Political campaigns, elections, even coup d’état will not be won or lost as before, they will be won in cyberspace through data analysts micro-targeting their audience – or so some people would like you to think. Is this a brave new world or is it just Snake Oil redux?
Much has been written recently of Cambridge Analytica, a company that is said to have been influentially involved in the Brexit campaign and getting Donald Trump elected.
Cambridge Analytica claims to use big data and advanced psychographics to grow audiences, identify key influencers, and move people to action. They call it behavioural micro-targeting.
What exactly is Big Data, who are these data mining companies, what is their convoluted and interwoven involvement in the electoral processes of the UK and the USA and how are they closely linked to the far-right elements of political parties and the very heart of our government?
Big data is classified as the huge amounts of personal information that, once gleaned, can be analysed to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially those relating to human behaviour and interactions.
A complementary aid to this is psychographics, which is the study and classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria that is particularly useful in the field of market research.
So much for the corporate blurb, the questions are what is it and does it work?
Is this just the modern equivalent of Snake Oil, a product of little worth peddled by the descendants of soothsayers and alchemists?
Cambridge Analytica state that it uses the established OCEAN scale of personality traits, Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism, to understand what people care about, why they behave the way they do and what really drives their decision making.
It is also known as CANOE, but, in an industry where style trumps substance, that doesn’t have the same ring to it. Is this something new and groundbreaking? Hardly, however you wish to package or repackage it, factor analysis has been around for over 130 years.
However, what’s new to a lot of people are the claims that algorithms are now being used to firstly analyse information gleaned from various sources, claimed to include Facebook, and secondly to target voters. An algorithm is a piece of software that processes input into an intended output.
From this ‘voter data modeling’ they formulate specific advertising, demonstrated in the video above, tailored to various segments identified through their methodology, they micro-target their intended audience; in plain English, instead of using a scattergun they’re claiming to give you a sniper, but not one sniper, a whole army of snipers, perhaps tens of thousands even millions of snipers.
For Leave.EU and the Trump campaign it doesn’t take a genius to work out who they’re looking for and what type of information they’re looking to put in front of them.
An unscrupulous organisation could use this technique to place information designed to incite a certain type of individual they had identified. If coordinated and sustained, that individual would quickly cease to be open to any form of reasoned and rational debate. Below is an example of targeted fake news from the Daily Express. A story later proven to be completely false.
By the time the truth comes out, the intended recipients will have moved on to the latest fake news article, and, as The Sydney Morning Herald put it:
“The Sydney Morning Herald noted that the debunked “sex mob” report was one of a string of hoaxes which spread globally, but were later proved to be untrustworthy or false, and that those stories were not always corrected by the outlets responsible for disseminating them”
Cambridge Analytica UK Ltd is part of the SCL (Strategic Communication Laboratories) Group. Established by Nigel Oakes, who has described himself as “a pioneer in the field of influence and soft power,” SCL specialise in election management strategies and has operated worldwide in countries such as Italy, Colombia, Indonesia, Afghanistan, South Africa, Pakistan and the United Kingdom, using techniques that ‘promote the psychological manipulation of people’s emotions.’
According to his biography on the SCL website Oakes is ‘Eton educated’ and went on to study ‘Psychology’ at University College London (UCL). A claim later denied by UCL saying it has no record of him as a student in a 2008 letter to professor of sociology at Bath University and Powerbase website owner David Miller.
In 1989 Oakes did establish a body called the Behavioural Dynamics Working Group, quickly followed a year later by the Behavioural Dynamics Institute (BDi). The group enlisted Adrian Furnham and Barrie Gunter, both respected psychology professors and experts in understanding and then changing people’s behaviour.
However, in an email to the ItalyEurope24 website, Prof. Furnham accuses Oakes of exploitation to further his own credibility and career: “I believe he is inappropriately using my name and reputation to further his career. He was unreliable and Prof. Gunter and I severed links with him.”
Prof. Gunter was less diplomatic in his response to Oakes’ claims: “Adrian and I were running our own small company providing consultancy services. Nigel made contact with us while he was working for the corporate event division of Saatchi & Saatchi. As far as we were concerned Behavioural Dynamics was simply the name of a company he founded.
“Nigel didn’t have any qualifications in psychology. To have credibility he needed an association with bona fide psychologists, which is part of the reason he brought us on board. But we found that no matter how much we tried to reign him in, he would make all kinds of claims that we felt we could not substantiate, and that is why we stopped working for him.”
Oakes, who ran a mobile disco before working as an advertising executive for Conservative favourites Saatchi and Saatchi, set-up a company which claimed to influence consumer behaviour through the use of aromas. Oakes claimed “smells can influence attitudes and therefore behaviour” at the 1992 launch of Marketing Aromatics.
How successful an enterprise Marketing Aromatics was is unknown, but just a year later, in 1993, Oakes established what was to become SCL; although official records show it wasn’t incorporated until 2005.
It’s difficult to ascertain exactly what legal status the company had before this time but records confirm it certainly existed.
Operating in ‘the field of military psychological operations (psyops), the dissemination of selected information to foreign audiences in support of government policy and national objectives,’ apparently, using the methods dismissed by Furnham and Gunter, BDi methodogoly has been employed by both NATO and, according to the SCL website, “verified and validated by the US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency” (DARPA).
