Sunday, March 18, 2018

"Find Chris Wylie" - the Young Canadian from Victoria Who Pulled Britain Out of the EU and Helped Put Donald Trump into the White House.

He's still just 28 and yet he may have been the deciding factor in the Brexit referendum. He also played a role in getting Trump into the White House. He fell in with American rightwing billionaire, Robert Mercer, and Mercer's henchman, Steve Bannon. He's Canadian Chris Wylie.

You may have heard of Cambridge Analytica and the role it played in manipulating "persuadable" voters in the 2016 US elections. You may even have heard of a small company from Victoria, BC, AggregateIQ and the role it played in gaming the Brexit vote for the Leave campaign.  From The Guardian:

He may have played a pivotal role in the momentous political upheavals of 2016. At the very least, he played a consequential role. At 24, he came up with an idea that led to the foundation of a company called Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that went on to claim a major role in the Leave campaign for Britain’s EU membership referendum, and later became a key figure in digital operations during Donald Trump’s election campaign.

Wylie grew up in British Columbia and as a teenager he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. He left school at 16 without a single qualification. Yet at 17, he was working in the office of the leader of the Canadian opposition; at 18, he went to learn all things data from Obama’s national director of targeting, which he then introduced to Canada for the Liberal party. At 19, he taught himself to code, and in 2010, age 20, he came to London to study law at the London School of Economics.

“Politics is like the mob, though,” he says. “You never really leave. I got a call from the Lib Dems. They wanted to upgrade their databases and voter targeting. So, I combined working for them with studying for my degree.”

“He’s one of the brightest people you will ever meet,” a senior politician who’s known Wylie since he was 20 told me. “Sometimes that’s a blessing and sometimes a curse.”

SCL or How Chris Wylie Got Drawn Into the Machine.

It began when Wylie attempted to help revive Britain's flagging Liberal Democrats in 2013:

“I wanted to know why the Lib Dems sucked at winning elections when they used to run the country up to the end of the 19th century,” Wylie explains. “And I began looking at consumer and demographic data to see what united Lib Dem voters, because apart from bits of Wales and the Shetlands it’s weird, disparate regions. And what I found is there were no strong correlations. There was no signal in the data.

“And then I came across a paper about how personality traits could be a precursor to political behaviour, and it suddenly made sense. Liberalism is correlated with high openness and low conscientiousness, and when you think of Lib Dems they’re absent-minded professors and hippies. They’re the early adopters… they’re highly open to new ideas. And it just clicked all of a sudden.”

Here was a way for the party to identify potential new voters. The only problem was that the Lib Dems weren’t interested.

From the Lib Dems, Wylie fell in with the mother company of Cambridge Analytica.

Alexander Nix, then CEO of SCL Elections, made Wylie an offer he couldn’t resist. “He said: ‘We’ll give you total freedom. Experiment. Come and test out all your crazy ideas.’”

In the history of bad ideas, this turned out to be one of the worst. The job was research director across the SCL group, a private contractor that has both defence and elections operations. Its defence arm was a contractor to the UK’s Ministry of Defence and the US’s Department of Defense, among others. Its expertise was in “psychological operations” – or psyops – changing people’s minds not through persuasion but through “informational dominance”, a set of techniques that includes rumour, disinformation and fake news.

SCL Elections had used a similar suite of tools in more than 200 elections around the world, mostly in undeveloped democracies that Wylie would come to realise were unequipped to defend themselves.

Wylie holds a British Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa – a UK work visa given to just 200 people a year. He was working inside government (with the Lib Dems) as a political strategist with advanced data science skills. But no one, least of all him, could have predicted what came next. When he turned up at SCL’s offices in Mayfair, he had no clue that he was walking into the middle of a nexus of defence and intelligence projects, private contractors and cutting-edge cyberweaponry.

