The CEO of a British political data firm which was hired and subsequently fired during course of the 2016 presidential election by Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Donald Trump, was caught on hidden camera in offering a prospective client methods to entrap a political rival – including bribes, sex workers and even an offer “he can’t refuse.”
That prospective client, however, was the UK’s ITN Channel 4 news – which conducted a four-month undercover investigation of Cambridge Analytica (CA) while posing as potential clients interested in affecting the outcome of the Sri Lankan elections. The results of Channel 4’s investigation revealed that Cambridge Analytica – headed by CEO Alexander Nix, has secretly worked to influence over 200 elections around the world – in some cases using subcontractors or various front companies.
In one exchange, Nix suggests his firm could send “some girls around to the candidate’s house” in ordder to obtain compromising information and create political leverage.
“It doesn’t have to be true,” Nix said. “It just has to be believed.”
In another segment, Nix discusses how Cambridge Analytica will “offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, and we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the internet.”
In order to maintain cover, Cambridge Analytica operatives would often pose as students or tourists.
Managing director Mark Turnbull was also recorded bay ITN news discussing his relationships with former UK spies now working at private companies which can be tapped for private intelligence gathering, along with Israeli intelligence companies.
Cambridge Analytica has denied using bribes, entrapment “or so-called honey-traps.”
Cambridge Analytica came under scrutiny over the weekend after a whistleblower, Chris Wylie, told The Guardian that he helped the company develop and Facebook app which would pay individuals to take a survey. Unbeknownst to users, however, was that users who had not adjusted their Facebook privacy settings were subject to a massive amount of data harvesting – both their own and their friends and contacts as well.
Wylie says he helped develop a “psychological warfare weapon” to capitalize on the “vulnerabilities” of Facebook users. Around 50 million users to be exact.
Publicly, the company advertises its ability to build “psychographic” profiles that can microtarget social media political advertising to people based on traits like “extroversion” or “neuroticism.” –CBS News
“What we worked on was … data harvesting programs where we would pull data from users of apps and all of their friend networks and run that data through algorithms that could profile their personality traits and other psychological attributes,” Wylie told CNN on Monday evening.
That said, the Trump campaign fired Cambridge Analytica before the general election, according to CBS News.
The Trump campaign never used the psychographic data at the heart of a whistleblower who once worked to help acquire the data’s reporting — principally because it was relatively new and of suspect quality and value. The profiling approach utilized by Cambridge Analytica allowed it to predict the voting likelihoods of individual people based on personality, the firm claimed. –CBS
Of note, Ted Cruz’s campaign dropped the company during the 2016 campaign after its psychographic models were unable to identify likely Cruz supporters. As for the Trump campaign’s decision to drop the firm;
The crucial decision was made in late September or early October when Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital guru on the 2016 campaign, decided to utilize just the RNC data for the general election and used nothing from that point from Cambridge Analytica or any other data vendor. –CBS
Former Cambridge Analytica contractor Christopher Wylie tells CNN’s @donlemon that he helped build a “psychological warfare weapon” to “exploit mental vulnerabilities that our algorithms showed that [Facebook users] had.” https://t.co/3u8JNn3DlO pic.twitter.com/GhIFPU1sci
— CNN (@CNN) March 20, 2018
CA, an offshoot of UK company SCL group, was created in 2013 with a $15 million investment by billionaire GOP donor Robert Mercer and a major push from former Breitbart executive chairman and former Trump advisor, Steve Bannon.
In 2014, SCL entered into a contract with a company called Global Science Research (GSR), owned by Aleksandr Kogan – a Cambridge-based psychologist. Kogan’s app, called “thisismydigitallife,” harvested the data of millions of users which Cambridge Analytica bought.
When Facebook found out in 2015 that Cambridge / SCL had purchased the data, they was asked to stop and delete all of the harvested data. They said they did – however Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica and their parent company SCL after an anonymous source which Facebook won’t disclose reported that not all of the data had been deleted.
Last fall, special counsel Robert Mueller asked Cambridge Analytica to turn over all emails from any employees who worked on the Trump campaign contract, which the firm complied with.
The Trump campaign’s contact with the firm ended on Election day 2016 and is no longer associated in any way.