Top executives at Cambridge Analytica touted their role in getting Donald Trump elected to America's highest office, according to the latest undercover video released by Channel 4 News.
"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’s CEO Alexander Nix said in the video, adding that he’d met Trump “many times.” He pointed to his firm's use of “unattributable and untraceable” information warfare as a key differentiator, which allowed them to influence campaigns while avoiding greater government scrutiny.
Despite Nix’s boasts, Cambridge Analytica's portion of the Trump campaign spend was comparatively limited. The Trump campaign paid the company $5.9 million during the campaign out of the roughly $325 million it spent. The pro-Trump super PAC Make America Number One also paid Cambridge Analytica more than $1.2 million out of $19.6 million spent.
A Cambridge Analytica spokesman told Channel 4 News that it “has never claimed it won the election for President Trump. This is patently absurd.”
Still, the revelation likely proved a death knell for the CEO, who was suspended from the embattled data firm just as the latest undercover video appeared.
“In the view of the Board, Mr. Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation,” the company’s board of directors said in a statement.
Here’s the key takeaways from Channel 4's latest video.
Nix on Nunes & Co.: “They don’t understand how it works”
The video shows Nix claiming to an undercover reporter, who was posing as a prospective client, that his firm had avoided intense scrutiny from American lawmakers because they were technologically illiterate. “They’re politicians, they’re not technical. They don’t understand how it works,” he said regarding U.S. investigations into 2016 campaign meddling. He added that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee did little inquiry into the company’s activities and only asked three questions. “After five minutes — done,” he said.
Republicans dominating the committee recently announced they'd concluded their investigation, with Rep. Devin Nunes of California claiming the committee’s investigation was thorough and showed that the Trump campaign did not collude with the Russian government. "We spent 14 months on this investigation, looking for collusion. We didn't find any," Nunes said on Fox & Friends.
The business of influence
Regardless of how influential that company really was in Trump’s surprise victory, the video reveals how Cambridge Analytica approached the American election as a model for how they would influence elections in nations around the world. A previous Channel 4 investigation showed executives claiming that they had worked on over 200 elections across the globe, employing shady techniques and various contractors along the way.
“So the candidate is the puppet?” the reporter asked.
“Always,” Nix responded.
“There’s no evidence, there’s no paper trail, there’s nothing.”
Nix, along with Mark Turnbull, the managing director of Cambridge Analytica, and Chief Data Scientist Alex Tayler were all filmed describing how they went about injecting propaganda and misinformation into the “bloodstream of the internet.” Their methods went well beyond Facebook ads. The company's leaders explain how they used “proxy organizations” to spread their clients’ messages. “Charities or activist groups, and we use them— feed them the material and they do the work,” Turnbull said.
Nix also noted the company was able to avoid scrutiny because it sent “emails with a self-destruct timer.” After two hours, Nix claimed, the email automatically deleted itself. “There’s no evidence, there’s no paper trail, there’s nothing,” he said.
Cambridge Analytica has been mired in crisis after Christopher Wylie, a former employee, blew the whistle on how the company obtained Facebook user data of 50 million people without permission. The New York Times and The Observer of London found that Facebook investigated this violation of their privacy policies and asked Cambridge Analytica to delete the data. Yet copies of the illegally obtained data still existed, and Facebook never followed up to ensure that the data was secure. The company also failed to inform users that their data had been obtained by an unauthorized third party, according to the reports.
Since Wylie’s revelations, a growing chorus of lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic have called for investigations into Cambridge Analytica and Facebook.
Facebook’s stock is getting hammered as of this writing, and Cambridge Analytica is looking for a new CEO.
Cover image: Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica, arrives at the company's offices in central London, March 20, 2018. (REUTERS/Henry Nicholls)