“The thing I think about all the time is, what if I’d taken a job at Deloitte instead? They offered me one. I just think if I’d taken literally any other job, Cambridge Analytica wouldn’t exist. You have no idea how much I brood on this.”

A few months later, in autumn 2013, Wylie met Steve Bannon. At the time, he was editor-in-chief of Breitbart, which he had brought to Britain to support his friend Nigel Farage in his mission to take Britain out of the European Union.

What was he like?

“Smart,” says Wylie. “Interesting. Really interested in ideas. He’s the only straight man I’ve ever talked to about intersectional feminist theory. He saw its relevance straightaway to the oppressions that conservative, young white men feel.”

Wylie meeting Bannon was the moment petrol was poured on a flickering flame. Wylie lives for ideas. He speaks 19 to the dozen for hours at a time. He had a theory to prove. And at the time, this was a purely intellectual problem. Politics was like fashion, he told Bannon.

How Bannon and Mercer Found Wylie.

When I ask how Bannon even found SCL, Wylie tells me what sounds like a tall tale, though it’s one he can back up with an email about how Mark Block, a veteran Republican strategist, happened to sit next to a cyberwarfare expert for the US air force on a plane. “And the cyberwarfare guy is like, ‘Oh, you should meet SCL. They do cyberwarfare for elections.’”

It was Bannon who took this idea to the Mercers: Robert Mercer – the co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, who used his billions to pursue a rightwing agenda, donating to Republican causes and supporting Republican candidates – and his daughter Rebekah.

Nix and Wylie flew to New York to meet the Mercers in Rebekah’s Manhattan apartment.

“She loved me. She was like, ‘Oh we need more of your type on our side!’”

Your type?

“The gays. She loved the gays. So did Steve [Bannon]. He saw us as early adopters. He figured, if you can get the gays on board, everyone else will follow. It’s why he was so into the whole Milo [Yiannopoulos] thing.”

Robert Mercer was a pioneer in AI and machine translation. He helped invent algorithmic trading – which replaced hedge fund managers with computer programs – and he listened to Wylie’s pitch. It was for a new kind of political message-targeting based on an influential and groundbreaking 2014 paperresearched at Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre, called: “Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans”.

Wylie and the Russians.

There are other dramatic documents in Wylie’s stash, including a pitch made by Cambridge Analytica to Lukoil, Russia’s second biggest oil producer. In an email dated 17 July 2014, about the US presidential primaries, Nix wrote to Wylie: “We have been asked to write a memo to Lukoil (the Russian oil and gas company) to explain to them how our services are going to apply to the petroleum business. Nix said that “they understand behavioural microtargeting in the context of elections” but that they were “failing to make the connection between voters and their consumers”. The work, he said, would be “shared with the CEO of the business”, a former Soviet oil minister and associate of Putin, Vagit Alekperov.

“It didn’t make any sense to me,” says Wylie. “I didn’t understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?

Mueller’s investigation traces the first stages of the Russian operation to disrupt the 2016 US election back to 2014, when the Russian state made what appears to be its first concerted efforts to harness the power of America’s social media platforms, including Facebook. And it was in late summer of the same year that Cambridge Analytica presented the Russian oil company with an outline of its datasets, capabilities and methodology. The presentation had little to do with “consumers”. Instead, documents show it focused on election disruption techniques. The first slide illustrates how a “rumour campaign” spread fear in the 2007 Nigerian election – in which the company worked – by spreading the idea that the “election would be rigged”. The final slide, branded with Lukoil’s logo and that of SCL Group and SCL Elections, headlines its “deliverables”: “psychographic messaging”.


Cambridge Analytica is “Chris’s Frankenstein”, says a friend of his. “He created it. It’s his data Frankenmonster. And now he’s trying to put it right.”

Only once has Wylie made the case of pointing out that he was 24 at the time. But he was. He thrilled to the intellectual possibilities of it. He didn’t think of the consequences. And I wonder how much he’s processed his own role or responsibility in it. Instead, he’s determined to go on the record and undo this thing he has created.