ItalyEurope24 website also contacted DARPA and were told “it is inconsistent with Agency policy for the company to claim their technology ‘has been verified and validated’ by DARPA. Such language implies endorsement by the federal government, which we wouldn’t extend to a commercial entity.”
Like all good salesmen Nigel Oakes’ tendency to exaggerate was again highlighted through what SCL called the group’s Indonesian ‘project.’
The SCL website states, “SCL was contracted to manage the election campaign of one of Indonesia’s major political parties following the restoration of democracy in 1999. The campaign was extremely complex and needed to appeal to over 200 million people across 40 languages in the Indonesian archipelago.” The website goes on to quote the now dead former President Abdurrahman Wahid: “I am indebted to SCL for their strategic management of my election success.”
Yet the daughter of the late President seemed to be at odds with the claims of Oakes and SCL: “Mr. Oakes never helped my father during the election campaign. He was brought to us through a third person close to my father, who tried to get Mr. Oakes to set up some kind of ‘operation center’ for my father AFTER he was elected President. Mr. Oakes’ center never materialized into any support that was substantive to my father.”
One could be forgiven for thinking that, back in the day, Strategic Communications Laboratories was little more than a government intelligence contractor, given that they operated in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Congressional documents show that in 2007 SCL spent $20,000 with the pentagon lobbying firm Global Policy Group with a view to securing further government contracts. Oakes subsequently explained, “we used to be in the business of mind-bending for political purposes.” In fact, they claim to have influenced election outcomes in 19 countries.
Today SCL Group Ltd includes six companies, SCL Analytics, SCL Commercial, SCL Elections, SCL Social, SCL Insight and of course Cambridge Analytica. SCL’s directors are Alexander Nix, Nigel Oakes, Roger Gabb and Julian Wheatland, who is named as both a director and the Chairman of the group.
SCL are an interconnected web, with companies owning other companies within the SCL group. It would be fairly accurate to say that, going by the available accounts at Companies House, none of the companies are performing particularly well.
The original name of Cambridge Analytica was SCL USA Ltd, which was only incorporated as a UK company in 2015, but, in 2016, due to administrative non-compliance, it was threatened with being struck-off, dissolved and all its assets taken by the crown.
Nine days after the above notice was received, SCL USA Ltd became Cambridge Analytica UK Ltd. Shortly after which the confirmation statement was duly delivered to Companies House. The strike-off notice was immediately rescinded.
Two months later, changes were being made at the company in control of this expanding group. Its name was also changed from Strategic Communication Laboratories Ltd to SCL Group and its share capital was reduced from 88,881 shares to 66,348.
Documents seen by Brexitshambles show that in 2005 Strategic Communication Laboratories was venture capital backed, receiving multi-million equity funding from Oxford Capital Partners and Consensus Business Group.
As can be seen in the document above, from 2011 to 2015, 22,533 shares were under the ownership of Wheddon Ltd, a company controlled by property tycoon Vincent Tchenguiz through the Tchenguiz Family Trust (TFT), an offshore trust structure registered in Guernsey.
However, these shares were originally purchased in 2005, by another company controlled by Vincent Tchenguiz, Consensus Business Group. Despite SCL receiving millions in venture capital backing, Wheddon Ltd received only £147,746.70 for the sale of their shares.
In 2005 Julian Wheatland joined the board of SCL. Wheatland has close links with Tchenguiz, having previously worked for numerous companies under his control including five variants of Consensus Science Technology and Innovation Ltd, Reventure Ltd, Vested Ltd and five variants of Edengene Ltd.
Today Wheatland is chairman of SCL Group as well as being chairman of Oxford & Abingdon Conservatives Association.
To say Vincent Tchenguiz is a colourful character would be an understatement, Tchenguiz plays hard and works hard. Earning a vast fortune from the markets and property, in 2011 he was wrongfully arrested by the Serious Fraud Office an act which has seen a string of court cases as Tchenguiz seeks damages.
Along with brother, Robert, and sister Elizabeth, Tchenguiz has made over £120,000 of donations to the Conservative party.
Politically, Tchenguiz would have felt at home at SCL Group; at the time of his investment, alongside shareholder Conservative MP Jonathan Marland, later The Lord Marland, was SCL director, The Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Edwin Pattie.
Pattie, a former vice-chair of the Conservative party, was a cabinet member of Margaret Thatcher’s government, serving as Minister of State for Industry & Information Technology and Undersecretary for Defence Procurement.
After his political career, apart from SCL, Sir Geoffrey Pattie set up Terrington Management, a defence lobbying consultancy, and was president of First Defence, a right-wing defence think tank.
One of the events held by First Defence was on the eve of the Governments Strategic Defence and Security Review in October 2010 which was chaired by the then Secretary of State for Defence, and the now Brexit Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, Dr. Liam Fox.
Despite Tchenguiz divesting himself of his shares in SCL, Tchenguiz’s man, Julian Wheatland, remains chairman of SCL Group.
