An undercover investigation by Channel 4 News has revealed how Cambridge Analytica claims it ran key parts of the presidential campaign for Donald Trump.
The British data company was secretly filmed discussing coordination between Trump’s campaign and outside groups – an activity which is potentially illegal.
Executives claimed they “ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy” for President Trump.
In the third part of a Channel 4 News investigation into Cambridge Analytica, bosses also talked about:
In a series of meetings filmed at London hotels over four months, between November 2017 and January 2018 an undercover reporter for Channel 4 News posed as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka.
UPDATE: Cambridge Analytica have announced they have suspended chief executive Alexander Nix pending a full investigation. They said: “In the view of the board Mr Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 News do not represent the values or operations of the firm.”
The company says their work with data and research allowed Mr Trump to win with a narrow margin of “40,000 votes” in three states providing victory in the electoral college system, despite losing the popular vote by more than 3 million votes.
The election was plagued by allegations of fake news and smears on social media, along with the alleged attempt by Russia to influence the outcome.
Mr Nix boasted about Cambridge Analytica’s work for Trump, saying: “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.”
Separately, Mr Turnbull described how the company could create proxy organisations to discreetly feed negative material about opposition candidates on to the Internet and social media.
He said: “Sometimes you can use proxy organisations who are already there. You feed them. They are civil society organisations.. Charities or activist groups, and we use them – feed them the material and they do the work…
“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. And so this stuff infiltrates the online community and expands but with no branding – so it’s unattributable, untrackable.”
Cambridge Analytica’s senior executives were also filmed discussing a twin-track strategy to campaigning, putting out positive messages through the official Donald J Trump for President campaign, while negative material was pushed out through outside organisations.
Cambridge Analytica’s chief data scientist Dr Tayler said: “As part of it, sometimes you have to separate it from the political campaign itself. So in America you know there are independent expenditure groups running behind the campaign… Super pacs. Political action committees.
“So, campaigns are normally subject to limits about how much money they can raise. Whereas outside groups can raise an unlimited amount. So the campaign will use their finite resources for things like persuasion and mobilisation and then they leave the ‘air war’ they call it, like the negative attack ads to other affiliated groups.”
In a different meeting, Mr Turnbull described how the company created the “Defeat Crooked Hilary” brand of attack ads, that were funded by the Make America Number 1 super-PAC and watched more than 30 million times during the campaign.
Coordination between an official election campaign and any outside groups is illegal under US election law. Cambridge Analytica deny wrongdoing, insisting a strict firewall separated out their activity and that they were transparent about their work on political campaigns and PACs.
In one exchange Alexander Nix revealed the company used a secret self-destructing email system that leaves no trace. He said: “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. There’s no evidence, there’s no paper trail, there’s nothing.”
Mr Nix also belittled representatives on the House Intelligence Committee to whom he gave evidence in 2017. He claims Republican members asked just three questions. “After five minutes – done.”
“They’re politicians, they’re not technical. They don’t understand how it works,” he said.
Mr Nix further claimed that Democrats on the Committee are motivated by “sour grapes”.
He said: “They don’t understand because the candidate never, is never involved. He’s told what to do by the campaign team.”
“So the candidate is the puppet?,” the undercover reporter asked.
“Always,” replied Mr Nix.
He added that his firm could avoid any US investigation into its foreign clients. “I’m absolutely convinced that they have no jurisdiction…,” he said. “We’ll say none of your business.”
The meetings involved Mr Nix, along with Mark Turnbull, Managing Director Political Global, and Dr Alex Tayler, the company’s chief data scientist.
Defeated presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has told Channel 4 News how she faced a “massive propaganda effort” during the election – and questioned if Cambridge Analytica helped the Russians in their alleged attempt to influence the election outcome.
In an exclusive interview filmed in October 2017 to promote her book, she said: “There was a new kind of campaign that was being run on the other side – that nobody had ever faced before. Because it wasn’t just all about me. It was about how to suppress voters who were inclined to vote for me.
“When you have a massive propaganda effort to prevent people from thinking straight, because they’re being flooded with false information and you have people who are searching.. trying to make sense of it. But every search engine, every site they go into is repeating these fabrications. Then yes It affected the thought processes of voters.”
The former candidate also questioned whether Cambridge Analytica were involved in the Russia’s alleged attempt to influence the election, calling the possibility “very disturbing”.
Cambridge Analytica strongly deny any involvement and say any such allegation is false.
Clinton said: “So you’ve got CA, you’ve got the Republican National Committee which of course has always done data collection and analysis and you’ve got the Russians. 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.
“So if they were getting advice from say Cambridge Analytica or someone else about OK here are the 12 voters in this town in Wisconsin – that’s whose Facebook pages you need to be on to send these messages that indeed would be very disturbing.”
Tonight, a Cambridge Analytica spokesman said: “CA has never claimed it won the election for President Trump. This is patently absurd. We are proud of the work we did on that campaign, and have spoken in many public forums about what we consider to be our contribution to the campaign.”
On campaign finance violations, the firm said: “Cambridge Analytica has been completely transparent about our simultaneous work on both political campaigns and political action committees (including publicly declaring our work on both with FEC filings). We have strict firewall practises to ensure no coordination between regulated groups, including the teams working on non-coordinated campaigns being physically separated, using different servers and being banned from communicating with each other.”
On Russia investigation: “As one of the companies that played a prominent role in the 2016 election campaign, Cambridge Analytica is committed to supporting and assisting the House Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian interference in the election in any way that we can. CA is not under investigation, and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the company. They deny any involvement in the alleged Russian attempts and say such an allegation is entirely false.”
And on ProtonMail, Cambridge Analytica said: “It’s common practice to use encrypted communications. We take information security with the utmost seriousness, and for high profile clients using maintain stream email providers simply doesn’t provide a suitable level of security.”