Friday, 30 March 2018

Brexit: and Exeter's MP once 'regarded as a crank' >>> >>> but now questions are multiplying over the roles of Cambridge Analytica and its parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories

Earlier this week, Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter, spoke in Parliament:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and Exeter's MP's demanding that the government 'comes clean'

The Guardian reported at the time:

The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw is speaking in the debate now. He says when he started raising concerns about the conduct of the EU referendum campaign in the Commons he was regarded as “a crank”. But almost all the allegations he made have now been substantiated. He says anyone in any doubt should watch Christopher Wylie’s evidence to the Commons culture committee today. He says Wylie was an impressive witness, and produced evidence of serious law breaking.

He praises Damian Collins, the culture committee chair, for taking these allegations seriously. Collins will be putting them to the prime minister at the liaison committee hearing this afternoon, Bradshaw says.

Politics live | Politics | The Guardian

And during Tuesday's debate, Ben Bradshaw also claimed that 'murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was investigating political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica'; he also reported on 'other links here, with the Legatum Institute':
British MP links Henley and Partners to Cambridge Analytica – The Shift News

This is his piece in yesterday's Western Morning News: 

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal raises awkward questions about legitimacy of the Brexit Referendum

Ben Bradshaw

12:48, 28 MAR 2018

Constituents occasionally contact me via Facebook to ask for my help with a problem. I can understand why. It’s quick, easy and Facebook messenger is the communication of choice for millions. For several years now, I’ve had a policy of writing back to ask them to put the details of their problem – often very personal – in an email or letter or to phone my office instead. The reason, I explain, is because I’m not confident Facebook is private or secure.

This was more an instinct on my part, than an informed suspicion, combined with a more general concern I have about people’s willingness to share some of their most intimate personal details or those of their family on social media. I have also had concerns for some time, which I have repeatedly raised in Parliament – about the use, or rather misuse, of people’s personal data for covert political campaigning and the impact that could have on our democracy.

After the Cambridge Analytica Facebook data grab: how to stop the conspiracy to undermine our democracy

So, shocking as the revelations about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have been, I am not surprised. Because I believe this issue is so important to the security and integrity of our electoral system and our democracy I sat through the nearly four hours of evidence before Parliament this week from the Vote Leave and Cambridge Analytica whistle blower, Christopher Wylie.

One veteran BBC parliamentary journalist described it as the most astounding evidence session he had ever witnessed.

Mr Wylie alleges that Aggregate IQ, a sister company in Canada of Cambridge Analytica, which stands accused of unlawfully harvesting Facebook data from tens of millions of users, micro-targeted millions of selected voters in Britain during the Referendum campaign. Vote Leave spent 40% of its total budget on this data company.

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie gives evidence to the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee's inquiry into fake news (Image: PA Wire)

Furthermore, Mr Wylie, who is and was a Leave supporter, accuses the Leave campaign of setting up several shadow campaigning organisations to get round legal spending limits and that these organisations also paid for Aggregate IQ’s services. Mr Wylie told the Commons Digital and Media Select Committee that Aggregate IQs targeting campaigns generally succeeded in shifting the opinions of between 7% and 10% of those targeted. You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out this could have affected what was a very close result.

Indeed, Dominic Cummings, the man who ran the Leave campaign, boasted after the result that Leave would not have won without the help of Aggregate IQ.

This poses serious questions for our elections regulator, the Electoral Commission, our data regulator, the Information Commissioner and, potentially, the police.

People who have already checked have been alarmed at the amount of information that has been logged by Facebook

It is already clear to me that our regulators have neither the power nor the resources they need to protect our democracy from manipulation. Just look at the farce of the Information Commissioner spending a week before finally getting a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s office, when Facebook themselves had been to their offices within hours of the scandal breaking.

This is how you can see how much data Facebook has on you and what companies they have given your information to

But Ministers too need to take this problem more seriously than they have. Indeed, everyone who cares about our democracy should, however awkward that might be in terms of raising questions about the legitimacy of the Brexit Referendum result.