Tchenguiz’s political links are not limited to the United Kingdom. Wheddon Ltd also own shares in Zander Group, a company involved in ecologically sustainable plant production. Zander Group’s person of significant control is Raymond Asquith, better known as Lord Oxford, a career diplomat, once first secretary at the British embassy in Moscow and a former MI6 station commander in Kyiv.
This is described in an excellent piece published in August 2016 by Ann Marlow, which you can read here.
According to its latest confirmation statement Zander Group’s largest shareholder is Spadi Trading, a Cyprus company under the control of exiled Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, who is wanted by the FBI over alleged corruption.
Firtash has been in the UK news over a controversy surrounding former Tory cabinet member, John Whittingdale, the former Culture Secretary sacked by the new UK Prime Minister Theresa May, accepted £15,000 of travel to Vienna from an organisation linked to Firtash, the British Ukrainian Society (BUS).
Records at Companies House show that Whittingdale was in fact a director of BUS until his resignation in November 2014.
Interestingly, these records reveal that Lord Oxford, Raymond Asquith, who is also Zander Group’s chairman, as well as being an executive of Dimitry Firtash’s Group DF, is a person of significant control of BUS. Alongside another former vice chair of the Conservative party, Lord Risby of Haverhill, and the former director of the Firtash Foundation, Anthony Fisher.
Lord Asquith previously ran lobbying firm Asquith & Granovsky Associates alongside partner and political spin-doctor Vladimir Granovsky. Also a named director of the British Ukrainian Society (BUS), Granovsky worked on the election campaign of exiled former Ukrainian President Yanukovych and is a board member of Firtash’s television group.
In 2006 Asquith & Granovsky Associates paid Tory MP Richard Spring, now Lord Risby, in the region of £40,000 for ‘consultancy services.’ In 2007 Spring began to receive payments from BUS, the organisation he founded alongside one of Firtash’s closest allies, Robert Shetler-Jones.
The payments from BUS to Lord Risby continued until 2015 when the remuneration and paid employment section of his record of interests revealed payments from a different company; Global Strategy Limited (GSL). Registered to the same address as BUS and the Firtash Foundation, GSL’s director and person with significant control is Firtash employee and ex-Bell Pottinger senior consultant, Anthony Fisher.
The myriad links to Firtash and the British government continues with the former political consultant to Margaret Thatcher and notorious right wing lobbyist Lord Bell. Knighted by Thatcher, Lord Bell has been described ‘as having a very powerful network with contacts all over the world,’ and his former PR company, Bell Pottinger as having ‘for many, many years operated in the shadows, as agents of influence.’
Lord Bell was at the centre of the scandal that brought down ‘one of his closest friends,’ the then Defence Secretary and current ‘Brexit’ International Trade Secretary, Dr Liam Fox.
Lord Bell was present when his client, Michael Hintze, a billionaire hedge fund manager and heavyweight Tory party donor, passed bank account details to a national newspaper that revealed a conflict of interest that would eventually cost Bell’s old friend Liam Fox his cabinet post.
Hintze, who has donated over £3,000,000 to Conservative party coffers, is no stranger to the right wing Tory Brexiters.
The Australian, former Goldman Sachs banker and client of Lord Bell, has provided financial assistance to Liam Fox, meeting the cost of several trips by his friend, including flight and accommodation costs for a 2007 trip to Mauritania “to meet competitors in the Paris to Dakar rally.” While the register of MPs’ interests show that Hintze’s company flew the then shadow defence secretary to Florence to attend a conference.
Hintze also helped meet the running costs of Fox’s office in Westminster, while in October 2008 he flew Fox to Washington to attend the US presidential debate. In May 2011 Hintze arranged for a transatlantic flight, this time from Washington to Farnborough. The former Defence Secretary’s ‘friend’ Adam Werritty was also on board.
This would be the beginning of the end of Fox’s infamous ‘charity’ Atlantic Bridge, set up with Hintze’s money, and ultimately the catalyst for the resignation in disgrace of Liam Fox as Conservative Defence Secretary.
The Guardian link, a piece on Atlantic Bridge by Stephen Newton, was written almost six years ago, but it contains this prophetic informational statement:
We now know that Werritty was indirectly funded by a group of businessmen including Michael Hintze, who, the Financial Times claims, has “tens of millions” invested in defence companies through his hedge fund CQS. While the FT found no evidence that Hintze profited from funding Werritty or the Atlantic Bridge, it appears that Hintze is part of a new generation of businessmen whose motivation is not money, of which they have plenty, but influence. Funding organisations such as the Atlantic Bridge through elaborate, often opaque mechanisms, could be nudging us towards a neoconservative utopia.
Many of these individuals had watched the rise of America’s neoconservatives with envy. They were keen to import an agenda of small government freed from the burdens of a welfare state, and to bring ultra-free markets and libertarianism to Britain. Fortunately for them, the neocons were keen to export, and the special relationship and close cultural ties made the UK a perfect candidate for expansion. Yet there would be opposition from one-nation Tories and others in the party who lacked the stomach for such brutal libertarianism. Ideas would need to be introduced gradually.
