Cambridge Analytica, owned by Robert Mercer, is in the news, but other companies — like the Koch Brothers’ i360 and Karl Rove’s Data Trust — are far more dangerous, says investigative reporter Greg Palast
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
The scandal surrounding the activities of the data mining company Cambridge Analytica and its use of personal data from 50 million Facebook users continue to unfold. The whistleblower and former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie testified before Britain’s Parliament on Tuesday.
CHRISTOPHER WYLIE: 2016 was, you know, where I started looking at what this company was actually doing in the United States, and you know, coming to appreciate that the projects that I was working on may have had a much wider impact than I initially anticipated it would. And after Donald Trump got inaugurated, very shortly after that, that’s when he started working with Carol at the Guardian on, on reporting, and reporting some of the things that the company is doing. So I don’t think that military-style information operations is conducive for any democratic process, whether it’s a U.S. presidential or a local council race.
SHARMINI PERIES: There Wylie outlined how the company manipulated elections in Nigeria. He also said that Israeli software company Black Cube was involved and called the whole effort a privatized colonizing operation. A former Facebook manager also came forward recently saying that hundreds of millions of Facebook users probably had their data stolen in ways similar to the Cambridge Analytica case.
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Someone who has been warning about the extensive use and misuse of private data for manipulating and winning elections is Greg Palast. In a recent article he points out that Cambridge Analytica, which was owned in part by right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer, is a relative newcomer to this type of work, Palast says. Other companies such as i360, which is owned by Koch Brothers, and Data Trust, which is operated by Karl Rove, have been more extensive in their operations. Here’s a clip from one of Greg Palast’s videos about the story.
VIDEO: Data Trust, tracking over 1800 things about you, Mr. Voter, including the last time you downloaded porn, to whether you ordered Chinese food just before you voted.
I think that’s creepy.
Mark Sweetland is an expert for companies that live and die by their databases. i360, Data Trust have literally thousands of data points on you, Greg Palast, and on me, and on everybody who’s watching this film.
Wait, what’s this i360?
Their databases include trillions of data points on hundreds of millions of people.
SHARMINI PERIES: Joining me now to take a closer look at the world of private data mining is Greg Palast. He is an investigative reporter who has written for many publications, among them Rolling Stone and The Guardian. He also is the author of The New York Times best seller and the film with the same name, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.” Thanks for joining us, Greg.
GREG PALAST: Glad to be with you again.
SHARMINI PERIES: So Greg, most of the Cambridge Analytica story is about how the company gathered private information in order to generate psychological profiles and create targeted social media campaigns. However, you say that the things that the Koch brothers and i360 and Karl Rove’s company Data Trust, they are involved in more dangerous activity. What exactly are they doing, and why is it more dangerous?
GREG PALAST: Well, there’s really four big database operations that I’m very worried about. Cambridge Analytica is the newest, and probably the least sophisticated.
They took your Facebook profiles, which of course are kind of public documents and often include a lot of B.S. that you throw out there on the net. But the Kochs have a far more sophisticated operation called i360. And they track, as you heard in the little clip from my film, 1800 pieces of data on you dynamically and on a continuous basis. They basically know your credit card purchases, they know your cable viewing habits. This is a lot deeper into your guts and soul and privacy than even your Facebook profile from Cambridge Analytica. And also you have a very similar operation used by Karl Rove. That’s the guy that was known as Bush’s brain, though Bush calls him Turd Blossom. This is the, Karl Rove was the engineer of some of the creepiest and possibly illegal activities behind the Bush campaigns. He’s still out there with his own database operation called Data Trust, whose main client is the Republican National Committee.
These operations do more than grab some of your private information or just your Facebook profiles. Some of their activities have actually unquestionably bent elections not just by convincing you do things, you know, their idea is to try to zombify, you know, know everything about you and manipulate you. But sometimes they go way, way beyond that in their operations to win elections.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, these things that these companies can do could be divided into two categories, for our comprehension. One is voter suppression, with the help of Republican officials such as Chris Kobach, and who is Trump’s voter fraud appointee, and voter manipulation, which is a second category, via psychologically designed and targeted advertising and social media campaigns that they run. But let’s look at the use of this data for political campaigns for a moment. What do these campaigns of these companies who run these campaigns do that are any different from a regular advertising company?
