Former employee of Cambridge Analytica, Chris Wylie, confirms that Stephen Bannon “was deeply involved in the company’s strategy and approved spending nearly $1 million to acquire data, including Facebook profiles, in 2014,” in an interview with The Washington Post Tuesday. The purpose was to gather enormous amounts of data about American voters.
The effort began in 2014 as a high-tech form of voter persuasion sold by Cambridge Analytica. Under Bannon’s leadership, the company sought after anti-establishment messages that would ironically become central points in Donald Trump’s presidential political campaign. Wylie insists that, “Trump wasn’t in our consciousness at that moment; this was well before he became a thing. He wasn’t a client or anything.” Analytica was formed in 2013 and originally worked to support Ted Cruz but once he dropped out, moved to support Trump. Chris Wylie said among the messages tested were “drain the swamp,” referring to removal of career politicians in D.C. and “deep state”.
Cambridge Analytica is now facing possible charges of unethical practices mainly citing the firm’s improper handling of millions of Facebook users’ data. Just yesterday, the company’s board announced they were suspending Alexander Nix, the chief executive, after secret recordings were released showing him discussing entrapping political opponents. However, Wylie also states that Nix reported to Bannon and that they “had to get Bannon to approve everything at this point. Bannon was Alexander Nix’s boss.”
Along with the wealthy Mercer family’s financial backing, Bannon launched CA and served as the vice president and secretary of the company from 2014 until August 2016 when he became the chief executive for Trump’s campaign. He became Trump’s chief strategist in 2017. Bannon took more than $125,000 in consulting fees from CA in 2016 and had ownership in the company in the form of “membership units” worth between $1 million and $5 million.
It remains unclear whether Bannon knew exactly how the company was obtaining the Facebook data, which supposedly came from an app titled “thisisyourdigitallife” created by Cambridge University psychologist Aleksandr Kogan. Once downloaded on Facebook, the users granted CA the ability to access their data, but then the app also gathers the data of all of users’ friends. Bannon and Rebekah Mercer participated in conference calls around the time of the formation of the company where they discussed ways to gather Facebook data. Bannon and Mercer both did not fully understand all of the details regarding how to collect the data Wylie mentions, but he goes on to say Bannon, “approved the data-collection scheme we were proposing.”
Wylie begins to dive into the background of CA saying that he, a young data wiz at the time working for CA parent company SCL Group, Bannon, Nix and Mercer all met in 2013 to begin creating Campaign Analytica. They all met in Rebekah Mercer’s Manhattan apartment in the fall of 2013, resulting in a deal with Robert Mercer, Rebekah’s father, where he would pledge $10 million to fund the creation of Cambridge Analytica. Their hope of shaping the congressional elections by harnessing and analyzing data a year later was something of particular interest to Robert Mercer, according to Wylie.
Bannon, Nix, the Mercers and Cambridge Analytica all have declined to comment on their current predicament. Stay tuned as more information unfolds and be sure to read up on understanding just how user data can be as valuable a currency as money in this political atmosphere here.