It’s worth reiterating a specific part of that text:
“AN AGENDA OF SMALL GOVERNMENT FREED FROM THE BURDENS OF A WELFARE STATE, AND TO BRING ULTRA-FREE MARKETS AND LIBERTARIANISM TO BRITAIN”
Birds of a feather flock together, and it comes as no surprise that leading Vote Leave campaigners, Michael Gove, Liam Fox and Chris Grayling along with chameleon like William Hague, were involved in this infamous organisation that purported to be a charity yet was nothing more than a front for the promotion of neoconservative ideas.
An allegation strengthened when all of the above stood down as awkward questions over its political activities, which contravened charity laws, resulted in the organisation being wound up.
In 2012 Hintze, who runs the £5bn hedge fund CQS and with an estimated personal fortune of over a billion pounds, was revealed as funder of former chancellor and Eurosceptic right wing Tory Lord (Nigel) Lawson’s climate sceptic thinktank, Global Warming Policy Foundation.
The register of MPs’ interests also shows that both high profile Brexit cabinet ministers David Davies and Boris Johnson have taken funding from Michael Hintze. While both PM Theresa May (£1,200.00) and Chancellor Philip Hammond (£1,700.00) have been recipients of Michael Hintze’s hospitality.
In October 2011 Labour MP John Mann called for the Electoral Commission to investigate Hintze’s donations: ‘Michael Hintze is a hedge fund boss and where he wants influence is over financial regulation. He does not have to ask Tory Ministers for anything, the act of giving simply changes their behaviour.’
The day before Britain headed to the polls to vote in the EU Referendum Michael Hintze donated £100,000 to Vote Leave.
Yet another connection between lobbyist Lord Bell, the oligarch Dmitry Firtash, and the right wing, pro-Brexit Tories can be found in BUS director, ex-director of the Firtash Foundation, and former senior consultant to Lord Tim Bell, Anthony Fisher.
Together with Robert Shetler-Jones, Fisher, who was also a director of Granovski & Associates Limited, jointly founded Scythian Limited a consultancy company that according to the Independent, would advise on “corporate acquisitions in the former Soviet Union.”
The ‘management company’ which shared its Knightsbridge office with British Ukrainian Society (BUS) and the Firtash Foundation, was at the centre of a political scandal in 2010 when David Cameron’s wish to appoint Tory Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones in the newly created role of National Security Advisor was vetoed by MI5.
The Baroness’s appointment was blocked after MI5 produced a report concerning her links to two controversial Russian oligarchs, one of those being Dmitry Firtash.
Two years earlier the Baroness Neville-Jones revealed in the House of Lords Register of Members’ Interests that her office had received £20,000 a year from British businessman Robert Shetler-Jones.
The donations to the Baroness plus a further estimated £80,000 to the Tory Party were made through Scythian Ltd. While the Baroness claimed she had received the money from the Tory Party, Shelter-Jones insisted he made the donations to the people who managed the Baroness’s office ‘over and above what I gave to the Conservative Party.’
From 2011 to 2015 Fisher, Shelter-Jones and Tory MP Robert Halfon were directors of right-wing activist pressure group Right Angle Campaigns Ltd. A company set up to lobby MPs as well as businesses.
In 2014 the Tory MP for Harlow and current Minister of State at the Department for Education was questioned in Parliament for his links to Dmitry Firtash after his constituency office received £35,000 from Scythian Ltd, while Scythian donated a further £27,500 to the Conservative Party. Robert Shetler-Jones paid another £65,000 to the Conservatives and a further £5,000 to the Harlow office.
The then shadow culture minister Helen Goodman challenged Halfon and the Tories over their links to Mr Firtash. She said: “In recent years the Tory party in various guises has received nearly £200,000 from associates of Mr Firtash and the Harlow Conservative Party has received £40,000 from Mr Shetler-Jones who has been the CEO of Mr Firtash’s holding company Group DF. He has given in his own name and via a company called Scythian which he owns and of which he is a director.”
SCL appears to have been little more than ambling along in the background until 2012, after which time there was rapid expansion, both here and in America. Apart from an injection of ‘venture capital’, through the USA, the possible catalysts, for this expansion, were the future general election in the UK, an inevitable Brexit vote and the Presidential Election campaign of 2016.
Evidence of this expansion are evident in both the SCL and Cambridge Analytica operations. In October 2012, SCL registered SCL Elections. Mark Turnbull, who had for 18 years worked at Bell Pottinger was installed as Managing Director.
By Jan 2014, SCL had identified an opportunity of exploiting Kosinski’s work at Cambridge University on translating data into a personality profile which is the used to predict your behaviour.
Kosinski’s groundbreaking study produced a model, combining the OCEAN scores and information based on FB likes, which identified an individual’s gender, sexuality, political beliefs and personality traits.
If you wish to try this model out for yourself you can try it at the real University of Cambridge Psychometrics Centre.
SCL must have realised that linking this model to their claimed expertise in changing an electorates perception/opinion could have unlimited political and commercial opportunities.
A fellow professor at Cambridge, Aleksandr Kogan, approached Kosinski over a collaboration with Cambridge Analytica. Despite a considerable financial inducement, Kosinski declined the offer due to “the firms intentions and the downstream effects it could have.”
Undeterred, Cambridge Analytica joined with Kogan and developed their own model through Kogan paying Amazon Turk workers $1 to take the OCEAN test which gave SCL access to not only their FB pages but the pages of their followers.
