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Saturday, March 24, 2018


Trump and Cambridge Analytica - MFEO

by Tom Sullivan

Still from Goldeneye (1995).

We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting. We ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign, and our data informed all the strategy.

Maybe it's the Eton styling. Or maybe simply his confidence. But in the secret Channel 4 videos of suspended Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix hawking his company's "psychographic" services, his pitch bears a certain resemblance to Donald Trump's overselling of his own properties, steaks, and fraudulent university. Only Nix was boasting of the firm's alleged pivotal role in electing Donald Trump president of the United States.

"If it's what you say I love it," Don Jr. famously wrote Rob Goldstone, publicist for Russian pop star Emin Agalarovof. The prospect of the Trump campaign getting its mitts on a thick bundle of purloined Hillary Clinton emails was too delicious. Nix seems just as eager in discussing entrapping clients' political rivals in political bribes or in blackmailing them via Ukrainian sex workers. The Trumps and Cambridge Analytica were made for each other.

The biggest outrages over CA have been its use of 50 million stolen Facebook profiles to construct its voter-targeting algorithms and reports that Nix attempted to obtain hacked Democratic emails from Julian Assange and Wikileaks, who in turn got them from hackers in Russian intelligence. Facebook's stock value has plummeted. CA faces multiple investigations.

Mother Jones, however, exposes CA itself as largely a vaporware outfit promoting a product it doesn't yet have to clients it hopes will pay them to build it. Steve Bannon, still a board member, seems to have hoped CA's Jedi mind tricks would help him hasten the revolution.

Accounts by CA's former clients — most notably the Sen. Ted Cruz campaign for president — suggest the firm that billed itself as a kind of James Bond villain capable of manipulating whole countries was as authentic as Trump University's syllabus. Earlier this month, the Guardian reported that the Jakarta ops center of CA's predecessor, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), not only looked like the villain’s computer-filled lair from the Bond film Goldeneye (1995), but the same firm that built the Goldeneye set built one for SCL when it exhibited at the Defence and Security Equipment International show. An Indonesian source told the Independent in 2000, the Jakarta ops center's purpose seemed mostly cosmetic, "a movie set to impress the clients."

Vison 360 "ops center" built for Strategic Communication Laboratories' 2005 exhibit at Defence Systems & Equipment International show.

CA's business model resembles Trump's branding model: lots of hype with little to back it up. As much hot water as CA now finds itself in, their reputation among prospective clients was already in serious decline, writes Mother Jones' Andy Kroll:

In reality, Cambridge Analytica’s reputation for spotty work had circulated widely among Democratic and Republican operatives, who were also put off by Nix’s grandstanding and self-promotion. Mark Jablonowski, a partner at the firm DSPolitical, told me that there was “basically a de facto blacklist” of the firm and “a consensus Cambridge Analytica had overhyped their supposed accomplishments.”
Kroll's lengthy expose concludes:
By most accounts, Cambridge Analytica’s main feat of political persuasion was convincing a group of Republican donors, candidates, and organizations to hand over millions of dollars. (A company called Emerdata that lists Nix as a director recently added Rebekah Mercer and another Mercer daughter to its board, suggesting that Nix hasn’t fallen out with all his GOP patrons.) But Cambridge’s controversial foray into US politics spawned larger questions about how our social-media habits can be turned against us, and how companies such as Facebook hold more power over our lives—the ability to shape public conversation, even political outcomes—than many people are comfortable with.
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Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.