Brittany Kaiser, a former business manager at the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, has confirmed in sworn testimony that Steve Bannon was involved in the data firm's strategy for both Brexit and Trump 2016 from the beginning.
In her testimony to a committee of Parliament today, Kaiser also indicated that the company's total reach while scraping Facebook user data was much larger than 87 million. Recruited by CEO Alexander Nix, she says the company made efforts to exclude her from certain meetings and decisions. Only in retrospect can she see what they were up to:
In reviewing the events around the Brexit campaign, I was recently reminded of the fact that the Breitbart media platform had a UK channel, “Breitbart London”, in which UKIP-linked figures played key roles. One of Cambridge Analytica’s competitive advantages in the US marketplace in 2016, and a key part of our pitch to Republican clients, was that we had secured exclusive rights to resell Breitbart engagement data. This meant that we had at least some access to what tens of millions of Americans were reading on Breitbart, and could feed this data into our campaign models to help predict resonant issues - and to influence behaviour. Breitbart became one of the biggest media platforms in the US in 2016, and its stories often went viral on Facebook.
I am not aware of any such agreement or data sharing in relation to Breitbart London, but it would be interesting to know if our US data tracking tags were in place on that UK channel, and whether any data about what stories British people were reading on Breitbart or other websites ever made their way to Leave campaigns.
In an interview at Bustle.com, Ms. Kaiser has described herself as a Bernie Sanders supporter and Obama campaign veteran. She says Nix wanted to use her knowledge of Democrats.
Brittany Kaiser, Cambridge Analytical whistleblower: "I believe it is almost certain that the number of Facebook users whose data was compromised through routes similar to that used by Kogan is much greater than 87 million." Suggests other Facebook quizzes used to acquire data.↓ Story continues below ↓
— Paul Lewis (@PaulLewis) April 17, 2018
Kaiser tells Bustle that now she wants to come clean.
“With our involvement with Brexit, I now look back of it and I'm incredibly concerned at the way all of that was structured or unstructured or lied about,” she says. “When I start to realize that people like Alexander Nix or Aaron Banks or Steve Bannon or any of these guys were up to something that they maybe shouldn't have been up to, then why do I have to stand up for them?” she asks, citing the company’s leadership. “Why do I have to protect them?”
Perhaps not coincidentally, Mr. Nix has reportedly backed out of speaking to the House of Commons Digital Committee.
We know who Bannon is. So who is Aaron Banks? Well, he owns a large insurance business; the rest is a bit mysterious because his personal fortune is kind of sketchy.
Brittany Kaiser says Arron Banks asked Cambridge Analytica to “combine workstreams” (and data) between Ukip, Leave EU and…Eldon Insurance, his insurance company.
“I believe this work was carried out, just not by Cambridge Analytica”.
— Mikey Smith (@mikeysmith) April 17, 2018
Steve Bannon introduced Arron Banks to Cambridge Analytica, Brittany Kaiser tells MPs
— Carole Cadwalladr (@carolecadwalla) April 17, 2018
Mr. Banks was directly involved in the Leave campaign.
Arron Banks ‘loaned’ £6m to https://t.co/ke6g3CNFs4, which has never been repaid. His declared diamond finds in Lesotho are ‘geologically impossible’. His insurance business was ‘technically insolvent’. Do we need to talk about Arron? @openDemocracy latest https://t.co/QKfcv0dfIj
— Peter Geoghegan (@PeterKGeoghegan) April 17, 2018
"In hindsight, I now think that there is reason to believe that misuse of data was rife amongst the businesses and campaigns of Arron Banks," Kaiser told the committee today. "If the personal data of UK citizens who just wanted to buy car insurance was used by GoSkippy and Eldon Insurance for political purposes, as may have been the case, people clearly did not opt in for their data to be used in this way by Leave.EU."
While she expanded the horizons of Parliament's investigation into the Brexit vote, Ms. Kaiser said she had no evidence of Moscow directly benefiting from the data that the company assembled.
“Russia, as far as I know, never used Cambridge Analytica,” Kaiser says. “They wouldn't need to. People from any country anywhere in the world can purchase data on individuals from the United States and can use Facebook platforms to come in and target whoever they want,” Kaiser contends.
Rather than a direct Kremlin connection, the family of hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer -- who bought out the company from Iranian-born billionaire Vincent Tchenguiz, a close confidant of Ukranian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, more than a year before the 2016 election -- left their fingerprints all over this virtual crime scene. Rebekah Mercer still refuses to distance them from the company despite revelations that a Russian data scientist involved in the scraping scandal also consulted for a Russian state oil firm.
Ooh fascinating. Brittany Kaiser now talking about central role of Matthew Richardson, then general secretary of UKIP. And - she doesn't mention - ROBERT MERCER'S LAWYER...
— Carole Cadwalladr (@carolecadwalla) April 17, 2018
When you follow the money behind this story, a lot of it either is, or was, Russian. The Data Committee seems to think that the Mercers' investment in Brexit-related social media shenanigans had some effect on the outcome of the vote. Who benefits in a world where the United Kingdom and United States retreat into isolationism? Among others, Vladimir Putin.
Here's a Jan 2016 screenshot from the archived Cambridge Analytica website showing Robert Murtfeld (ex Assange legal team) and Brittany Kaiser before the shit hit the fan pic.twitter.com/dTZqudWrFR
— Ann Marlowe (@annmarlowe) March 28, 2018
Bannon, CEO of Breitbart News and Chairman of the Board at Cambridge Analytica, emerged as the last of three Trump campaign heads after championing his candidacy in the background since 2014. Journalist Joshua Green gives Bannon a great deal of credit for Donald Trump's unexpected victory. To be sure, Brad Parscale -- the 2016 digital campaign director who has risen to lead Trump's 2020 campaign -- was responsible for the way the campaign used Facebook. Yet it was in fact Bannon who developed the English-language talking points for Brexit, and for Trump, using Breitbart and Cambridge Analytica to hone his message. Just as he expanded the brand into the United Kingdom, creating opportunities to exploit Facebook and test messages with audiences, Bannon built the "platform of the alt-right" and took Breitbart's traffic over a billion page views per month with Cambridge Analytica data. He will know if stories at the site were, say, tagged to help Russian bots trend them.
While the Mercers have since distanced themselves from Bannon, his purposes were always theirs, and he is still waging their war. They want the whole world to be a place where stolen Russian fortunes can be safely laundered into hedge fund fortunes, where reactionary bigotry can always find safe harbor. To build that new world, they perfected a social media strategy that empowered nativists, promoted white, Christian identity politics, and deterred as many contrary votes as possible.
Brittany Kaiser's testimony is consistent with the picture I have drawn over years of watching and writing about the world of Breitbart, Bannon, and Mercer money. Their war on western liberalism has always complemented the Kremlin's purposes. How much of that was just an alignment of interests, and how much was based on actual communication, remains to be established. So does the question of how well it actually worked. But we are beyond the point that we can pretend it just didn't happen.