In 2013, SCL registered Cambridge Analytica in Delaware and, later, SCL USA Ltd in the UK.
Correctly anticipating lucrative opportunities in the 2016 presidential campaign and, due to an alleged friendship between Nigel Farage and the Mercer family, further opportunities in the UK with the then very realistic prospect of a referendum on Europe – this would be the ideal operating environment of SCL with their stated expertise in, as director Nigel Oakes described: “the business of mind-bending for political purposes’.
As SCL had anticipated, along with most political observers, a referendum on Europe was on the cards due to a combination of pressure from UKIP on the traditional Conservative vote, and the actions of the hard-right Eurosceptic Tories since 2011.
In 2011, following a five hour debate on a 100,000 signature petition for a referendum on Europe, the vote, which carried a government three-line-whip, saw the largest post-war rebellion take place in parliament.
Whilst the government won the vote, the combination of seeing over eighty Conservative MPs vote against the government along with the rise of UKIP, who, at that time, were taking large sections of the Tory vote, meant that the writing was on the wall; there would be a referendum at some point in the near future.
In 2012 over 100 Tory MPs met to discuss the reconfiguration of the UK’s relationship with Europe and, in 2013, an under pressure David Cameron announced that if the Conservatives won the the next election they would renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU and offer the British public a referendum.
Later that year, and again in 2014, two Conservative backbenchers failed in their attempts to bring about a bill giving legal standing to a referendum and in May 2015 the Conservatives won the election with a manifesto containing a referendum promise.
Later that year, some would say at breakneck speed, they brought in the 2015 Referendum Act which determined the 2017 vote.
Despite the popularity of anti-European feelings within the Conservative party, and the best efforts of the right-wing British media who had waged a war on the EU for decades on behalf of those whose ideology abhorred the European ideal, the polls indicated that the public preference for Europe was 10% greater than leaving.
Throughout this time, since 2012 when they registered SCL Elections, the under performing SCL were expanding their UK operation. In February 2013 SCL Social, in January 2014 SCL Commercial was incorporated followed by SCL Analytics in October 2015 and SCL USA, later renamed Cambridge Analytica UK, in January 2015. SCL Insight was incorporated, after the EU referendum, in September 2016.
Contemporaneously, SCL were expanding in the United States and Brexitshambles has found its companies registered in the state of Delaware.
There’s a poetic irony to the warning over ‘data mining’ that the State of Delaware put on their search engine that reveals that Cambridge Analytica LLC was registered in December 2013, Cambridge Analytica Holdings LLC in May 2014, Cambridge Analytica Commercial in January 2015 along with Cambridge Analytica Political in the same month. Rather mysteriously, Cambridge Analytica Inc was registered in 1980, 37 years ago.
The reasons why many corporations are registered in the state of Delaware is that it’s essentially an offshore state, as The New York Times puts it:
“Big corporations, small-time businesses, rogues, scoundrels and worse — all have turned up at Delaware addresses in hopes of minimizing taxes, skirting regulations, plying friendly courts or, when needed, covering their tracks. Federal authorities worry that, in addition to the legitimate businesses flocking here, drug traffickers, embezzlers and money launderers are increasingly heading to Delaware, too. It’s easy to set up shell companies here, no questions asked.”
Cambridge Analytica first came to the attention of Americans through its association with the Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. Cruz had been backed by the secretive, influential and ultra conservative billionaire hedge fund analyst Robert Mercer.
The Mercer family, Robert, his wife Diana and key person, daughter Rebekah, who runs his foundation and is now on the Trump transition team, have donated over $40m to right-wing think tanks and policy groups, including $22m to Conservative organisations and over $13m to a Super PAC that supported the Cruz campaign.
Another Super PAC, Keep the Promise I/Make America Number 1 was set up by Jacquelyn James on April 3, 2015. James is a partner at the New York based accounting firm Golub, LaCapra, Wilson & DeTiberiis, which, according to The New York Times is also the accounting firm for a family foundation of Robert Mercer.
Keep the Promise I/Make America Great Again that initially supported Cruz in the presidential primaries but then switched to the Trump presidential campaign, received >$15m from Mercer. Its mission statement is revealing:
“Make America Number 1 is an independent expenditure only Super Pac dedicated to supporting conservative principles, upholding the rule of law, and opposing ethically challenged candidates. It’s first special project entitled, “Defeat Crooked Hillary”, will shed light on what the Clinton’s want to keep in the dark.”
Before leaving Breitbart to join the Trump campaign, where, following his election, he was eventually named as the Trump administration Chief Strategist, Stephen Bannon was Rebekah Mercer’s political advisor.
The Tampa Bay Herald described the transition from Cruz to Trump “At the time, the Mercers were backing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the presidential race, but they came around when Trump secured the nomination. Rebekah Mercer cornered the candidate at a Hamptons fundraiser in August and urged him to right his weakening campaign with Bannon. Trump made Bannon the campaign’s chief executive.”
For Trump, with Mercer’s money came Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, who became Trump’s new campaign manager after running the ‘Keep the Promise’ SuperPAC supporting Ted Cruz.
