Senior executives at Cambridge Analytica – the data company that credits itself with Donald Trump’s presidential victory – have been secretly filmed saying they could entrap politicians in compromising situations with bribes and Ukrainian sex workers.
In an undercover investigation by Britain’s Channel 4 News, the company’s chief executive Alexander Nix said the firm secretly operates in elections across the world through a web of shadowy front companies, or by using sub-contractors.
In one exchange, when asked about digging up material on political opponents, the company’s CEO said they could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house,” adding that Ukrainian girls “are very beautiful, I find that works very well.”
In another he said: “We’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the Internet.”
Offering bribes to public officials is an offense under both the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Cambridge Analytica operates in the UK and is registered in the United States.
The admissions were filmed at a series of meetings at London hotels over four months, between November 2017 and January 2018. An undercover reporter for Channel 4 News posed as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka.
Mr Nix told the reporter: “…we’re used to operating through different vehicles, in the shadows, and I look forward to building a very long-term and secretive relationship with you.”
Along with Mr Nix, the meetings also included Mark Turnbull, the managing director of Cambridge Analytica Political Global, and the company’s chief data officer, Dr Alex Tayler.
Mr Turnbull described how, having obtained damaging material on opponents, Cambridge Analytica can discreetly push it onto social media and the internet.
He said: “We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again… like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda,’ because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda,’ the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’”
Nix also said: “Many of our clients don’t want to be seen to be working with a foreign company… so we can set up fake IDs and websites, we can be students doing research projects attached to a university, we can be tourists, there’s so many options we can look at. I have lots of experience in this.”
In the meetings, the executives boasted that Cambridge Analytica and its parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) had worked in more than two hundred elections across the world, including Nigeria, Kenya, the Czech Republic, India and Argentina.
The company is at the center of a scandal over its role in the harvesting of more than 50 million Facebook profiles.
Nix has also been accused of misleading a parliamentary select committee, which is now asking him to provide further information.
Cambridge Analytica insisted that opposition research and intelligence gathering, the use of subcontractors and working discreetly with clients are all common practice and legitimate.