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JUDICIARY AND OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE DEMOCRATS RELEASE KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM INTERVIEW WITH CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA WHISTLEBLOWER

Apr 25, 2018

 

Washington, D.C. – Today, Democratic Members of the House Committee on the Judiciary and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released the following key takeaways from yesterday's interview with Christopher Wylie, a Cambridge Analytica whistleblower who revealed that the firm—which the Trump Campaign used to target voters in the 2016 Presidential election—acquired and misused the personal information of millions of U.S. Facebook users.   

  • Wylie emphasized that Cambridge Analytica was a U.S. pass-through company that had none of its own staff or technology, and that all of the work was done by foreign employees and contractors of SCL Elections, a U.K. company.

“Something that’s really important, I think, for people to understand is that Cambridge Analytica doesn’t have staff, or at least at the time that I was there, never had staff.  All of the consultants, employees, any kind of worker that was involved with Cambridge Analytica was actually paid—your pay stub would be from SCL, not Cambridge Analytica.  Having looked at legal correspondence, for example, between The Guardian and Cambridge Analytica, they have said as recently as several months ago that they have no staff.  So it is, for all intents and purposes, more of a concept than anything else.  Everything happens in London, at SCL Group.”

  • Wylie reported that Steve Bannon said he wanted to use Cambridge Analytica to discourage specific groups of people from voting—including people likely to vote Democratic.

“Q:      Did Steve Bannon ever specifically direct the research of, or say that he wanted to do research that would help with, voter disenfranchisement or depressing Democratic turnout?

A:        There is one document which I have that specifically says—in bold terms—voter disengagement as an objective in the United States.

Q:        Did you ever hear Steve Bannon specifically talk about voter disenfranchisement or voter disengagement?

A:        Yes.  If by that term you mean discouraging particular types of voters who are more prone to voting for Democratic or liberal candidates, if that’s what you mean by that term, then yes.”

  • Wylie stated that, as early as 2014, Bannon directed Cambridge Analytica to research what types of discontent would influence populations in the U.S., including testing messaging that was later used by the Trump campaign. 

After Steve Bannon took over—when Cambridge Analytica the entity got formed, and then Steve Bannon was able to exert influence in a sort of a directional capacity, the research streams that the company then shifted to were much more focused at exploring what types of discontent may be in certain discrete populations of the United States.  Some of the things that emerged from that were—my understanding was that “Drain the Swamp,” like, verbatim was tested, and used in some of the message testing.  Walls were discussed in the qualitative section.  There are two research streams, the quantitative stream and the qualitative stream, and qualitative stream is where many of the ideas or hypotheses got generated.  People would just talk about immigration and think of it quite literally as somebody just walking across the border and someone might just build the wall.  That would come up.  So, the themes that emerged sounded very familiar.

“Q:        So Bannon was involved with the company at the time they started looking at these particular messages?

A:        He did not do any of the message testing that I am talking about until Cambridge Analytica was set up as an entity, so that would have been 2014.  Early 2014.

Q:        And is that when Bannon became involved?

A:        Bannon became involved in a directional capacity once Cambridge Analytica was set up in 2014.  He was involved in terms of finding information and talking about what kinds of projects we could work on in 2013, but he formally became Vice President in 2014.

Q:        And was it before or after 2014 that you started working on “Drain the Swamp” and “Build the Wall”?

A:        It was in 2014, very soon—and when I say very soon—it was sort of between—the spring of 2014 is when a lot of these narratives started getting tested.  These are things that Steve Bannon was interested in, so he asserted a lot of influence on what it was the company should be testing and focusing on.  They were not things that prior to Steve Bannon’s involvement we would have looked at, because our focus wasn’t the United States before he was involved.”

  • Wylie reported that Bannon directed Cambridge Analytica in 2014 to test images and concepts for an American audience relating to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian expansion, and that Putin was the only foreign leader for whom they conducted this testing. 

“I’m not sure who authorized this, because this wasn’t part of the direct group I was managing—but one of the things I had access to is testing that the company was doing specifically on Vladimir Putin and Russia and Russian expansion in Eastern Europe.  It was the only foreign issue, or foreign leader, I should say, being tested at the time I was there.  I can’t explain why it was that they picked Vladimir Putin to talk about in focus groups or to do message testing or to do models on, and why that would be useful to Steve Bannon.  But what I can say is that they were also testing images of Vladimir Putin and asking questions about Russian expansion in Eastern Europe.”

  • According to Wylie, Bannon stated that he did not care if campaign ads created and promoted through Cambridge Analytica promoted incorrect information because was trying to win a “culture war” and that “war is battle.”

“Q:      Earlier, you said that Alexander Nix said that the information that they were spreading in these ads didn’t have to be true—folks just had to believe it was true.  Did Steve Bannon ever articulate that sentiment to you?

A:        Yes. 

Q:        When?

A:        I can’t recall a specific date of a conversation, but he made it quite clear to me that his—so, when you think about the idea of a culture war, and he uses that term pointedly.  So, war is battle, and therefore, it is about winning.  And that speaks volumes to Mr. Bannon’s character—that he goes and seeks out a foreign military contractor to help build tools for that war.”

  • Wylie called Cambridge Analytica a “full service propaganda machine” that used misappropriated Facebook data to build a psychological profile on the entire U.S. population, map out who was most susceptible to messaging, and then spread that messaging.

“Cambridge Analytica was set up to be essentially a full service propaganda machine.  So from beginning to end, in the sense of acquiring data, to creating algorithms that profile people’s psychological disposition and also predict things they will respond to, to then crafting and curating content, so messaging, that then targets those particular constructs.  And then disseminating that information, predominantly using digital means to the target groups that it is identifying.”

  • Wylie stated that Michael Flynn was a consultant for Cambridge Analytica and was engaged to “open doors” and “look at potential contracts” in the United States and abroad.  Flynn did not disclose this work until he filed his third amended financial disclosure form, which listed work for SCL Group—Cambridge Analytica’s parent company—but stated that he worked for SCL only from November 2016 to December 2016.

“Q:      What exactly was the nature of Michael Flynn’s engagement with Cambridge Analytica, as far as you know?

A:        As far as I know, it was to open doors and look at potential contracts.  That’s my understanding.  He could have done more, but it would probably be a better question for him.

Q:        Did any of these potential contracts involve relationships with other foreign entities or countries, such as Turkey for instance?

A:        Yes.”

  • Wylie stated that, despite the sensitivity of the data used by Cambridge Analytica, security practices at the company were an “afterthought” and “generally quite poor.”

“Q:      Recently it was discovered that AIQ left a large warehouse of data on a public domain through GitLab.  It had credentials, keys, hashtags, usernames, payment processes—a lot of important information.

A:        This is partially what I was referencing before, in terms of—general security practices were quite poor in all of the companies.

Q:        So in your experience, based on what the security practices of the company was like, would that have been an error in misconfiguration?  Just a general disregard for security practices?  Or something intentional?

A:        I can’t comment on the intentionality of it, but it definitely looks like a misconfiguration, and a very sloppy one at that.  And that just—it goes to show that security was often an afterthought.  It wasn’t necessarily from—some of the misconfigurations you see on Gitlab were egregious errors.”

Despite an invitation from House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Nadler, Judiciary Committee Republicans refused to participate in the interview, choosing instead to focus on a hearing this Thursday featuring social media personalities Diamond and Silk, who argue that social media companies are engaged in a plot to silence conservative voices on the Internet.

 
115th Congress