GREG PALAST: Well, one, they’re targeting you because they know very personal things about you. They literally know, as Mark Sweetland says, we’re not making that up as an example, it’s really true. For example, i360 knows if you downloaded porn and then order Chinese food before you voted. They can use that information to manipulate how you vote. And by the way, deviously, whether you vote at all. They can convince you not to vote. That’s a real powerful tool that they have. That’s part of the game, is convincing you not to vote. So that’s one of things that they do. But they also-.
SHARMINI PERIES: Give us some examples of how, how they can do that.
GREG PALAST: Well, they can convince you. For example, a lot of the, lot of the targeting about Hillary Clinton was not to get you to vote for Trump but to get voters who, for example, voted for Bernie Sanders or others, to convince them not to vote at all. And that was very, very effective, for example, in Wisconsin, where according to a University of Wisconsin study, about 50000 people, mostly students in Madison County and Milwaukee, didn’t vote because they were convinced that, that Hillary was evil enough that it just didn’t matter. They may be crying now, but the but the-.
SHARMINI PERIES: They mainly convinced you that Hillary was going to win. Might as well stay home, don’t bother, and try to encourage apathy in terms of voting.
GREG PALAST: Encourage apathy and saying that your vote doesn’t matter. And that’s one of the things that they’re very good at. But the other is very, some of it’s not too subtle, OK. For example, in Wisconsin the Koch brothers, a spinoff from i360, one of the operators there working with Kochs sent out e-mails, and sent out social , sent out e-mails to people on their databases who own guns, who live in rural areas and normally vote by mail-in ballot. And they sent them messages saying, protect your guns. And these are also all Democrats. Protect your guns and vote. Make sure you send your absentee ballot to this address on this date. The address was wrong, and the date was too late to get your vote counted. So that was one way that Scott Walker, for example, won his against his recall in the recall referendum. Then they rolled it out. The same trick. Wrong date, wrong address for your absentee ballots to minority and Democratic voters in North Carolina. And then throughout the South.
So some of this is really fraudulently stealing your vote away. And that’s just, that was the i360 spinoff. Then you have Data Trust, which is Karl Rove’s operation. they used an operation which I uncovered working with the Guardian and BBC called caging. And what caging is is you send letters, Karl Rove used his databases to target, for example, students, black students in black colleges who were away from their school on summer vacation. They are registered, these were students registered, for example, in the swing state of Florida. And they knew that they weren’t at their at their voting addresses even though they are legal voters because they were home for the vacations. They sent letters. When the letters marked Do Not Forward came back to the Republican National Committee, those voters were challenge as not existing, and they lost their vote. They sent these letters as well to black soldiers and airmen at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station. They sent letters to men at homeless shelters you don’t always get their mail. And as a result they used, they used this information to challenge the right of those voters’ ballots to be counted. If they mailed them in their ballots would be junked. If they try to show up to vote they were blocked from voting. That’s the ugly, ugly and truly actually illegal use of these databases, and that’s just some examples we’ve uncovered.
SHARMINI PERIES: And now that this is known and there there’s a lot of eyes on this issue, how will this impact the 2018 elections coming up?
GREG PALAST: Well, I think that Cambridge Analytica, which is like I say, the least sophisticated, and they try to use brain massaging. By the way, they also use other tactics. One of the services that they offer, I just you know, is to is to say that they’ll set up your opponent, political opponent, with hookers and tape them. So it’s not just, they’ve got that database and then they would, of course, use their social networking thing to blow it all up. But it will have a huge impact on the 2018 election. A bigger impact on 2020.
And this includes other operations that these database guys are working on. One of them you mentioned, a guy Kris Kobach, secretary of state of Kansas. He is Trump’s what I call Vote Thief in Chief. He was officially appointed to run Trump’s so-called vote fraud commission. One of the databases he uses is a roll crosscheck, where he gives lists of voters he says are registered or actually vote in two states in a single election, which is illegal. He has claimed with Donald Trump that three million people voted twice, mostly voters of color. And I’m the only journalist to actually have, I have a copy of the of of his list of double voters. The three million double voters. And it’s people with names like Jose Garcia, and David Lee, and John Black. These are just common names of voters of color, but not, you know, obviously not common for Republicans.
