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New documents shed light on Cambridge Analytica's business activity

Alexander Nix, former CEO of Cambridge Analytica, at a conference in Lisbon in November 2017. PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP

The name has almost become synonymous with political manipulation. But the British company Cambridge Analytica, which offered a variety of electoral propaganda and publicity manipulation services based largely on illegally obtained Facebook data, was far from just election activity. This is revealed, in particular, by a series of documents posted online in early January on a website : five files concerning the activities of the company in Kenya, in Malaysia, or to support John Bolton, the current national security adviser of Donald Trump.

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The published documents, which include commercial proposals, e-mail exchanges and even project management tables, show that alongside its electoral activities, SCL – the parent company of Cambridge Analytica – was also very active in matters of commercial prospecting for large companies, to which it offered marketing campaigns for their products or communication campaigns. Several documents list contacts with representatives of very large groups. A document dated January 25, 2017 thus lists a contact ” to throw back “ with operator Deutsche Telecom; the signing of a confidentiality agreement with Coca-Cola UK, prior to an audit; or the need to write a “Concept note” for the SNCF. The documents published do not mention any firm signature of contracts.

Most often, but not always, these canvassing is done with companies from countries where Cambridge Analytica has, at the same time, a political activity. In Kenya, where Cambridge Analytica had been mandated for the campaign of President Uhuru Kenyatta, its parent company also approaches Standard Bank, from which it would have obtained a “Oral agreement”. In Malaysia, where SCL has opened a subsidiary and where it is very active politically, the company also proposed a project “Turnkey” to state oil company Petronas. A 90-page document outlines a comprehensive plan to improve the company's image in the states of Sabah and Sarawak, which make up eastern Malaysia, where it is carrying out important locally contested projects – in late 2019, the local government of Sarawak has filed a complaint against Petronas, whom he accuses of tax evasion.

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Big business and “political aspirations”

To overcome local opposition, SCL is proposing in this document, for just over two million dollars, a three-phase project, starting with data collection and surveys, which will then allow Petronas to “Set up a communication strategy on several fronts”, using “Influencers”, whether they are “Formal or informal”. A jargon which masks badly the very invasive character of the tools of SCL, of which screenshots presented at the end of the document promise to be able to establish lists of names of inhabitants according to their political opinions, their ethnic origins or their place of residence. Petronas denied on January 3, as it did in 2018, any relationship with Cambridge Analytica and SCL. The published document does not in any way prove that a contract was concluded, but suggests that very advanced discussions had taken place between the British company and the oil company.

In some cases, the gender mix between politics and business seems to have been almost complete. In late 2016, Mark Turnbull, one of SCL's key executives, wrote to one of his contacts at Sierra Rutile Limited, a major mining company in Sierra Leone, which is about to merge with another company.. “This is a key period for Sierra Rutilewrites Mr. Turnbull. I am not sure that this will have an impact on your political aspirations for the 2018 general elections, but I would be happy, if you have the time, to resume our discussions on this subject. We have thought of an approach that might interest you and that I could share with you. “

New publications expected

Most of the documents published so far, however, relate to Cambridge Analytica’s electoral activities in Kenya, Malaysia and the United States. E-mail exchanges and internal presentations also show that Cambridge Analytica, funded and supported by American ultra-conservatives and Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's former advisor, sought more than conservative candidates. Some amazing names appear in the lists of “Prospects”, like the current Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, little appreciated by Donald Trump, or the Catalan independence movement.

There is little doubt about the origin of the documents: all of them seem to come from files backed up by Brittany Kaiser, a former Cambridge Analytica executive, who has, since the scandal that hit the company in 2018, explained that she was remorseful and testified before several parliamentary committees. According to Carole Cadwalladr, the reporter for Guardian who exposed Cambridge Analytica’s practices, a total of 100,000 documents are expected to go online – about 100 have been posted so far.

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