It’s been widely reported that Robert Mercer provided $10m of funding to Breitbart News, co-founded by Bannon alongside the now deceased Andrew Breitbart, and that Mercer is also a key investor in Cambridge Analytica.
It should be remembered the the reclusive Robert Mercer, before becoming a billionaire hedge fund operator, through his role as CEO at Renaissance Technologies, was a brilliant computer scientist who worked at IBM for many years. He’s a champion of the use of technology; rather than brokers his company used algorithms to manage their $65bn fund.
Renaissance Technologies and Mercer were a match made in heaven. Founded by Jim Simons, a brilliant mathematician and government code-breaker, their exploitation of algorithmic control of markets has now extended to combining this with AI technology.
They are renowned for being at the cutting edge as can be seen in this Bloomberg article on using atomic clocks and sophisticated algorithms to beat their rivals on Wall St.
It is not difficult to see how Mercer was attracted to the technology being developed by SCL and how he could envisage the technology being applied to achieve both his and the political goals of the people he was financing. It’s said that he made an initial $5m investment in Cambridge Analytica with the Cruz campaign and then the Trump campaign, spending millions more with them on their products, records show that Trump spent $6m.
Mercer is said to be a man of few words, but daughter Rebekah is highly articulate and is renowned for wanting her own way. Striking up an instant rapport with Nix she has promoted Cambridge Analytica possibly beyond its capabilities as friction between traditional campaigners in both the Cruz and Trump camps surfaced over the role they played in the election, something that historically is inevitable when man and machine go head to head.
For all the claims being made of Cambridge Analytica, it’s worth remembering that, at the time they were working for Cruz, whilst he did win the Iowa primary, with just 27% of the vote in a four-way race, he was then defeated by Trump in Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina and another six states on Super Tuesday.
Beaten by Trump campaign whose data operation was, in their words, “a marketing entrepreneur and failed start-up founder who created a rudimentary website for Trump for $1,500.”
Reports that Stephen Bannon was on the board of Cambridge Analytica in the US would support the theory that SCL Group had replicated their UK funding model which saw Vincent Tchenguiz invest in the company and place a trustee on the board, Julian Wheatland.
It is therefore not surprising to discover that Breitbart News is also registered in the state of Delaware.The Los Angeles-based Breitbart News, described as a ‘right-wing sledgehammer’ by the Washington Post, gained notoriety for publishing inflammatory nationalistic stories about immigrants and refugees
Carole Cadwalladr, of the Guardian, recently posed the rhetorical question, “How do you change the way a nation thinks? You could start by creating a mainstream media to replace the existing one with a site such as Breitbart.”
Of course in the UK we’ve had an established right-wing media attempting to change the way people think for decades, but that didn’t discourage Bannon from opening a UK arm, Breitbart London, and Arron Banks funding the Breitbart-lite site Westmonster to replicate this fake news bombardment and continue the strategy over here.
Whatever you wish to call this misinformation, fake news, alternative facts or lies, there is little doubt that these coordinated and targeted campaigns are premeditated.
What is surprising is the confusion over who has and who hasn’t been involved in the whole strategy. As the son-in-law of Mussolini, Count Galeazzo Ciano put it, “La victoria trova cento padri, a nessuno vuole riconoscere l’insuccesso.” translated as “Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.”
Here in the UK, those who are alleged to have played a significant role in securing Brexit, appear to be somewhat reluctant fathers.
For example, UKIP’s Andy Wigmore confirmed that Cambridge Analytica was involved in the Leave.EU campaign due to Nigel Farage being a good friend of the Mercer family. If true this friendship is surprising one, as Mercer, in addition to being a computer geek, is essentially a recluse who speaks very rarely, preferring his family to all others, whereas Farage is a loud mouthed, beer-swilling, cigarette smoking raconteur.
However, what needs no confirmation is the fact that, alleged Cambridge Analytica board member, Stephen Bannon, is fully familiar with Farage through his Chief of Staff at UKIP Raheem Kassam as Kassam is also the UK editor of Bannon’s Breitbart News.
Kassam, a former Conservative party campaigner, has been simultaneously described as “a fucking genius” “a psychopath and a crook” and “a danger to British democracy.”
Another lapsed Conservative, Arron Banks, a former contributor to the party, but now the financial backer of UKIP, Leave.EU and the Westmonster website, also confirmed Leave.EU had an association with Cambridge Analytica in a series of tweets, confirming in one the ‘AI’ won it Leave.
However, Cambridge Analytica has now denied ever helping Leave.EU in any way whatsoever; a company spokesperson explained, “Cambridge Analytica did not do any work (paid or unpaid) for the Leave.EU campaign. In 2015 the company was in discussions to potentially work with them. That work did not go ahead.”
Something of a strange statement given that a SCL Group director has been fined by the Electoral Commission over his actions during the European referendum.
SCL Group director, Roger Gabb, a wine merchant millionaire, who donated £500,000 to the Tory party in 2006, was fined £1,000 by the Electoral Commission for failing to include an imprint on newspaper advertisements placed during the EU referendum regulated period (15 April to 23 June). Roger Gabb’s advertisement read:
Whilst Cambridge Analytica, given their understandable link to the Trump campaign, have enjoyed the majority of the media attention, Leave.EU were not the only Eurosceptic organisation to employ a Big Data technology company.
