The whistleblower who exposed the internal secrets of the Trump campaign’s election data firm Cambridge Analytica testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee today as Congress continues to struggle to understand the impact of the company’s political weaponization of data culled from millions of oblivious Facebook users.
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Christopher Wylie, the former Cambridge Analytica employee who alerted the world to his former employer’s collection and misuse of the Facebook user data, told the committee that his company had engaged in an active voter suppression campaign, offering services that aimed to discourage targeted portions of the American electorate from exercising their right to vote.
Wylie pointed to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, a vice president on the Cambridge Analytica board, as the person behind the initiative.
“Mr. Bannon sees cultural warfare as the means to create enduring change in American politics. It was for this reason Mr. Bannon engaged SCL (Cambridge Analytica’s parent company), a foreign military contractor, to build an arsenal of informational weapons he could deploy on the American population,” Wylie told the Judiciary Committee.
Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) followed up by asking Wylie if one of Bannon’s “goals was to suppress voting or discourage certain individuals in the US from voting.”
“That was my understanding, yes,” Wylie answered.
In an interview with CNN after the hearing, Wylie said that African Americans in particular were the target of the firm’s “voter disengagement tactics” to “discourage or demobilize certain types of people from voting.” He also claimed that Cambridge Analytica was hired by campaigns and political action committees with shadowy funding to help suppress certain groups’ votes.
During his testimony, Wylie also offered an explanation for how Russia could have accessed Facebook data on millions of American voters for their own documented propaganda efforts.
He pointed to Cambridge University professor Aleksandr Kogan who designed the personality test that Cambridge Analytica used to harvest data from Facebooks users and their friends. Kogan’s frequent trips to work with St. Petersburg University in Russia could have exposed his computer to hacking by Russian intelligence services.
Wylie said that his testimony is equally relevant for both political parties in the U.S., saying:
“Although Cambridge Analytica may have supported particular candidates in US elections, I am not here to point fingers. The firm’s political leanings are far less relevant than the broader vulnerabilities this scandal has exposed,” he explained in his written testimony.
While Cambridge Analytica has announced that it was shutting down its operations in light of the reputational damage that the firm has suffered since its activities were exposed, it remains under investigation by both the FBI and the Justice Department.
Even more disturbing, the right wing Mercer family has founded a new data firm, Emerdata, along with senior executives from Cambridge Analytica, essentially reconstituting the disgraced company under a different name.
With vote suppression having provided a critical margin of victory for President Trump in crucial states he won by razor thin margins, Cambridge Analytica’s ability to provide essential data on voters in specific precincts could have been the most significant factor in Trump’s unexpected victory.
If it turns out this was indeed the case, then Democrats will need to mount effective counter measures to bring people to the polls in November or face another devastatingly stolen election.
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