But you’ll see names in this, for example, Maria Cristina Hernandez is supposed to be the same voter as Maria Inez Hernandez. That person is supposed to be the same voter who voted one in Virginia and one in Georgia. That’s their claim. And those voters named Garcia and Hernandez lose their vote. On that list, two million of those accused voters, people accused of voting twice, don’t have the same middle name. Two million people accused don’t have the same middle name, and they are removing, this is important, they’re actually removing hundreds of thousands of people from the voter rolls as we speak. In fact without, without this game, this database game called Crosscheck, which is Trump and Kobach’s database, Trump would not have won in 2016.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, it’s very interesting. Where do you take these challenges in the United States? In other countries of course there is a national electoral commission, or national electoral councils where we can large these complaints and try to have them dealt with. What happens in the U.S.?
GREG PALAST: The problem of vote theft is that the thieves become the sheriffs. Or the number one agency to protect your vote is the United States Justice Department voting rights division. That’s under the control of Jeff Beauregard Sessions, who has said we don’t even need a Voting Rights Act. These people oppose the Voting Rights Act. The last thing they want to do is enforce the Voting Rights Act. And so, and so therefore you have the people who are supposed to be protecting us from vote thievery, they’re the people that are stealing away your vote. This is very, very dangerous stuff. And now it’s gone into the area of accusing, of using databases. In fact, the latest scam, and this is important, is this new question about citizenship on the census, that they’re returning to the census to ask how many people in your household are non-citizens. That was created, again, by the same guy, Kris Kobach of Kansas. Donald Trump’s Vote Thief in Chief. And I understand that Kobach has claimed, and his buddy Donald Trump has repeated, that one million aliens have voted in our election. One million. And to prove it what he wants to do is take your answers on the census form, and say someone, if you’re in the Hernandez household, say three people in the Hernandez house household are non-citizens. That doesn’t mean illegal aliens, people with green cards, that they are non-citizens in the household. Everyone in that household is going to have their vote challenged and you’ll have to prove you are a citizen. Which is not so easy, because we don’t have citizenship cards in the United States. Remember, a Social Security card, a driver’s license doesn’t help.
So again, here they want to use the database trick by using, now that they’ve got control of government they don’t need Cambridge Analytica. They don’t need i360. They got control the government. So what they want to do is use the census to create a hit list of supposed alien voters that they will then challenge in the 2020 election. This is deadly serious misuse of databases. That’s what that whole citizenship business is about. And that’s the hidden agenda. And in fact the White House has said one question Why do you want this citizenship question. They have said to enforce the Voting Rights Act. It has to do with voting. Kris Kobach has said this idea came from him. And his intent was to use it to match census answers to your voter registration. And that’s really, really dangerous stuff. You’re going to see a million votes, I kid you not, because that’s their own estimate, that 1 million voters will be challenged before the 2020 election.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. And Greg, finally, one more question. Let’s turn to how these companies that we were talking about earlier used this tactics, these tactics, in other countries. We now know that they have been employed in the Brexit vote, for example, as well as in the presidential elections in Kenya and Nigeria. What can you tell us about the international scope of these operations?
GREG PALAST: It’s serious stuff. Because if it were simply a matter of targeted advertising, convince you to vote for their candidate, that’s all right.
But Cambridge Analytica has been, their, their chiefs were caught on tape by Channel 4, one of the outlets I work with, by Channel 4 investigators in Britain, saying that they will create fake news about your opponent and use their social networking abilities and use their particular targeting of individuals, their social networking habits, to spread fake news about your opponent. And they said we can do it in a way that no one will know that we’ve been involved. They said they successfully did this already in other countries. We don’t even know how many countries because they make a point of keeping their involvement hidden. This is very, very scary stuff. They are deliberately creating, Donald Trump’s screaming about fake news, but he employed the fake news generator. That’s the big problem. That’s one of the very big problems of Cambridge Analytica, and I know that we have that same problem with Data Trust, i360, and some of the others.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Greg Palast, I thank you so much for the important work you do, and for joining us today.
GREG PALAST: Thank you so much.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.