The official Vote Leave group spent an astonishing £3.5m with AggregateIQ (AIQ), a Canadian company who also, like SCL Elections, operate from an office above a shop.
The £3.5m is more than Vote Leave spent with any other company; additionally, they also provided funding to two companies who spent money with AIQ.
Did they receive value for money? Vote Leave campaign director, Dominic Cummings, certainly thought so. The Vote Leave campaign has said AggregateIQ specializes in custom Facebook advertising and was “instrumental” in helping tip the vote towards Brexit. They are officially described as ‘data and social media experts.’
According to Paul Stephenson, the communications director of Vote Leave, AIQ worked closely with the campaign group’s digital director, Henry De Zoete, to ‘transform Vote Leave’s digital offering and help contact voters over one billion times online.’
De Zoete, the former ‘right-hand man’ to the then Education Secretary Michael Gove, has a background in what he claims are “people power” projects.
As a member of the right-wing think-tank Reform he ran Doctors for Reform, a pro-market pressure group attacked by many in the NHS as being no more than a front for the insurgence of the private medical industry.
At Portland, the right wing lobbyists accused in 2016 by Len McClusky of an orchestrated coup against Jeremy Corbyn, De Zoete worked for Tesco organising locals in Sheringham, Norfolk, to protest in favour of the retail giant’s long-running and controversial application to build a store there.
“Without a doubt, the Vote Leave campaign owes a great deal of its success to the work of AggregateIQ,” said Dominic Cummings, in a statement on AggregateIQ’s website. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”
Inevitably there are links between both SCL Group and AIQ.
SCL included a Canadian office on their website. The Victoria phone number listed was answered by Zack Massingham, CEO of AIQ. Massingham explained, “We did some work for SCL in the past, we do not have a current relationship with them, I don’t know why they’ve listed us as one of their worldwide offices, we do not have any current business with them.” The link and phone number was subsequently removed from the SCL site.
AIQ was registered in 2013 by Massingham and his partner, Jeff Silvester; they have a six year background in politics in addition to business and IT. Massingham explained,
“We have a great team of software engineers and computer scientists who create many of the tools we use to help our clients.”
CEO of AIQ, Jeff Silvester, appears to be the sort of person that can speak for hours but tell you nothing, he explained, “We have all kinds of metrics that we can apply to an ad or any piece of campaign technology. It’s a whole suite of technological solutions.”
AIQ received 11 contracts from Vote Leave and its affiliates, including the three largest payments made to any firm. One of these payments, came through an affiliate to Vote Leave, BeLeave who ran a ‘social media driven media campaign.’
BeLeave was run by Darren Grimes, a 23-year-old fashion design student at the University of Brighton tasked with rallying the youth vote for the Leave campaign. Something akin to getting 80-year-old geriatrics interested in hip-hop. Vote Leave gave Darren £675,315, most of which was spent with AIQ.
Despite being gifted the large sum of money to sway young voters, BeLeave managed to acquire only 6,300 Facebook likes and just 3,700 followers on Twitter.
That companies, used by political organisations and campaigns, utilize Big Data to target voters is unquestionable and perfectly legal. However, in the UK there are laws preventing the trading of third party data without consent and the Information Commissioner’s Office has raised concerns of Cambridge Analytica’s alleged use of personal data and their findings are due to be announced later this year.
The other major concern, possibly the far greater one, is what they are doing to those people who have been targeted.
This must be fully understood as there is a vast difference between putting information before sections of the electorate in order to inform, and putting false information designed to distort peoples thinking as part of a co-ordinated campaign to mislead the public with a view to changing who and how a country is governed for the benefit of an opaque elitist minority measured as much less than 1% of the population.
For example, if the Labour party placed a nationwide advertisement, in the press or through social media, stating that the NHS is being underfunded by the government, underfunding which is leading to 30,000 premature deaths per annum, and that if elected, they would fund the NHS properly, some may disagree, but those are the facts and can be backed up.
However, placing information in front of people who have been identified as credulous and unsophisticated, telling them that the reason the same NHS is under pressure is due to the influx of foreigners is demonstrably untrue.
Yet this is exactly what has happened time and time again, in what has been an avalanche of racist propaganda, which given its sheer volume, those targeted would become sensitised to believing it must be true, propaganda that reached its peak at the time of the European referendum.
The spread of right-wing fake news isn’t conspiratorial nonsense, as can be seen in this graphic from a study by Professor Jonathan Albright of the Elon University in North Carolina this is what has been happening in the USA, UK and Europe.
Albright states, “I scraped the trackers on these sites and I was absolutely dumbfounded. Every time someone likes one of these posts on Facebook or visits one of these websites, the scripts are then following you around the web. And this enables data-mining and influencing companies like Cambridge Analytica to precisely target individuals, to follow them around the web, and to send them highly personalised political messages.”
Again, identifying individuals, even targeting them is clearly acceptable, the question nobody wants to answer is what are they being targeted with?
