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Senior executives of Cambridge Analytica – the U.K. data company at the heart of a major international scandal into the mining of data from 50 million Facebook users in order to influence elections – have been caught discussing its secretive and pivotal involvement in Donald Trump’s election win.
In an undercover investigation broadcast Tuesday night on the U.K.’s Channel 4 News, executives of London-based Cambridge Analytica – an offshoot of Republican donor Robert Mercer’s SCL Group and once headed by Steve Bannon – were secretly filmed talking about their role in Trump’s 2016 victory and the various tactics they deployed.
“We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting, we ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy,” Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix tells an undercover reporter posing as a fixer for a wealthy family in Sri Lanka that hoped to get candidates elected in that country.
Nix – who said he had met Trump “many times” – also boasted about his company’s use of secret self-destructing emails that leave no trace. “No one knows we have it, and secondly we set our… emails with a self-destruct timer.… So you send them and after they’ve been read, two hours later, they disappear,” he says. “There’s no evidence, there’s no paper trail, there’s nothing.”
The Cambridge Analytica chief exec also belittles representatives on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, to whom he gave evidence in 2017, claiming he was asked just three questions and was out in five minutes.
“They’re politicians, they’re not technical. They don’t know how it works,” he says. “They don’t understand because the candidate never, is never involved. He’s told what to do by the campaign team.”
In the secretly recorded meetings, also attended by Cambridge Analytica managing director of political global Mark Turnbull and chief data scientist Alex Taylor, the execs discuss how their work with data and research allowed Trump to win with the narrow margin of “40,000 votes” in three states.
“When you think about the fact that Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million votes but won the electoral college vote, that’s down to the data and the research.… You did your rallies in the right locations, you moved more people out in those key swing states on Election Day,” says Turnbull. “He won by 40,000 votes in three states… The margins were tiny.”
Turnbull, in a separate meeting, also describes how the company created the “Defeat Crooked Hillary” brand of attack adverts, which were watched more than 30 million times during the campaign.
“We made creative, hundreds of different kinds of creative, and we put it online,” claims Turnbull, adding that Cambridge Analytica would sometimes feed “proxy organizations” the material for them to disseminate secretly on social media,
“We just put information into the bloodstream to the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to watch it take shape,” he says. “And so this stuff infiltrates the online community and expands but with no branding – so it’s unattributable, untrackable.”
Channel 4 News also aired for the first time an interview with Hillary Clinton from October in which she describes facing a “massive propaganda effort” aimed at suppressing “voters who were inclined to vote for me” and questions whether Cambridge Analytica helped the Russians in their alleged attempt to influence the election.
“So you’ve got Cambridge Analytica; you’ve got the Republican National Committee, which of course has always done data collection and analysis; and you’ve got the Russians,” she says. “And the real question is how did the Russians know how to target their messages so precisely to undecided voters in Wisconsin or Michigan or Pennsylvania – that is really the nub of the question.”
The Channel 4 News investigation was the third of three into the shadowy activities of Cambridge Analytica. In the second, broadcast Monday, Nix was secretly filmed describing how the company could entrap politicians with the use of bribes and Ukrainian sex workers.
Responding to the claims in the investigation, a spokesman from Cambridge Analytica said it had never claimed to have won the election for Trump, insisted it had been transparent about any work on political campaigns, denied any involvement in alleged Russian involvement in the campaign and asserted there was no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the company.
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