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal raises awkward questions about legitimacy of the Brexit Referendum - Ben Bradshaw - Devon Live

The New Yorker also quotes the Exeter MP: 

A Cambridge Analytica Whistle-blower Claims That “Cheating” Swung the Brexit Vote

By John Cassidy

Weds March 27, 2018 | 9:52 A.M.

Christopher Wylie testified that the outcome of the Brexit vote may well have been different if not for “cheating” that involved a Canadian data firm closely tied to Cambridge Analytica. Photograph by Jake Naughton / The Washington Post via Getty

Christopher Wylie—the twenty-eight-year-old whistle-blower who has detailed how Cambridge Analytica, the controversial political-consulting firm, harvested personal data from as many as fifty million Facebook users—appeared before a committee of British M.P.s on Tuesday.

Wylie’s testimony was the talk of Westminster. “Have been careful about over-claiming on all of this, but today’s shocking revelations by #CambridgeAnalytica whistleblower about the Leave campaigns must raise questions over the legitimacy of the EU Referendum result,” the M.P. Ben Bradshaw, a former Labour Cabinet minister, who is anti-Brexit, said on Twitter. Another former Labour Cabinet minister, Frank Field, who is pro-Brexit, said that anyone who broke campaign-finance laws should be subjected to the full force of the law.

A Cambridge Analytica Whistle-blower Claims That “Cheating” Swung the Brexit Vote | The New Yorker

The plot thickens even further...

The Baffler points out that CA is in fact part of the bigger game of mining personal data for political ends: 

The Cambridge Analytica Con

How media coverage misses the mark

Yasha Levine

March 21 2018

So if we’re going to view the actions of Cambridge Analytica in their proper light, we need first to start with an admission. We must concede that covert influence is not something unusual or foreign to our society, but is as American as apple pie and freedom fries. The use of manipulative, psychologically driven advertising and marketing techniques to sell us products, lifestyles, and ideas has been the foundation of modern American society, going back to the days of the self-styled inventor of public relations, Edward Bernays. It oozes out of every pore on our body politic. It’s what holds our ailing consumer society together. And when it comes to marketing candidates and political messages, using data to influence people and shape their decisions has been the holy grail of the computer age, going back half a century.

Let’s start with the basics: What Cambridge Analytica is accused of doing—siphoning people’s data, compiling profiles, and then deploying that information to influence them to vote a certain way—Facebook and Silicon Valley giants like Google do every day, indeed, every minute we’re logged on, on a far greater and more invasive scale...

The truth is that the internet has never been about egalitarianism or democracy.

The early internet came out of a series of Vietnam War counterinsurgency projects aimed at developing computer technology that would give the government a way to manage a complex series of global commitments and to monitor and prevent political strife—both at home and abroad. The internet, going back to its first incarnation as the ARPANET military network, was always about surveillance, profiling, and targeting.

The influence of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine on the development of modern computers and the internet is not something that many people know about. But it is a subject that I explore at length in my book, Surveillance Valley. So what jumps out at me is how seamlessly the reported activities of Cambridge Analytica fit into this historical narrative.

Cambridge Analytica is a subsidiary of the SCL Group, a military contractor set up by a spooky huckster named Nigel Oakes that sells itself as a high-powered conclave of experts specializing in data-driven counterinsurgency. It’s done work for the Pentagon, NATO, and the UK Ministry of Defense in places like Afghanistan and Nepal...

The Cambridge Analytica Con | Yasha Levine

Nigel Oakes has quite a colourful biography:
Nigel Oakes - Powerbase
The story behind Nigel Oakes, Trump’s weapon of mass persuasion
Tory donors among investors in Cambridge Analytica parent firm | Politics | The Guardian
Did Cambridge Analytica influence the Brexit vote and the US election? | Politics | The Guardian

Nigel Oakes's cousin is East Devon MP Sir Hugo Swire, not that this means anything of course.

As pointed out by OpenDemocracy, the links between Cambridge Analytica and SCL have thrown up 'further interesting connections':

You can't understand the Cambridge Analytica scandal until you understand what its parent company does.