Because the past few months have been like watching a tornado gathering force. And when Wylie turns the full force of his attention to something – his strategic brain, his attention to detail, his ability to plan 12 moves ahead – it is sometimes slightly terrifying to behold. Dealing with someone trained in information warfare has its own particular challenges, and his suite of extraordinary talents include the kind of high-level political skills that makes House of Cards look like The Great British Bake Off. And not everyone’s a fan. Any number of ex-colleagues – even the ones who love him – call him “Machiavellian”. Another described the screaming matches he and Nix would have.


Anonymous said...

So Wylie describes himself as the gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool.” But who provided Wylie with the data sets he needed to weaponize the defence and intelligence AI?

Enter Aleksandr Kogan/Spectre, a psych prof at the University of Cambridge. Under the guise of doing psychological research, Kogan convinced Facebook users to give him info about themselves and their friends. In violation of FB's terms of use, Kogan then provided this data to Wylie/Cambridge Analytica. CA claims they deleted this data when asked to by FB, but FB was unconvinced and kicked both Kogan and CA off their service.

Providing data about study participants to third parties would also violate any decent university's research ethics policies, and I'm amazed that Kagan remains a prof at Cambridge. I'm also amazed that he manages to remain at Cambridge while being on the faculty of St. Petersburg University. That would be the same St. Petersburg that's home to Russia's troll bot army.


The Mound of Sound said...

Cap, your questions are all answered in the extensive reports from The Guardian, Vox, NYT and WaPo and other sources over the past two years. It's a complicated story and takes a lot of reading. I've been writing about it for some time.

Where did the data sets come from? Facebook was one source but there were plenty of others who, despite the standard "we don't sell your personal information" nonsense, usually do.

Cambridge Analytica claims to have 5,000 data points on just about every adult in America - what you "like" on Facebook, where you shop, what you buy, how much you spend, what you read, where you worship, health records, you name it. Computers churn the data and come up with an accurate profile of that individual, accurate enough that they can be targeted with messages that exploit their likes, their dislikes, their fears and basest instincts. It's said that Trump's system could generate 40 to 50,000 different ads every day targeted to different voter profiles.

Wylie came to light after the Brexit Leave campaign's spending was analyzed and half of the invoices came from AggregateIQ. A Leave campaign official credited AIQ with their upset win. That led journos to Cambridge Analytica and one CA source who said "find Chris Wylie."

What we didn't know, until yesterday, is that The Guardian found Wylie laying low in Victoria and all he wanted to do at that point was blow the whistle on SCL, Cambridge Analytica, Bannon and Robert Mercer.

There are a lot of these troll "survey sites" that lure people in ostensibly to get their say on topics but are really just profile mining.

Today I learned in a couple of Globe articles from January that AggregateIQ is hoping to use its dark arts to get the BC Libs back in power in the next general election.

the salamander said...

.. this is high end orchestrated dirtbag scumbag stuff ..
When this kind of stuff surfaces I'm reminded of
Harpers senators Gerstein & Finley and their black ops
Its amazing how partisans with money, power, or both
will go for broke.. and how there's never a problem
finding willing conspirators, suppliers & sellouts

I hope Robert Mueller rips every single Trump colluder
a new anus.. and right to the highest levels..

Slightly off topic there is an extended article this AM
re Hope Hicks, What She Learned In Washington
I can find the link if need be
but its a dizzying freefall into the dirtbag hell
of the Trump White House.. quite revealing & freewheeling
This woman had exalted access to witness the pus sack President
Flipside.. she believed him to be a good person..
and thus commanded her total dedication & loyalty

Aint that how it works, Mound ?
Someone is either a political parasite fraud
or they're a wondrous patriot...
(That's suck n blow country, can't be both)
But they have advocates blinded by money or anger or ambition
and they've gone down the rabbit hole