SCL, Cambridge Analytica’s predecessor, had access to secret UK information and was singled out for praise by the UK Ministry of Defence for the training it provided to a psychological operations warfare group, according to documents newly released by MPs.
An endorsement from an official at the 15 UK Psychological Operations Group dated January 2012 concluded that they would “have no hesitation in inviting SCL to tender for further contracts of this nature”.
The document also noted that SCL – which was subsequently rebranded as Cambridge Analytica by Steve Bannon – was a company that was permitted to have “routine access to secret information” and delivered a training programme that included a “classified case study from current operations in Helmand” in Afghanistan.
The official British note of approval was one of over 100 pages of documents handed over to the digital, media, culture and sport select committee by Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie earlier this week, following a oral hearing that lasted nearly four hours.
Another of the documents released by the MPs is a confidential legal memo dated July 2014, which says it was sent to Bannon, the former Trump adviser and Breitbart CEO, and Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of Trump-backer and hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer. It was also sent to Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica.
The author’s name and firm is redacted, but the memo discusses how far could Cambridge Analytica, a British company, could participate in US elections, given that donations and contributions by foreign nationals are banned. The documents say that the US arm of the company, formed in June 2014, could participate as a vendor of technology as long as Nix, a Briton, was “recused from the substantive management of any such clients involved in US elections”.
At the parliamentary hearing on Tuesday, Wylie noted that Vote Leave had spent £2.7m with a digital marketing firm called AggregateIQ, and said it had previously undisclosed links to Cambridge Analytica/SCL. Cambridge Analytica has been accused of benefiting from harvesting the data of 50 million Americans from Facebook via a series of personality quizzes.
The documents released appear to support that, including:
• A brochure promising to create US election campaign tools in 2014 that was “prepared for SCL elections by AggregateIQ Data Services” at a cost of over $500,000 using “modelling data” to target 100 million or more Americans from SCL.
• A services agreement between AggregateIQ and SCL to support that work, listing a schedule of monthly payments, although the document released is not signed.
• A separate contract for work dated November 2013, in which AggregateIQ agrees to work for SCL Elections UK, and which is signed by company AggregateIQ’s chief executive, Zack Massingham, and its chief technology officer Jeff Silvester, to work on a political campaign in Trinidad and Tobago.
Wylie had told MPs it was striking that Vote Leave and three other pro-Brexit groups – BeLeave, which targeted students; Veterans for Britain, and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party – all used the services of AggregateIQ to help target voters online. He accused the Leave campaign of “cheating” to win the referendum because Vote Leave donated £625,000 to BeLeave, which in turn spent the money on AggregateIQ. The donation allowed Vote Leave to stay within its £7m legal limit.
AggregateIQ has denied it is linked to Cambridge Analytica. Silvester told the Times Colonist, that “AggregateIQ has never been, and is not a part of, Cambridge Analytica or [its parent firm] SCL. AggregateIQ has never entered into a contract with Cambridge Analytica.”
However, Wylie told MPs on Tuesday that the corporate structures were designed to be confusing and ensure that regulators could not always keep up with what was going on.