ADAM RAMSAY 28 March 2018

The UK defence secretary during the Falklands War, when the use of embedded journalists was pioneered, was John Nott (who backed Brexit). As my colleague Caroline Molloy pointed out to me, his son-in-law is Tory MP Hugo Swire, former minister in both the Northern Ireland Office and the Foreign Office. Swire's cousin – with whom he overlapped at Eton – is Nigel Oakes, founder of Strategic Communications Laboratories. It's not a conspiracy, just that the ruling class are all related.

During the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to War on Want, private military companies "burst onto the scene". In a 2016 report, the campaign group War on Want describes how the UK became the world centre for this mercenary industry. You might know G4S as the company which checks your gas meter, but they are primarily the world's largest mercenary firm, involved in providing 'security' in war zones across the planet (don’t miss my colleagues Clare Sambrook and Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi’s excellent investigations of their work in the UK) In 2015, G4S alone secured a £100m contract to provide security for the British embassy in Afghanistan.

And just as the fighting was privatised, so too was the propaganda. In 2016, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that the Pentagon had paid around half a billion dollars to the British PR firm Bell Pottinger to deliver propaganda during the Iraq war. Journalist Liam O’Hare has revealed that Mark Turnbull, the SCL and Cambridge Analytica director who was filmed alongside Alexander Nix in the Channel4 sting, was employed by Bell Pottinger in Iraq in this period.

Like Bell Pottinger, SCL saw the opportunity of the increasing privatisation of war. In his 2006 book “Britain’s Power Elites: The Rebirth of the Ruling Class”, Hywel Williams wrote “It therefore seems only natural that a political communications consultancy, Strategic Communications Laboratories, should have now launched itself as the first private company to provide 'psyops' to the military.”

In simple terms, the SCL Group – Cambridge Analytica’s parent firm – is the psychological operations wing of our privatised military: a mercenary propaganda agency.

Another way to see it is like this: Britain has lost most of its geographical empire. And most of our modern politics is about the ways in which different groups struggle to come to terms with that fact. For a large portion of the ruling establishment, this involves attempting to reprise the glory days by placing the country at the centre of two of the nexuses which define the modern era.

The UK and its Overseas Territories have already become by far the most significant network of tax havens and secrecy areas in the world, making us the global centre for money laundering and therefore, as Roberto Saviano, the leading expert on the mafia argues, the most corrupt country on earth. And just as countries with major oil industries have major oil lobbies, the UK has a major money laundry-lobby.

Pesky EU regulations have long frustrated the dreams of these people, who wish our island nation to move even further offshore and become even more of a tax haven. And so for some Brexiteers – this money laundry lobby – there was always strong incentive to back a Leave vote: European Research Group statements going back 25 years show as much.

But what the Cambridge Analytica affair reminds us of is that this is not just about the money laundry lobby (nor the agrochemical lobby). Another group with a strong interest in pushing such deregulation, dimming transparency, hyping Islamophobia in America and turning peoples against each other is our flourishing mercenary complex – one of the only other industries in which Britain leads the world. And so it's no surprise that its propaganda wing has turned the skills it's learned in towards its desired political outcomes.

In his essay, Baudrillard argued that his observations about the changes in military propaganda told us something about the then new post-Cold War era. Only two years after Tim Berners Lee invented the World Wide Web, he wrote a sentence which, for me, teaches us more about the Cambridge Analytica story than much of the punditry that we've seen since: "just as wealth is no longer measured by the ostentation of wealth but by the secret circulation of capital, so war is not measured by being unleashed but by its speculative unfolding in an abstract, electronic and informational space."

Cambridge Analytica is what happens when you privatise your military propaganda operation. It walked into the space created when social media killed journalism. It is yet another example of tools developed to subjugate people elsewhere in the world being used on the domestic populations of the Western countries in which they were built. It marks the point at which neoliberal capitalism reaches its zenith, and ascends to surveillance capitalism. And the best possible response is to create a democratic media which can’t be bought by propagandists.


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