which goes wilfully ignored).

There are empty seats in the stalls, despite the free and generous breakfast. Between the backs of the seats there are lolling heads, shut eyes, and a good number of lit mobile phone screens. On one side of me, a man covers his face with one hand. He is not angry at the hypocrisy dancing about on the stage. Not ashamed. This is because he is asleep.  His accreditation hangs limply to one side, from his neck. On the lapel of the jacket he has a pin with the Spanish and Catalan flags. Had I had one, I would have offered a pillow, really.

Later in the debate, there a classic exchange between the moderator and the Lieutenant Colonel:

– Mario Sol: We’ve covered technological issues, of course, but we mustn’t forget that even in the digital era, human beings remain in charge of rewards and punishments. The necessary ‘repression’ of the bad guys … We must continue to pursue chase them down. That is why we have Lieutenant Colonel Baena, who will answer how a cyber attack can lead to criminal investigation and prosecution.
– Daniel Baena: Well, we don’t repress the bad guys, we redirect them, and put them at the disposition of the justice system, so that the system can do what it is meant to.

A beautiful answer, really. Too bad that if we apply it to other contexts, it coms completely undone in an instant. Remember this comes from the person who signs off the myriad police reports, many shown to be full of fantasy, which allow the “system to do what it is meant to”, and preventively imprison nine people.

After an hour of debate, the moderator opens up the discussion to questions from the audience. Up went my hand, but I get sidelined, and they move on.  I manage to flag the girl with the microphone and agree to go second. She is on the other side of the room. Thirty uncomfortable seconds go by as she approaches. Nobody says anything, but the speakers stare me down. I can hear the heels of her shoes – amplified by the microphone she is bringing me – clicking across the tiles. Tac, Tac, Tac, Tac … I have never liked microphones. I can finally ask about Tacitus. The girl gives me the microphone and this is what takes place:

Journalist [P.]: My question is for Mr. Baena in relation to information published by the newspaper Público, and it is to ask him why he managed a false account on Twitter with the name of Tacitus, criticizing and accusing politicians, journalists and the Mossos d’Esquadra? And if…
-Mario Sol [M. S.]: [cuts in] We have come to talk about cybersecurity …
-P.: Right, why …
-M.S.: Not of this type of …
-P.: Seriously! I think it’s very …
-M.S.: If you don’t mind, ask a question about the theme of …
-P.: I think it is quite relevant that a speaker at a conference on cybersecurity…
-M. S.: Maybe in another forum. Not in this one.
-P.: I do not know, I’d argue he’s discredited as a speaker if he manages fake accounts on Twitter and trolls politicians.
-M.S.: I understand but here we have come to learn and talk about cybersecurity …
-P.: Yes, and benefit from his experience, because it seems that he dominates both sides of the equation, security, and the converse…
-M.S.: Thank you very much.

You can listen to the audio here:

I stayed quiet, and stayed in my seat. This time Baena did not need to hide behind a fake twitter profile, he was being directly protected by the ESADE moderator. Questions go by and nobody alludes to the Tacitus affair. The Lieutenant Colonel maintains his frozen rictus sardonicus, as if he’s brought a special mask for a question that he expected sooner or later. Finally, Sol ends the debate and I realize that the man to my side has finally woken up.

At the exit, before I turned in my accreditation, I’m approached by two communications people from ESADE. Their perspective is stunning. They tell me it’s bad form to bring up a political question in a space for debate about cyber-security. Well they’ve told me! I should have stayed and taken my revenge at the catered lunch.

* A small reminder, the Civil Guard has not taken any measure against Daniel Baena since the disclosure of the Tacitus affair.

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