Over the weekend, Cambridge Analytica—the political data firm hired by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign—came under fire when its “data grab” of more than 50 million Facebook users’ profiles was exposed. Now, the firm has an entirely new scandal to deal with.
On Monday, a blockbuster report from the British news outlet Channel 4 included undercover video of the firm’s top executives suggesting that they could entrap political opponents by offering bribes or sending sex workers to their rooms.
In the video, a man identified as Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, appears to brag about tactics that sound a whole lot like entrapment and blackmail:
In one exchange, when asked about digging up material on political opponents, Mr Nix said they could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house”, adding that Ukrainian girls “are very beautiful, I find that works very well”.
In another he said: “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.”
Channel 4's undercover reporter posed as a fixer hired by a wealthy family to influence elections in Sri Lanka. The reporter met with representatives of Cambridge Analytica at London hotels between November 2017 and January 2018. According to Channel 4, Cambridge Analytica and its parent company have worked to influence “more than two hundred elections across the world, including Nigeria, Kenya, the Czech Republic, India and Argentina.”
In one notable phone conversation, Nix reassures the supposed Sri Lankan “fixer” with this extremely innocuous and not-at-all suspicious sentence (emphasis mine):
“We are not only the largest and most significant political consultancy in the world, but we have the most established track record. We’re used to operating through different vehicles, in the shadows, and I look forward to building a very long-term and secretive relationship with you.”
Here’s Channel 4's full video:
Earlier in the video, Mark Turnbull—the managing director of CA Political Global—voices his moral opposition to the very same dirty political tricks his boss, Nix, seems to explicitly outline in a future meeting.
“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,” Turnbull says. “So 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.”
Shortly thereafter, Turnbull changes his tune.
“What is the expertise of the deep digging that you can do to make sure that the people know the true identity and secrets of these people?” the undercover reporter asks Nix, during another meeting with Nix and Turnbull.
“We do a lot more than that,” Nix says. “I mean, deep digging is interesting, but you know 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’s video recorded.”
He continues: “These sorts of tactics are very effective—instantly having video evidence of corruption, putting it on the internet, these sorts of things.”
The undercover “fixer” asks Nix who the operative in that situation would be—a Sri Lankan?
“Someone known to us,” Nix says. “We’ll have a wealthy developer come in—somebody posing as a wealthy developer.”
“I’m a master of disguise,” Turnbull cuts in, chuckling.
“Yes,” Nix responded. “They will 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 on cameras. We’ll blank out the face of our guy, and then post it on the internet.”
It doesn’t end there!!!
“Send some girls around to the candidate’s house. We have lots of history of things,” Nix continues. “We could bring some Ukrainians in on holiday with us, you know what I’m saying?”
“They are very beautiful, Ukrainian girls,” the reporter interjects.
“They are very beautiful. I find that works very well,” Nix replies.
Still later in the video, Nix touts Cambridge Analytica’s ability to fabricate identities and websites to obscure their own involvement in campaigns—a practice known as astroturfing.
“We can set up fake IDs and websites, we can be students doing research projects attached to a university, we can be tourists, there’s so many options we can look at,” Nix says. “I have lots of experience in this.”
Cambridge Analytica denied that they do what their CEO explicitly says the company does in the video. “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,” a CA spokesperson told Channel 4, adding that “we routinely undertake conversations with prospective clients to try to tease out any unethical or illegal intentions.”
This entire story is bananas and I encourage you to watch the entire 19-minute video above. I look forward to building a very long-term and secretive relationship with you.