Photo via MGN

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: Bannon wanted “weapons” to fight “culture war”

Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower from Cambridge Analytica who provided multiple reports about how the London-based data firm misused Facebook data of as many as 87 million people during the 2016 election, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday as part of a congressional probe into data privacy and security.

The revelations have since forced the social media titan and other tech companies to reevaluate how they manage user data.

During the three-hour-long hearing, Wylie provided new details into the firm’s more controversial practices, including discussions of voter suppression, targeting African-American voters, and testing of slogans in 2014 that would be later used throughout the Trump campaign in 2016.

The whistleblower told lawmakers that former vice president of Cambridge Analytica and Trump ally Steve Bannon, “saw cultural warfare as the means to create enduring change in American politics.”

“The company learned that were segments of the population that responded to messages like ‘drain the swamp’ or images of walls or indeed paranoia about the deep state that weren’t necessarily reflected in mainstream polling or mainstream political discourse that Steve Bannon was interested in to help build his movement,” Wylie told lawmakers. He said that under Bannon’s leadership at Cambridge Anlaytica, U.S. clients could request testing voter suppression efforts in their contracts.

“Steve Bannon is a follower of something called the ‘Breitbart doctrine’ which posits that politics is downstream from culture. So if you want any lasting or enduring changes in politics you have to focus on the culture. When Steve Bannon uses the term culture war, he uses that term pointedly and they were seeking out companies that could build an arsenal of informational weapons to fight that war,” he added.

When pressed on how the firm targeted black voters, Wylie said that Cambridge Analytica would target anybody with “characteristics that would lead them to vote for the Democratic party, particularly African American voters.”

“Traditional marketing doesn’t misappropriate tens of millions of people’s data, and it is not or should not be targeted at people’s mental state like neuroticism and paranoia, or racial biases,” urged Wylie.

Wylie also noted the connections between Cambridge Analytica’s research and projects to Russian entities were cause of great concern to him. He pointed to connections with Moscow-based Lukoil, testifying that Cambridge Analytica made presentations and sent documents to Lukoil on its experience in disinformation and rumor campaigns.

  • “The company had engaged contractors who had previously worked in Eastern Europe for pro-Russian parties and indeed the company decided to test Americans views on the leadership style of Vladmir Putin and American views on Eastern European issues relating to Russian expansionism,” Wylie added.

    “There was a lot of contact with Russian companies that made it known this research was being done,” Wylie added, saying “a lot of noise was being made to companies and individuals who were connected to the Russian government.”

    Wylie testified that the lead researcher that managed the Facebook harvesting project for Cambridge Analytica was at the time working on projects that related to “psychological profiling in Russia with Russian teams.”

    As for recommendations for moving forward, Wylie stressed the need for public oversight over user data. He said the issue of privacy should be taken as seriously as other national security issues.

    “When you look at industries that are important — cars, food, medicine, nuclear power, airlines, we have rules that require safety and put consumers first,” said Wylie.

    He urged that in the 21st century, it’s “nearly impossible to be functional in the workplace and society at large without the internet.”

    Read updates below as they happened:

  • Hearing wraps

    After 3 hours of testimony, the hearing comes to a close. Wylie continues to press for some form of regulation and oversight to prevent similar cases to Cambridge Analytica’s from ever happening again.


  • Wylie on need for oversight

    Asked by Sen. Amy Klobuchar just how many Cambridge Analytica’s are out there, Wylie said that’s a question Facebook has to answer for. He said regardless, Wylie said this controversy may have highlighted a larger “systemic problem.”

    Wylie then pressed for greater accountability and public oversight of data privacy, comparing it to the need for safety regulations for cars on the road.

    “When you look at industries that are important — cars, food, medicine, nuclear power, airlines, we have rules that require safety and put consumers first,” said Wylie.

    He stressed that in the 21st century, it’s “nearly impossible to be functional in the workplace and society at large without the internet.”


  • Senate returns for more questioning

    Wylie and witnesses return to the chamber for further questioning by the committee.


  • Senate breaks for brief recess

    The committee is taking a brief 10 minute recess in questioning.


  • Wylie on Cambrdige Analytica targeting practices

    Besides targeting black voters, Wylie says that Cambridge Analytica created videos that he described as “sadistic and Islamophobic”

    Wylie said that Cambridge Analytica was looking to “exploit certain vulnerabilities in certain segments to send them information that will remove them from the public forum, and feed them conspiracies and they’ll never see mainstream media.”

    “We have destroyed the public forum,” he adds.

    When pressed on how the firm targeted black voters, Wylie said that the firm would target anybody with “characteristics that would lead them to vote for the Democratic party, particularly African American voters.”


  • Ted Cruz presses witnesses on Obama use of Facebook

    Sen. Ted Cruz, a one-time client of Cambridge Analytica, presses AEI scholar Mark Jamison on the Obama campaign’s use of Facebook data.

    Jamison said that the campaign had an adviser who helped them understand how to use Facebook and obtain data from Facebook. He said he had no knowledge if Facebook access was “even handed” in allowing access to data among all candidates from all parties.

    Wylie argues however, that data use is not a partisan issue. “I agree with you in the sense that there’s a substantial risk to distorting the electoral process if Facebook decries to pick a party.”

    “I’d hope this committee really internalizes this, we’re talking bout Cambridge Analytica but it’s not a partisan issue. We’re talking about the future of how these technology companies operate and the risk to ordinary American citizens and the risk to democratic processes,” Wylie added.