Dark posts on Facebook and twitter are only visible to those being targeted, and this raises another question in the UK, how are the costs of these actions monitored or are they circumnavigating the same rules that has just seen the Conservative party receive a record fine for breeching and could see up to twenty Conservative MP’s face criminal charges.
Fake news is being joined by fake ads and fake statements to further muddy the waters. Cambridge Analytica claim they have not worked for Leave.EU but the person who financed that group, Arron Banks, appears to think they did.
UKIP’s director of communications also appears to think they did on the basis that Nigel Farage is a personal friend of the Mercer family who financed the Delaware registered Cambridge Analytica who worked on the Trump campaign. Added to this is the confusing story of a director of the owners of the UK registered Cambridge Analytica getting fined for breaking electoral rules over a pro-brexit advertisement.
Confused? You will be; then we have the saga of AggregateIQ who have nothing to do with SCL despite being listed, in the past, on their website, at the time of the referendum, and are another company that are remarkably shy over explaining what exactly they did after receiving £3.5m of money from the official Vote Leave campaign, some of which is public money for which the public have a right to know not just where it’s being spent but what it’s being spent on.
Then there’s the claim of Vote Leave campaign director, Dominic Cummings – a veritable stain on the political landscape of this country – “We couldn’t have done it without them [AIQ].” has to be taken with a pinch of salt given his vociferous defence of the now infamous “Give the NHS £350m a week” slogan only to admit later that it was a lie that probably won the referendum for Vote Leave.
Alongside this is his claim that he employed a team of Vote Leave physicists to develop some killer software, the ‘Voter Intention Collection System’ (vics) which turned out to be nothing more than software from a Leeds digital agency who had not one physicist on its staff.
However there is a certain synergy between what Cummings is claiming and what SCL/Cambridge Analytica are doing, which begs the questions, who explained this to him for him to morph it into his own description, and what exactly did Vote Leave get for that £3.5m?
What certainly needs to be answered is this apparent ‘benefit in kind’ that Leave.EU allegedly received from Cambridge Analytica. Given that the Trump campaign spent £6m with them and Vote Leave spent at least £3.5m with AIQ just how much value did Cambridge Analytica provide to Leave.EU.
Despite everybody’s unwillingness to elaborate, and the apparent misinformation surrounding the methodology being employed by these data companies, its safe to say the experts who’ve looked at them are far from impressed.
Most worrying of all is the use of automated Facebook and twitter accounts, bots, in political online organising.
Sam Woolley, of Oxford’s Computational Propaganda Project, believes Cambridge Analytica are responsible for the creation of bots, a claim, though unproven, that is consistent with the claims being made about their activities.
These bots are not numbered in tens or hundreds but thousands and tens of thousands, with the sophisticated high-end versions assuming fake identities and personalities, even having online friends and followers.
In an article by Berit Anderson, ‘The Rise of the Weaponised AI Propaganda Machine’ he claims, “during the Brexit referendum the Oxford team watched as one network of bots, previously used to influence the conversation around the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, was reactivated to fight for the Leave campaign. Individual profiles were updated to reflect the new debate, their personal tagline changed to ally with their new allegiances – and away they went.”
Who was responsible for this? Russia? Cambridge Analytica? AIQ? An intermediary between a private group and a foreign sovereign state? The point is nobody knows, or if they do they aren’t making it public and nobody knows what effect they’ve had on the referendum, the result of which will impact 65,000,000 UK citizens and countless millions throughout Europe.
After all Boris Johnson has admitted he now knows that Russia has the capability to disrupt UK politics, it’s just that he doesn’t appear too keen to investigate who has been disrupting it lately, as the result favours the Conservative agenda, a result they’re happy to take advantage of, so not knowing has a distinct advantage.
What is known is that, despite the often repeated mantra of the referendum result being ‘the will of the people’, it is nothing of the sort; it is nothing but the will of a small, very powerful, clandestine section of society, both here and abroad, who have a common bond.
That bond is a mindset that is focused on a low tax, small state, deregulated economy, that due to European legislation is impossible to achieve under the umbrella of the EU.
It’s becoming more and more apparent that the monied elite have been pulling the strings whilst leaving the likes of Farage’s UKIP to do the dirty work of whipping the mob into a faux rebellion against an alleged establishment, ably aided and abetted by a rabid right-wing press, owned by that very same establishment, whose focused agenda on fake immigrant and immigration stories, a well practised right-wing tactic, is there for all to see.
What this all means is that the very people, who have been deceived into believing that the EU is the root cause of all their problems, will be the biggest losers, not just the poor and under privileged, but 99% of the population.
What’s also apparent is that the mechanisms this country has, to protect them against fraudulent, unlawful activities in the electoral process, have become antiquated and inadequate due to technology outpacing them.
Will a Conservative government take action over this? Not a chance; they’re being run by those far-right groups, within their party, who can’t believe their luck and neither can those who have unexpectedly landed front bench jobs; May, Johnson, Fox and Davis
As for Labour, you’re left with the distinct impression that those running their party have a copy of computing for idiots to hand. By the time Labour grasp what’s been happening, continental drift will have reversed and the UK will be the 51st state anyway.
We’ll be doing what we can to expose what has gone on – next up, the strange connections to an industry renowned for influencing governments around the globe.