Carole Cadwalladr of The Guardian lays bare the operation of Cambridge Analytica and its role in subverting Western democracies in “The Great British Brexit Robbery: how our democracy was hijacked“. I earlier blogged on Jane Mayer’s revelations in The New Yorker on Robert Mercer, the billionaire reactionary computer genius behind Steve Bannon, Breitbart, and Cambridge Analytica. Cadwalladr fleshes out the story of how Cambridge Analytica weaponized the internet and social media to tip elections. Here’s a teaser from Cadwalladr’s intro:
“The company, SCL Elections, went on to be bought by Robert Mercer, a secretive hedge fund billionaire, renamed Cambridge Analytica, and achieved a certain notoriety as the data analytics firm that played a role in both Trump and Brexit campaigns. But all of this was still to come. London in 2013 was still basking in the afterglow of the Olympics. Britain had not yet Brexited. The world had not yet turned.
‘That was before we became this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump,’ a former Cambridge Analytica employee who I’ll call Paul tells me. ‘It was back when we were still just a psychological warfare firm.’”
And here is at the core:
“On that day in June 2013, Sophie met up with SCL’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, and gave him the germ of an idea. ‘She said, “You really need to get into data.” She really drummed it home to Alexander. And she suggested he meet this firm that belonged to someone she knew about through her father.’
Who’s her father?
Eric Schmidt – the chairman of Google?
‘Yes. And she suggested Alexander should meet this company called Palantir.’
I had been speaking to former employees of Cambridge Analytica for months and heard dozens of hair-raising stories, but it was still a gobsmacking moment. To anyone concerned about surveillance, Palantir is practically now a trigger word. The data-mining firm has contracts with governments all over the world – including GCHQ and the NSA. It’s owned by Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of eBay and PayPal, who became Silicon Valley’s first vocal supporter of Trump.”
“Google’s algorithm had been gamed by extremist sites and it was Jonathan Albright, a professor of communications at Elon University, North Carolina, who helped me get to grips with what I was seeing. He was the first person to map and uncover an entire ‘alt-right’ news and information ecosystem and he was the one who first introduced me to Cambridge Analytica.
He called the company a central point in the right’s ‘propaganda machine’, a line I quoted in reference to its work for the Trump election campaign and the referendum Leave campaign.”
Cadwalladr goes on to detail Mercer’s work and the key role of a Canadian company AggregateIQ which is closely entwined with both Mercer and Cambridge Analytics. But read further and she gives us this interesting take-away:
“SCL/Cambridge Analytica was not some startup created by a couple of guys with a Mac PowerBook. It’s effectively part of the British defence establishment. And, now, too, the American defence establishment. An ex-commanding officer of the US Marine Corps operations centre, Chris Naler, has recently joined Iota Global, a partner of the SCL group.
This is not just a story about social psychology and data analytics. It has to be understood in terms of a military contractor using military strategies on a civilian population. Us. David Miller, a professor of sociology at Bath University and an authority in psyops and propaganda, says it is ‘an extraordinary scandal that this should be anywhere near a democracy. It should be clear to voters where information is coming from, and if it’s not transparent or open where it’s coming from, it raises the question of whether we are actually living in a democracy or not.’”
Okay, I’ve quoted enough of Carole’s work. You need to read her piece. She is giving us a critical heads-up on how our democracy has been subverted, and on how the oligarchs stole the 2016 election and the Brexit campaign.
Finally, another piece in the election subverting puzzle is the substantial likelihood that the vote counting in the 2016 election was manipulated in favor of Trump. An ongoing Twitter feed, @mikefarb1, Mike Farb, has been reviewing the election results precinct by precinct, collecting voting anomalies, and linking to sites that detail how machines can be hacked. I blogged on this issue previously in Hacking Voting Machines . Yesterday, Mike provided this YouTube link “Vote Rigging in Ohio During 2004 Election – Stephen Spoonamore Explains the Man in the Middle“. Spoonamore explains how computers are inherently “horribly insecure” and that they can not be made secure because the data can never be directly checked. Fraud detection with credit cards, for example, relies on being able to call the buyer and seller and verify the transaction. Voting data, being anonymous, can only be compared to exit polls. Spoonamore’s presentation is worth your time – he takes you into the details of computer vulnerability. His verdict – existing systems could be manipulated by a smart high school student.