  • Thom Tillis urges regulatory action

    Sen. Thom Tillis urges the witnesses that he hopes the result of Wednesday’s hearing is “figuring out what if anything Congress should do with respect to a regulatory framework.”

    According to the Guardian, Sen. Tillis and fellow committee member Ted Cruz were actually clients of Cambridge Analytica.


  • Wylie said talks of voter suppression led him to leave

    “One of the things that did provoke me to leave was the beginnings of discussions of voter disengagement, I have seen documents reference and I recall conversations that it was intended to focus on African American voters,” Wylie said.

    “Traditional marketing doesn’t misappropriate tens of millions of people’s data, and it is not or should not be targeted at people’s mental state like neuroticism and paranoia, or racial biases,” he later added.


  • Wylie on privacy changes

    Wylie says that data privacy is an engineering and safety problem, saying it’s not just a “governance issue, it’s a physical engineering issue when it comes to software.”

    He urged that safety standards should be required for user privacy online just as safety standards are used throughout common goods.

    Wylie said that data privacy and securing user information should be considered a national security issue.

    “In terms of the dangers, data is powerful and if it’s put into the wrong hands it becomes a weapon. Companies like Facebook are not just social networking sites; they’re opportunities for information warfares, not just for state actors but also non-state actors. We have to look at protecting cyberspace just as we have agencies to protect the borders, land, space and air,” said Wylie.


  • Wylie on Trump slogans

    Wylie says that slogans like “drain the swamp”, used frequently over the course of the Trump campaign, was among those tested by Cambridge Analytica in 2014 — well before the Trump campaign was even in existence.

    “The company learned that were segments of the population that responded to messages like ‘drain the swamp’ or images of walls or indeed paranoia about the deep state that weren’t necessarily reflected in mainstream polling or mainstream political discourse that Steve Bannon was interested in to help build his movement,” Wylie told lawmakers.

    Wylie said in his testimony that Bannon “is a follower of the Breitbart Doctrine, which posits that politics flows downstream from culture. Therefore, Mr. Bannon sees cultural warfare as the means to create enduring change in American politics.”

    He added, “Mr. Bannon wanted to use the same kinds of information operations tactics used by the military for his political aims in the United States and elsewhere.”

    Wylie said that under Bannon’s leadership at Cambridge Anlaytica, U.S. clients could request testing voter suppression efforts in their contracts.


  • Wylie on Cambridge Analytica Russian connections

    Wylie says the connections between Cambridge Analytica’s research and projects to Russian entities were of great concern to him. He pointed to connections with Moscow-based Lukoil. Wylie said that Cambridge Analytica made presentations and sent documents to Lukoil on its experience in disinformation and rumor campaigns.

    According to the Guardian, Cambridge Analytica gave a briefing to Lukoil, which is no on the U.S. sanctions list, saw a presentation from the firm in 2014 where Cambridge Analytica discussed micro-targeting on social media during elections.

    “The company had engaged contractors who had previously worked in Eastern Europe for pro-Russian parties and indeed the company decided to test Americans views on the leadership style of Vladmir Putin and American views on Eastern European issues relating to Russian expansionism,” Wylie added.

    “There was a lot of contact with Russian companies that made it known this research was being done,” Wylie added, saying “a lot of noise was being made to companies and individuals who were connected to the Russian government.”

    Wylie noted a lead researcher that managed the Facebook harvesting project for Cambridge Analytica was at the time working on projects that related to “psychological profiling in Russia with Russian teams.”

    While unable to confirm if hacking took place at Cambridge Anlaytica, Wylie said that he had seen documents that made reference to “intelligence gathering services.”


  • Wylie offers testimony

    “Cambridge Analytica is the canary in the coal mine,” Wylie begins, saying that “data is the new electricty of our new economy” adding that “we can’t escape data.”

    Wylie warns that “online terms and conditions present users with a false choice. Americans can’t opt out of the 21st century.”

    The whistleblower says that Cambridge Analytica’s work is “not equivalent to traditional marketing” in that it worked to spread disinformation, rumors and propaganda. Wylie notes more controversial aspects of the firm’s practices including targeting African American voters and the employment of people closely related to WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

    Wylie also denied ever being part of Trump campaign or working on behalf of the campaign during his time at Cambridge Analytica.


  • Wylie and other witnesses take oath

    Wylie joins Tufts University Professor Eitan Hersh and Dr. Mark Jamison, Visiting Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute as witnesses before the committee.

    After some brief technical glitches with microphones in the hearing chamber, the testimony begins.


  • Feinstein on unknowns with Cambridge Analytica

    Ranking Democrat on the committee Sen. Dianne Feinstein says “we still do not know the extent to which it worked with hackers to illegally obtain information on candidates” or its connection to WikiLeaks and Russian entities

    She says that the future of data privacy will have a “significant impact on every aspect of our lives including our basic constitutional rights.”


  • Wylie on Cambridge Anlaytica investigation

    CBS News’ Alan He reports that Wylie, on the way into the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, was asked if he had spoken with DOJ following reports by the New York Times that the Justice Department and FBI would be investigating the data firm. He told reporters that he met with them and will continue to meet with them.


  • Wylie to testify before U.S. lawmakers

    Wylie’s first public appearance on Capitol Hill marks his most recent testimony since providing details on Cambridge Analytica’s practices to British lawmakers in parliament late March.

    Wylie also agreed to House Democrats’ request to provide relevant documents to the House Intelligence Committee.

Author: Emily Tillett, CBS News
SHARE