Senior members of Cambridge Analytica have been recorded bragging about helping Donald Trump win the 2016 US presidential election by using smear campaigns, untraceable social media posts and a secret self-destructing email system.
Filmed by undercover journalists for the UK’s Channel 4 News, the footage also reveals Mark Turnbull, the managing director Cambridge Analytica’s (CA) political division, taking credit for the “Defeat Crooked Hilary” brand of attack adverts.
The adverts, which were funded by the Make America Number 1 super-PAC, could be illegal under US election law as any coordination between official election campaigns and outside groups is forbidden.
The Channel 4 News investigation into Cambridge Analytica, in conjunction with the Observer newspaper, has caused a huge political storm after it was revealed the firm had gained unauthorised access to tens of millions of Facebook profiles which it used for political influence.
On Monday footage of the same three men was broadcast by the news programme, showing how they bragged about their skills at bribing politicians, entrapping them using sex workers, or using ex-spies to dig dirt on political opponents and then posting any damaging material online.
In one exchange with an undercover reporter for Channel 4 News, to be broadcast in the UK at 7pm, the company’s Chief Executive, Alexander Nix, boasts of the firm’s work for Trump, saying: “We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting, we ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy.”
Chief Data Officer, Dr Alex Tayler, adds: “When you think about the fact that Donald Trump lost the popular vote by three million votes but won the electoral college vote – that’s down to the data and the research... You did your rallies in the right locations, you moved more people out in those key swing states on election day.
“That’s how he won the election.“
Nix also revealed the company used a secret self-destructing email system that leaves no trace. He said: “No-one knows we have it, and secondly we set our … emails with a self-destruct timer … So you send them and after they’ve been read, two hours later, they disappear.
“There’s no evidence, there’s no paper trail, there’s nothing.”
The UK’s data watchdog has now confirmed it has applied for an urgent warrant to raid the London HQ of CA, following the explosive revelations. The Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham branded the firm “uncooperative”.
On Tuesday morning the data firm’s London HQ appeared on lockdown, with a security guard strictly monitoring those entering.
As CA’s chief Alexander Nix entered the building, he was asked about the footage broadcast by Channel 4 , in which he was caught explaining how he could use sex workers to compromise politicians.
Nix responded to reporters by saying that “appearances can be deceptive”. When asked whether he had misled parliament when he gave evidence to a select committee on the firm’s practices, he said: “Absolutely not”.
Nix was then seen engaged in an animated discussion beside a window on the second floor of the building.
Not long after Nix entered, HuffPost UK saw around 10 crates filled with files and documents being assembled in the lobby of the building. Their provenance is unknown.
In the undercover footage Nix is also shown criticising representatives on the US House Intelligence Committee – to which he gave evidence in 2017. He claims Republican members asked just three questions. “After five minutes – done,” he said.
He added: “They’re politicians, they’re not technical. They don’t understand how it works.
“They don’t understand because the candidate never, is never involved. He’s told what to do by the campaign team.”
The reporter asks: “So the candidate is the puppet?”
“Always,” replies Nix.
Nix further claimed that Democrats on the Committee are motivated by “sour grapes”.
A CA spokesman said: “CA has never claimed it won the election for President Trump. This is patently absurd.
“We are proud of the work we did on that campaign, and have spoken in many public forums about what we consider to be our contribution to the campaign.
“Cambridge Analytica has been completely transparent about our simultaneous work on both political campaigns and political action committees (including publicly declaring our work on both with FEC filings).
“We have strict firewall practises to ensure no coordination between regulated groups, including the teams working on non-coordinated campaigns being physically separated, using different servers and being banned from communicating with each other.”
The 2016 US election was plagued by allegations of fake news, and investigations into whether Russia influenced the result of the election are ongoing.
Trump’s Democrat opponent in the election race, Hillary Clinton, said after the result she faced faced a “massive propaganda effort” while at the same time questioning if CA played a role.
Turnbull is heard in the undercover footage describing the firm’s involvement in the “Crooked Hillary” campaign.
He said: “The brand was ‘Defeat Crooked Hillary’. You’ll remember this of course? ‘Crooked Hilary’ - and the zeros, the OO of crooked were a pair of hand-cuffs and it was all about...”
The undercover reporter replies: “And you have created this?”
Turnbull: “Defeat Crooked Hillary”
“And then, we made creative, hundreds of different kinds of creative, and we put it online.”
Cambridge Analytica has denied any wrongdoing.