The plot thickens. The world was awakened to how votes could be hacked, voters brainwashed, by sophisticated software, social networks, and targeted messaging in the upset "leave" vote for Brexit. Fingered in that was a small company from Victoria, B.C., Aggregate IQ, and a shadowy young man from Western Canada, Chris Wylie.
Aggregate IQ and Wylie are believed to have links to American rightwing billionaire, Robert Mercer, his cohort, Steve Bannon, and his Aggregate IQ clone, Cambridge Analytica.
AggregateIQ holds the key to unravelling another complicated network of influence that Mercer has created. A source emailed me to say he had found that AggregateIQ’s address and telephone number corresponded to a company listed on Cambridge Analytica’s website as its overseas office: “SCL Canada”. A day later, that online reference vanished.
There had to be a connection between the two companies. Between the various Leave campaigns. Between the referendum and Mercer. It was too big a coincidence. But everyone – AggregateIQ, Cambridge Analytica, Leave.EU, Vote Leave – denied it. AggregateIQ had just been a short-term “contractor” to Cambridge Analytica. There was nothing to disprove this. We published the known facts. On 29 March, article 50 was triggered.
Then I meet Paul, the first of two sources formerly employed by Cambridge Analytica. He is in his late 20s and bears mental scars from his time there. “It’s almost like post-traumatic shock. It was so… messed up. It happened so fast. I just woke up one morning and found we’d turned into the Republican fascist party. I still can’t get my head around it.”
He laughed when I told him the frustrating mystery that was AggregateIQ. “Find Chris Wylie,” he said.
Who is Chris Wylie?
“He’s the one who brought data and micro-targeting [individualised political messages] to Cambridge Analytica. And he’s from west Canada. It’s only because of him that AggregateIQ exist. They’re his friends. He’s the one who brought them in.”
Now Cambridge Analytica has shown up on the radar of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. They want to know if Cambridge Analytica colluded with Russian interests to hack the election and catapult Donald Trump into the White House. Go figure.
Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, had holdings in Cambridge Analytica worth between $1 million and $5 million as recently as April of this year, Bloomberg reported. Bannon, now back as the chairman of the pro-Trump media outlet Breitbart, hasn’t been publicly mentioned as a potential witness for or target of Russia investigators. He previously sat on the board of Cambridge Analytica.
Another key Cambridge Analytica investor is Robert Mercer, the reclusive hedge fund billionaire who also generously backed Trump’s presidential campaign. Mercer and his daughter Rebekah introduced several top officials to Trump’s campaign, including Kellyanne Conway and Bannon. The Mercers also are partial owners of Breitbart—among their many, many investment in far-right media outlets, think tanks, and political campaigns.
Cambridge purports to go beyond the typical voter targeting—relying on online clues like Facebook Likes to give a hint at a user’s political leanings and construct a picture of a voter’s mental state. The “psychographic” picture Cambridge ostensibly provides to a campaign is the ability to tailor a specific message based on personality type – angry, fearful, optimistic and so forth – rather than simply aiming ads at voters from likely convivial candidates.
The Kremlin-orchestrated propaganda efforts on Facebook have evinced a level of sophistication surprising for a foreign entity, prompting speculation that Russians may have received some kind of targeting help. Such targeting reached voters in states where Clinton enjoyed a traditional advantage but went for Trump, including Michigan and Wisconsin, CNN reported.
“Multiple Cambridge Analytica sources have revealed other links to Russia, including trips to the country, meetings with executives from Russian state-owned companies, and references by SCL employees to working for Russian entities,” the Observer reported.
Meanwhile, where in hell is Chris Wylie?