Social media election manipulation result of information warfare programs developed by the U.S. military

The British House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sports recently released an interim report on “Disinformation and ‘Fake News.’” In a conclusion that does not surprise those who have been investigating “election engineering” in U.S. national and state elections over some two decades, the report states that “a small group of individuals and businesses had been influencing elections across different jurisdictions in recent years.”

It is also amazing that the report shines a light on the mechanisms used to influence elections through the abuse and misuse of social media and the regular media. Donald Trump argues that he is fighting against the “deep state” forces aligned against him and his administration. However, the UK report points to a small elite of companies and individuals having affected elections around the globe to reward candidates and parties that fail to reflect the will of the electorate. In other words, the “deep state” not only engineered Trump’s election win but it also ensured the success of the referendum in the UK that will see the nation withdraw from the European Union amid unprecedented political and economic chaos.

The UK parliamentary committee began its investigation in June 2017 and it received input from parliaments around the world on election interference via the manipulation of Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Google, Twitter, and other social media applications. Information was shared between the Commons committee and the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the European Parliament, and the Canadian Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics. In addition, representatives from Spain, France, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Australia, Singapore, and Uzbekistan visited London and exchanged information with the UK parliament on election manipulation in their countries. Particular focus was placed on the activities of SCL Elections—and SCL associates, including Cambridge Analytica and Global Science Research (GSR).

The UK report describes the situation with Facebook manipulation during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Facebook declined to confirm to the Commons committee that 50,000 Facebook bot accounts were employed during the election that resulted in Donald Trump’s victory. The committee heard testimony that implicated Facebook, GSR, Cambridge Analytica, and Aggregate IQ (AIQ) in the sharing of data during the UK’s EU Brexit or Remain referendum.

The UK provides an overview of the roles played by individuals involved in both the Leave.EU and Trump campaigns and how they weaponized communications techniques previously used by the military and intelligence agencies to wage influence operations in war zones:

“Cambridge Analytica was founded in 2012, with backing from the US hedge fund billionaire and Donald Trump donor, Robert Mercer, who became the majority shareholder. He was the largest donor to the super political action committee (PAC) that supported the presidential campaigns of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Christopher Wylie [Cambridge whistleblower] argued that the funding of Cambridge Analytica enabled Mr Mercer to benefit from political campaigns that he supported, without directly spending money on them, thereby bypassing electoral finance laws: “[Robert Mercer] can put in $15 million to create something and then only charge $50,000 for it. It would have been physically impossible to get the same value and level of service and data for that amount of money in any other way.”

Cambridge Analytica was born out of the already established SCL consultancy, which had engaged in political campaigns around the world, using specialist communications techniques previously developed by the military to combat terror organizations, and to disrupt enemy intelligence and to give on the ground support in war zones. Cambridge Analytica’s primary purpose would instead be to focus on data targeting and communications campaigns for carefully selected Republican Party candidates in the United States of America.

Steve Bannon served as White House chief strategist at the start of President Donald Trump’s term, having previously been chief executive of President Trump’s general election campaign. He was the executive chairman of Breitbart News, a website he described as ‘the platform of the alt-right,’ and was the former vice president of Cambridge Analytica. A Cambridge Analytica invoice to UKIP [UK Independence Party] was billed to the same address as Steve Bannon’s company, Glittering Steel. The committee was also told that Steve Bannon introduced Cambridge Analytica to Arron Banks [wealthy British donor to the Conservative Party and UKIP] and to Leave.EU.”

The ultimate parent firm of SCL Elections, Ltd. is Emerdata Ltd., which, unlike Cambridge Analytica, continues in business. The UK report describes the makeup of Emerdata’s board: “Rebekah and Jennifer Mercer, daughters of Robert Mercer, were also appointed directors. Another director of Emerdata is Johnson Chun Shun Ko, Deputy Chairman and Executive Director of Frontier Services Group, which is a private security firm that operates mostly in Africa. Emerdata is chaired by the US businessman Erik Prince, who founded the private military group Blackwater USA.”

The weaponization of data analytics by Cambridge and its affiliates, while seen as useful against terrorist groups and enemy forces on the battlefield, played havoc with the premise of fair elections. Cambridge techniques relied on “OCEAN psychological analysis to identify issues people might support and how to position the arguments to them. OCEAN categorizes people based on their ‘Openness,’ ‘Conscientiousness,’ ‘Extraversion,’ ‘Agreeableness’ and ‘Neuroticism.’” This tactic relies on the combination of “Big Data and Psychographics.” Another tool that was used by SCL Elections, Ripon, which manipulated Facebook data, was, according to whistleblower Wylie, “funded in part by DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], which is the U.S. military’s research agency.”

