Regardless of whether you are a flag-waving, Trump supporting #MAGA maniac or a #BlueWave #Impeach #Resistance activist (or anywhere in between), we all must accept that some of the most extreme political #DirtyTricks were deployed during the US 2016 Presidential Election. Even worse, it continues and involves YOUR information.
50 million FaceBook accounts were exploited, most without any knowledge or permission from account holders, according to a whistle-blower. These facts are partially confirmed now by Facebook, which has suspended the accounts of Cambridge Analytica, it’s employee whistle-blower Chris Wylie and “researcher” Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic.
Facebook claims that Kogan lied and “violated” its policies in 2015 by “passing data” to a third party, including Cambridge Analytica. Kogan first claimed he had no links to Russia, however he was born in the old Soviet Union and received funding from a Russian university. No collusion? Essential fact, Cambridge Analytica was created by Stephen K. “Steve” Bannon with $15 million of Mercer money. Got your attention?
To totally unravel this mess you would need a giant wall chart, like something from A Beautiful Mind – if you’re too young for that reference, then think of the current Car Gurus ad (called “The Detective”.) To piece together this data mining mystery, I’ve compiled info from several sources including CBS, CNN, Mother Jones magazine, the New York Times and UK’s The Guardian. Those links follow my attempt to explain all this.
I first learned how data “micro-targeting” was tied to the #FakeNews scam from a CBS 60 Minutes report by Lesley Stahl that aired last fall. If you’re totally lost, perhaps watch the video from Sunday, Oct 8, 2017, when we were introduced to Brad Parscale.* This is important because Parscale was recently named Trump’s 2020 Campaign Manager and is still using these tactics. He claims he had no ties to Russian #FakeNews, yet he worked with Bannon. The Kansas “boy” was just using Facebook tools, he says. Read on.
Some of you think the 2016 dirty tricks began with the DNC (democrats) paying for the so-called dirty dossier, but even that effort was first funded by a Republican donor. What erupted into this current tidal wave of social media manipulation traces directly to Republican Ted Cruz, the original candidate benefactor of Mercer money in the 2016 election, and to Russian link(s). There’s a lot to unpack and that’s why this story is just now breaking into mainstream media.
#FakeNews, meaning links to bogus information on misleading websites, began with Ukraine or Russian hackers several years ago. It got the attention of American intelligence and political operatives when US-sanctioned LukOil (one of Russia’s largest oil companies) helped fund a 2014 voter suppression effort in Nigeria. You can bet someone like Roger Stone was an early admirer of these methods, perhaps “academic/PhD” Carter Page and other names we’ve come to know.
At that time (2014) there was no Cambridge Analytica or Mercer funding… yet. There was something called Global Science Research, supposedly an academic research group tied to Cambridge University in the UK. Along the way, another group known as the Strategic Communications Lab (SCL)** further perfected and expanded the “micro-targeting” by layering in psychological profiling and user enticements, often called “click bait.” By 2015, Cambridge Analytica was in full swing and interfered in the 2016 UK “Brexit” vote. SCL was a UK government funded military intelligence operation. According to the Guardian, SCL “presented under the heading ‘Election: Inoculation’, a military term used in “psychological and disinformation campaigns.” (Link to full Guardian article*** below.)
To cut to the chase, these tactics were the basis of sites like Breitbart where the #FakeNews was then further spread by “useful idiots” on podcasts like InfoWars and even FOX news. Remember, Bannon is behind both Breitbart and Cambridge Analytica. Wylie, the employee / whistle-blower—who says he helped Bannon create the company—calls it “a full service propaganda machine.” He also says it evolved into a “grossly unethical” endeavor.
Clearly we need a congressional investigation to get to the bottom of who hired whom for what in this complicated scenario. For instance, while the NY Times reports:
Robert Mercer, a wealthy Republican donor, approached Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work.
That is not what CA “co-founder” Wylie says. He insists Bannon concocted the concept of Cambridge after seeing the Russian results. Wylie says Bannon approached the Mercers for funding:
Was it Bannon, then, who convinced Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to hire him, pollster Kellyanne Conway, and website developer Brad Parscale who knew how to exploit Facebook’s “targeted ads”? Whomever hired who, “the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission,” a direct quote from Times article.
Back to Aleksandr Kogan,**** the actual Cambridge University Russian-American “academic” who physically harvested the Facebook data. Just today (Monday, 3.19) Kogan said he will gladly testify to US Congress. Great! There’s plenty for both Congress and Mueller to investigate, and I’m sure Mueller already has.
To wrap this up, Kogan can explain exactly how he got the millions of Facebook records. He used one of those crazy “apps” we used to see so frequently on the social media site; specifically, a personality test. Even if you didn’t take the quiz yourself, if any of your FB friends participated, YOUR data is part of this sordid mess.
One of the reasons this story came to light this past weekend (March 17/18) is that a New York professor has sued Cambridge Analytica. Much of this information is emerging from legal depositions. That New York professor is David Carroll. CNN reports his story: https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/17/politics/professor-lawsuit-cambridge-analytica/index.html?iid=EL
That link about Professor Carroll and the above video of Chris Wylie really tell “the rest of the story.”
Finally, Carl Bernstein, Washington Post reporter of Watergate fame, refers to this continuing nightmare as our “cultural cold war.” I agree, thus the title. At least we may finally get to the bottom of what truly is #FakeNews.
*More on Parscale plus the complete transcript from the 60 Minutes interview: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/parscale-tv-news-thought-i-was-a-joke/ )
** SCL explained in NY Times article: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/17/us/politics/cambridge-analytica-trump-campaign.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur
*** UK Guardian (aka London Observer) expose: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/cambridge-academic-trawling-facebook-had-links-to-russian-university
**** More on how Kogan got FaceBook data: http://money.cnn.com/2018/03/18/technology/business/facebook-cambridge-analytica/index.html
Mother Jones has even more (including the Carroll court documents): https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/12/a-groundbreaking-case-may-force-controversial-data-firm-cambridge-analytica-to-reveal-trump-secrets/
Not directly related, but info on Fusion GPS and the original funding for the “dossier.”: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/27/us/politics/trump-dossier-paul-singer.html
Special thanks to @ChrisLHayes @AllinwithChris @MSNBC for two segments on these issues Monday evening. PLUS, it appears he may cover the UK @Channel4News again Tuesday (3.20) as Part 3 of their undercover video about #CambridgeAnalytics will delve into the Trump campaign’s use of the psycho-graphic data. GREAT! Also, PLEASE support these wonderful independent news gathering organizations.
* Mother Jones and our fave @DavidCorn: https://www.motherjones.com/
* UK Guardian: https://support.theguardian.com/us/contribute
Both survive on subscriptions and donations. Thanks!