An undercover sting by Channel 4 News has revealed that executives from Cambridge Analytica boasted that they could entrap politicians with Ukrainian sex workers, offer bribes to public officials, and use former spies to dig dirt on political opponents.
The report reveals CEO Alexander Nix and other Cambridge Analytica executives admitting to using a range of underhanded tactics in order to sway the outcome of more than 200 elections around the globe, secretly campaigning through a web of shadowy front companies and sub-contractors.
Channel 4’s reporter posed as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka, meeting the company’s executives five times over the course of three months.
On Monday, a Cambridge Analytica spokesperson said: “We entirely refute any allegation that Cambridge Analytica or any of its affiliates use entrapment, bribes, or so-called ‘honey-traps’ for any purpose whatsoever.”
But that's not exactly what Cambridge Analytica executives said on camera:
Send in the girls
One of the most stunning revelations by Nix was his willingness to use sex workers to gather dirt on a clients’ opponents, and use the information to discredit them online.
When asked about digging up material on political opponents, Nix said they could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house, we have lots of history of things” adding that Ukrainian girls “are very beautiful, I find that works very well.”
Nix suggests that it would be better not to use Sri Lankan girls in the operation, but bring Ukranian girls with them. “I mean it was just an idea, I’m just saying, we could bring some Ukrainians in on holiday with us you know, you know what I’m saying,” he said.
Another possibility suggested by Nix involves setting a victim up and leveraging the incriminating evidence to remove an opponent from the campaign.
“We’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the internet," he said.
In an ironic twist Nix even suggests that one of the most effective ways of undermining your enemies is to secretly film them admitting to corruption.
“[What is] equally effective can be just to go and speak to the incumbents and to offer them a deal that’s too good to be true, and make sure that that’s video recorded, you know, these sorts of tactics are very effective instantly having video evidence of corruption, putting it on the internet, these sorts of things.”
“We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then, and then watch it grow”
Offering bribes to public officials is an offense under both the U.K. Bribery Act and the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Cambridge Analytica operates in the U.K. and is registered in the U.S.
Bloodstream of the internet
While the practices Nix describes are relatively crude in their approach, the company also offered much more subtle approaches, which left no trace but were just as effective.
Mark Turnbull, managing director of Cambridge Analytica’s political division told the reporter "we just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again … like a remote control.”
Turnbull added that this “has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda’ because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda,’ the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’”
He later adds: “So we have to be very subtle, and we’ve got time to do this.”
Despite being widely known about, the reach of Cambridge Analytica’s operations were not fully understood until now, given that they boast of impacting more than 200 elections around the world.
The reason is that the company uses an extensive range of tactics to hide their fingerprints on any operation they conduct.
“So often we set up, if we are working then we can set up fake IDs and websites, we can be students doing research projects attached to a university, we can be tourists, there are so many options we can look at. I have lots of experience in this,” Nix said.
Turnbull added at a separate meeting that operations are run “so that no record exists with our name attached to this at all, and I think we can work in that space as well.”
When the reporter asks if Cambridge Analytica offers intelligence gathering services, Turnbull says the company has “partnerships with specialist organizations that do that kind of, that do that kind of work. So that, you can, you know who the opposition is, you know their secrets, you know their tactics.”
At another meeting, Turnbull says the people who they work with at ex-MI5 operatives who work with “private organizations whose job is to gather research.
“They will find all the skeletons in his closet quietly, discreetly, and give you a report,” he said.
Turnbull appears to have contradicted himself about the scope of the operation Cambridge Analytica offers to their clients. In a December meeting with the reporter, Turnbull says:
“So we’re not in the business of fake news, we’re not in the business of lying, making stuff up, and we’re not in the business of entrapment, so we wouldn’t, we wouldn’t send a pretty girl out to seduce a politician and then film them in their bedroom and then release the film. There are companies that do this but to me that crosses a line.”
Yet a month later he was present when Nix laid out the possibility of using prostitutes to entrap local officials as well as offering bribe. In the January meeting he proclaims: “I’m a master of disguise” when referring to the possibility of having someone pose as a wealthy developer.
Cover image: Alexander Nix, CEO, Cambridge Analytica, answers Matthew Freud, Founder and Chairman, Freuds, questions about 'From Mad Men to Math Men' during the final day of Web Summit in Altice Arena on November 09, 2017 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Horacio Villalobos - Corbis/Getty Images)