The choice of the name Ripon for the election data manipulation program is noteworthy. The Ripon Society is a public policy organization founded in 1962. Its name comes from the birthplace of the Republican Party, Ripon, Wisconsin. The Ripon tool’s development was also funded by the 2016 Ted Cruz presidential campaign. Nothing says “deep state” more than the cooperation of the Cruz campaign with a secretive Pentagon research agency to develop a political tool to weaponize Facebook data.

Involved from the technical side in election manipulation were Dr. Aleksandr Kogan of Cambridge University, who founded GSR, and a Boston-based firm with the intriguing name of Crimson Hexagon. The UK report reveals that Crimson Hexagon has “direct contracts with the US government and Kremlin-connected Russian organizations.”

Election manipulation through the use of weaponized psychographics was used earlier than the 2016 U.S. election. The UK committee was told that Cambridge Analytica was involved in 2014 elections in eleven states: Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Ripon was used by the Canadian digital advertising web and software development company, Aggregate IQ (AIQ), to influence the 2015 election in Trinidad and Tobago.

AIQ, which was founded in 2013 in Victoria, British Columbia, used a mobile App, developed by a firm called uCampaign, that employs “gamification strategy” for political campaigns. In a bombshell revelation in the Commons interim report, it notes that “the developer of the uCampaign app, Vladyslav Seryakov, is an Eastern Ukrainian military veteran who trained in computer programming at two elite Soviet universities in the late 1980s. The main investor in uCampaign is the American hedge fund magnate Sean Fieler, who is a close associate of the billionaire backer of SCL and Cambridge Analytica, Robert Mercer.”

SCL Elections was revealed to have been involved in several election manipulation operations around the world. Targets included, “Kenya, Kenyatta campaign 2013; Kenya, Kenyatta campaign 2017; Ghana 2013; Mexico; Brazil; Australia; Thailand; Malaysia; Indonesia; India; Nigeria; Pakistan; Philippines; Germany; England; Slovakia; Czech Republic; and Kosovo. Ex-SCL employees have also mentioned: France; Guyana; Gambia; Germany; Italy; Kenya; Malaysia; Mongolia; Niger; Nigeria; Peru; St Kitts and Nevis; St. Lucia; and Trinidad and Tobago. SCL may also have worked on the Mayoral election campaign in Buenos Aires in 2015 for Mauricio Macri.” SCL also reportedly worked on elections in Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines and a referendum in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

SCL ran a disinformation campaign in Argentina against the incumbent president, Cristina Kirchner. The UK report provides details about a “management meeting at SCL Group from 27 May 2015—in relation to an anti-Kirchner campaign in Argentina, describing ‘close proximity intelligence gathering efforts’ and ‘information warfare,’ and the use of ‘retired Intelligence and Security agency officers from Israel, USA, UK, Spain, and Russia,’ and the creation of false Facebook and Twitter accounts to support the anti-Kirchner campaign.” The chief beneficiary of the campaign was the current president, Mauricio Macri, a client of SCL in the Buenos Aires mayoral election. Macri defeated the presidential candidate endorsed by Kirchner as her successor. Macri and individuals close to his presidency are also real estate development partners of the Trump Organization.

The Commons Select Committee made the following recommendation to British law enforcement: “We received disturbing evidence, some of which we have published, some of which we have not, of activities undertaken by the SCL-linked companies in various political campaigns dating from around 2010, including the use of hacking, of disinformation, and of voter suppression, and the use of the services of Black Cube, an Israeli private intelligence service, whose work allegedly included illegal hacking. We also heard of the links between SCL and Christian Kalin of Henley and Partners and their involvement in election campaigns, in which Mr Kalin already ran or subsequently launched citizenship-by-investment programs, involving the selling of countries passports to investors. SCL’s alleged undermining of democracies in many countries, by the active manipulation of the facts and events, was happening alongside work done by the SCL Group on behalf of the UK Government, the US Government, and other allied governments. We do not have the remit or the capacity to investigate these claims ourselves, but we urge the Government to ensure that the National Crime Agency thoroughly investigates these allegations.” The report states that “STM [STM Group plc] was managing operations for Henley & Partners, the company involved in foreign campaigns with Cambridge Analytica.” The report adds, “In 2015, STM (which has offices in Jersey, Malta, Gibraltar, England, and Spain] became the first company in Jersey to be prosecuted for money-laundering compliance failures.”

One of the citizenship-by-investment programs was that of Malta. Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was investigating the passport scheme, when, in October 2017, she was assassinated by a car bomb in Malta. Her last report was: “The damage caused to Malta by the sale of citizenship is unquantifiable. Malta is not St. Kitts & Nevis. It is interlocked with the rest of the European Union and has a European economy . . . And the Maltese government is the only EU member state government with which they [Henley & Partners] have a contract.”

In October 2016, candidate Trump, responding to allegations that Russia was interfering in the presidential election, said, ” . . . it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people.” Judging from the UK interim report, Trump was correct—it was “lots of other people”—and they included him and several longtime members of his favorite bogeyman, the “deep state.”

Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.

Copyright © 2018

Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).

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