New details are emerging about how the shadowy data firm Cambridge Analytica worked to manipulate voters across the globe, from the 2016 election in the United States to the Brexit campaign in Britain and elections in over 60 other countries, including Malaysia, Kenya and Brazil. A new trove of internal Cambridge Analytica documents and emails are being posted on Twitter detailing the company’s operations, including its work with President Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton. The documents come from Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Brittany Kaiser, who worked at the firm for three-and-a-half years before leaving in 2018. We speak with Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, co-directors of the Oscar-shortlisted documentary “The Great Hack”; Brittany Kaiser, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower featured in “The Great Hack” and author of “Targeted: The Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower’s Inside Story of How Big Data, Trump, and Facebook Broke Democracy and How It Can Happen Again”; and Emma Briant, a visiting research associate in human rights at Bard College whose upcoming book is titled “Propaganda Machine: Inside Cambridge Analytica and the Digital Influence Industry.”
AMY GOODMAN: New details are emerging about how the shadowy data firm Cambridge Analytica worked to manipulate voters across the globe, from the 2016 election in the United States to the Brexit campaign in Britain to elections in over 60 countries, including Ukraine, Malaysia, Kenya and Brazil.
Cambridge Analytica was founded by the right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer. Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon of Breitbart News was one of the company’s key strategists and claims to have named the company. The company collapsed in May 2018 after The Observer newspaper revealed the company had harvested some 87 million Facebook profiles without the users’ knowledge or consent. Cambridge Analytica used the data to sway voters during the 2016 campaign.
A new trove of internal Cambridge Analytica documents and emails are being posted on Twitter detailing the company’s operations across the globe, including its work with President Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton. The documents come from Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Brittany Kaiser, who worked at the firm for three-and-a-half years before leaving in 2018. Kaiser is featured prominently in the Netflix documentary The Great Hack, which has been shortlisted for an Oscar. This is the trailer for the film.
DAVID CARROLL: Who has seen an advertisement that has convinced you that your microphone is listening to your conversations? All of your interactions, your credit card swipes, web searches, locations, likes, they’re all collected, in real time, into a trillion-dollar-a-year industry.
CAROLE CADWALLADR: The real game changer was Cambridge Analytica. They worked for the Trump campaign and for the Brexit campaign. They started using information warfare.
DAVID CARROLL: Cambridge Analytica claimed to have 5,000 data points on every American voter.
CAROLE CADWALLADR: I started tracking down all these Cambridge Analytica ex-employees.
CHRISTOPHER WYLIE: Someone else that you should be calling to the committee is Brittany Kaiser.
NEWSCASTER: Brittany Kaiser, once a key player inside Cambridge Analytica, casting herself as a whistleblower.
BRITTANY KAISER: The reason why Google and Facebook are the most powerful companies in the world is because last year data surpassed oil in value. Data is the most valuable asset on Earth. We targeted those whose minds we thought we could change, until they saw the world the way we wanted them to. I do know that their targeting tool was considered a weapon.
PAUL HILDER: There is a possibility that the American public had been experimented on.
DAVID CARROLL: This is becoming a criminal matter.
CHRISTOPHER WYLIE: When people see the extent of the surveillance, I think they’re going to be shocked.
BRITTANY KAISER’S MOTHER: And I still fear for your life.
BRITTANY KAISER: Yeah.
BRITTANY KAISER’S MOTHER: With the powerful people that are involved.
BRITTANY KAISER: But I can’t keep quiet just because it will make powerful people mad.
BRITTANY KAISER’S MOTHER: I know.
RAVI NAIK: Data rights should be considered just fundamental rights.
