The shadowy tech firm connected to Trump megadonor Robert Mercer is using mass-collected data to employ psychological warfare techniques to alter elections and build a total surveillance state.
There are strict laws governing the data the government can collect on Americans -- but private companies are free to gather any information they want using social media and other tools, reported Carole Cadwalladr for The Guardian.
Cambridge Analytica lawfully gathered mountains of data on Facebook users and then created psychological profiles for each of them, matched to their home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses -- which the company used to individually target them with political messaging.
Congress made data gathering even easier in March, when lawmakers repealed rules that would have required internet service providers to obtain customer permission to collect, use and sell information about individual online habits.
"This is military-funded technology that has been harnessed by a global plutocracy and is being used to sway elections in ways that people can’t even see, don’t even realize is happening to them," said Tamsin Shaw, a New York University philosophy professor who has studied the military's psychological research. "It’s about exploiting existing phenomenon like nationalism and then using it to manipulate people at the margins. To have so much data in the hands of a bunch of international plutocrats to do with it what they will is absolutely chilling."
Cadwalladr links a handful of obscure data companies -- whose only common thread are ties to Mercer, Cambridge Analytica and its former vice president, Steve Bannon -- to show possibly illegal coordination by campaigns advocating for Britain's exit from the European Union.
Vote Leave paid £3.9 million -- more than half its £7 million budget -- to the obscure Canadian tech firm AggregateIQ to "micro-target" voters on social media during the Brexit referendum campaign.
Mercer purchased the intellectual property of AggregateIQ, which also worked for the Trump campaign, and is friends with former UKIP leader Nigel Farage -- as are Trump and Bannon.
"If AggregateIQ is involved then Cambridge Analytica is involved, and if Cambridge Analytica is involved, then Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon are involved," said one former Cambridge Analytica employee.
That former employee, identified only as Paul, told Cadwalladr that Cambridge Analytica underwent an abrupt transformation ahead of the lead-up to the Brexit referendum.
"It was so … messed up," Paul said. "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."
That change came sometime after a former intern urged Alexander Nix, director of Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group, in 2013 to meet with a friend of her father.
The former intern, Sophie Schmidt, is the daughter of Google chairman Eric Schmidt and a current spokeswoman for Uber, and she helped introduce Nix to the data mining company Palantir and its owner, Peter Thiel -- the billionaire co-founder of eBay and PayPal who later became Silicon Valley’s first public Trump supporter.
Paul told Cadwalladr that Cambridge Analytica had always engaged in "psychological warfare," but another former employee was worried where the company was headed now that Bannon, its former vice president, worked in the White House and the firm had won contracts with the Pentagon and U.S. Department of State.
It's also reportedly under consideration for work with the military and in homeland security.
"We are in an information war and billionaires are buying up these companies, which are then employed to go to work in the heart of government," said Shaw, the NYU philosophy professor. "That’s a very worrying situation."
The second former employee, David, told Cadwalladr that the company's political work in Trinidad was essentially cover for its work with the country's national security council.
Cadwalladr reviewed documents that showed how SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica hoped to build a national police database -- using Trinidadians' browsing history, recorded phone calls and other data -- to predict how likely they would be individually to commit crimes.
“The plan put to the (Trinidadian) minister was 'Minority Report,'" David said. "It was pre-crime, and the fact that Cambridge Analytica is now working inside the Pentagon is, I think, absolutely terrifying."