Has Facebook and Cambridge Analytica Put Democracy at Risk in Both the U.S. and U.K.?

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: March 20, 2018

For over a year, Carole Cadwalladr has been reporting in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper about the bizarre overlap between the people and companies involved in Donald Trump’s rise to the Presidency in the U.S. and the June 23, 2016 Brexit vote in the U.K. where citizens voted in a referendum to take the U.K. out of the European Union.

Now, one of those companies, Cambridge Analytica, is the subject of intense focus on both sides of the pond. Last evening in the U.S., cable news aired video of Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, speaking with undercover reporters about a political dirty tricks campaign the company could run. Nix cited an example of setting up hidden cameras to catch a politician saying he would accept a bribe or the company could send in girls to seduce the politician. Nix said:

“We could bring some Ukrainians in on holiday with us, you know, you know what I’m saying. They are very beautiful. I find that works very well.”

Those bombshell reports came on the heels of weekend reporting that Cambridge Analytica had digitally mined private information on more than 50 million Facebook users which it then used to target voters for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Trump’s campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in the spring of 2016 and “paid it more than $6.2 million,” according to a Reuters report.

But Trump’s campaign wasn’t the only organization paying Cambridge Analytica. According to election complaints filed in 2016 by the Campaign Legal Center, a SuperPac, Make America Number 1, with ties to both Steve Bannon and billionaire hedge fund manager, Robert Mercer, paid $4.6 million to Cambridge Analytica. The complaint notes:

“Specifically, CLC’s complaint alleged that Make America Number 1 appeared to have paid compensation to Trump campaign CEO Stephen K. Bannon (now White House chief strategist) via payments to the firms Glittering Steel LLC and Cambridge Analytica, which are incorporated at the same address as Bannon’s consulting firm and closely associated with him. These payments constitute in-kind contributions to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. from Make America Number 1 in the form of compensation for personal services rendered to the campaign.  U.S.C. § 30101(8)(A)(ii)…

“CLC’s October 6 complaint also described how the data firm ‘Cambridge Analytica’ is registered at the same address as Bannon’s consulting firm, Bannon’s Glittering Steel LLC, and Bannon’s “Breitbart News” holdings, and that Bannon is on Cambridge Analytica’s board, as is Robert Mercer, who funds Make America Number 1.

“Make America Number 1 has paid at least $4,633,876 to Cambridge Analytica since Bannon joined the Trump campaign: $411,763 in August, $886,133 in September, $1,935,980 in October and $1,400,000 between November 1 and November 4. These payments to a firm associated with Bannon provide additional reason to believe that Make America Number 1 may have subsidized the Trump campaign CEO’s compensation.”

These same names, Bannon and Mercer, pop up in Carole Cadwalladr’s reporting for the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper on questions swirling around the legitimacy of the Brexit vote in the U.K.

On March 15, 2017, Cadwalladr asked the following:

“The issue is this: did foreign individuals or powers, acting covertly, subvert our democracy?

“There are mounting and deeply disquieting questions about the role ‘dark money’ may have played during last year’s EU referendum; and about whether the use of offshore jurisdictions, loopholes in European and North American data laws, undeclared foreign donors, a closed, all-powerful technological system (Facebook) and an antiquated and hopelessly out-of-touch oversight body has undermined the very foundations of our electoral system.”

That dark money was earlier explored by Cadwalladr in a February 26, 2017 article for the Guardian’s Sunday Observer newspaper. Cadwalladr wrote:

“The US billionaire who helped bankroll Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency played a key role in the campaign for Britain to leave the EU, the Observer has learned.

“It has emerged that Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund billionaire, who helped to finance the Trump campaign and who was revealed this weekend as one of the owners of the rightwing Breitbart News Network, is a long-time friend of Nigel Farage. He directed his data analytics firm to provide expert advice to the Leave campaign on how to target swing voters via Facebook – a donation of services that was not declared to the electoral commission.”

The article noted that the founder of the movement to leave the European Union, Arron Banks, had declared in a series of tweets after the successful vote, that Cambridge Analytica had supplied them with “world class” artificial intelligence (AI) to help the campaign gain “unprecedented levels of engagement.”

Cadwalladr also points out that “a British version of Breitbart was launched in 2014,” and that the “site has been an important cheerleader for Ukip,” the U.K. Independence Party that supported leaving the European Union and is considered a populist right-wing group.

The article, which notes that it has a legal claim against it by Cambridge Analytica LLC and its parent, SCL Elections Limited, explained how the data mining company helped the Brexit vote succeed: “Until now, however, it was not known that Mercer had explicitly tried to influence the outcome of the referendum. Drawing on Cambridge Analytica’s advice, Leave.eu built up a huge database of supporters creating detailed profiles of their lives through open-source data it harvested via Facebook. The campaign then sent thousands of different versions of advertisements to people depending on what it had learned of their personalities.”

Mercer made his billions at the Renaissance Technologies hedge fund through what Bloomberg News calls the “blackest box in all of finance.” Mercer was a former computer scientist at IBM.  Until the public knows a lot more about the highly sophisticated data mining in the Brexit vote and the Trump election, these elections will also remain black boxes.

Related Article:

Senate: Renaissance Hedge Fund Avoided $6 Billion in Taxes in Bogus Scheme With Banks

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