CAROLE CADWALLADR: This is about the integrity of our democracy. These platforms which were created to connect us have now been weaponized. It’s impossible to know what is what, because nothing is what it seems.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the trailer to the Netflix documentary The Great Hack. Well, we’re joined right now by four guests, by the film’s directors, Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer. They’re the co-directors of The Great Hack, which was just nominated for a BAFTA today. That’s t the British equivalent of the Oscars. And it has been shortlisted for the Oscars. Jehane’s past films with Karim Amer include The Square. She also did Control Room. Brittany Kaiser is the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower featured in the film. She’s the author of Targeted: The Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower’s Inside Story of How Big Data, Trump, and Facebook Broke Democracy and How It Can Happen Again. And we’re joined in Washington, D.C., by Emma Briant, visiting research associate in human rights at Bard College who specializes in researching propaganda. Her forthcoming book is called Propaganda Machine: Inside Cambridge Analytica and the Digital Influence Industry.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Brittany, you have just begun to release a trove of documents from Cambridge Analytica, which involves scores of countries, including the United States, including John Bolton, including Iran. Talk about how — why you decided to begin this release and what are in these documents.
BRITTANY KAISER: Absolutely. I decided to release the Hindsight Files because it’s now 2020. I’ve been waiting and working with investigators and journalists around the world for the past two years. And what I’ve seen is that we don’t have enough change in order for voters to be protected, ahead of not just November, but in 27 days the first votes that are cast for the 2020 election.
I really think that digital literacy is the most important point that I’m trying to make here. If you understand the tactics and the strategies that are being used to manipulate you, then you can protect yourself from that. And I want to be able to empower voters ahead of casting their first vote this year.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about these documents, where they came from and what’s in them.
BRITTANY KAISER: These are all documents from my time at Cambridge Analytica. I worked at the company for over three years. So, it’s internal communications and negotiations for data-driven communications projects all around the world. It’s proposals, contracts and case studies of what has been done to intervene in democracy.
And I think it’s so important for people to understand that while sometimes these tactics are benign, sometimes they are incredibly malignant. And there’s evidence of voter suppression, fake news and disinformation, using racism, sexism.
And I just want to make sure that there is real action that is going to be taken, not just ahead of this next election, but for countries all around the world. We need privacy legislation so badly. We need to regulate Big Tech and have an ability to enforce our voting laws online, because right now we can’t. And unfortunately, companies like Facebook are not doing enough to protect us.
AMY GOODMAN: So, for people who are new to what Cambridge Analytica is, why don’t you describe why it is and why you have these documents, what Cambridge Analytica’s role was in all of these countries, including the United States?
BRITTANY KAISER: Absolutely. So, Cambridge Analytica was one of the companies under the SCL Group, Strategic Communication Laboratories. This is a company that has been around for over 25 years, and they started by using data-driven strategies in order to understand people’s psyche, how they make decisions and how they can be persuaded to take certain actions or to prevent people from taking certain actions.
AMY GOODMAN: It was a defense contractor.
BRITTANY KAISER: Originally they started in defense, yes. And once they found out how successful that was — that was actually in the Nelson Mandela election in ’93, ’94 in South Africa, they were preventing election violence for a defense contract — they realized that that was very useful in elections. And those strategies developed over two-and-a-half decades in order to no longer just do good things and good impact work, but, unfortunately, to undermine our democracies.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a clip from the documentary The Great Hack. In this clip, the British journalist Carole Cadwalladr talks about Cambridge Analytica’s parent company SCL. We also hear the voice of former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix, who was previously a director of SCL.
CAROLE CADWALLADR: SCL started out as a military contractor, SCL Defence.
ALEXANDER NIX: We have a fairly substantial defense business. We actually train the British Army, the British Navy, the U.S. Army, U.S. Special Forces. We train NATO, the CIA, State Department, Pentagon. It’s using research to influence behavior of hostile audiences. How do you persuade 14-to-30-year-old Muslim boys not to join al-Qaeda? Essentially communication warfare.
CAROLE CADWALLADR: They had worked in Afghanistan. They had worked in Iraq. They had worked in various places in Eastern Europe. But the real game changer was they started using information warfare in elections.
ALEXANDER NIX: There’s a lot of overlap, because it’s all the same methodology.
CAROLE CADWALLADR: All of the campaigns which Cambridge Analytica/SCL did for the developing world, it was all about practicing some new technology or trick, how to persuade people, how to suppress turnout or how to increase turnout. And then, it’s like, “OK, now I’ve got the hang of it. Let’s use it in Britain and America.”
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s a clip from The Great Hack. We’re going to go to break and then come back. We’re also joined by the directors. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Stay with us.