Posts Tagged ‘Steve Bannon’

John Bolton: The Man We Love to Hate — Try to fathom John Bolton’s fiendish cruelty

April 2, 2018

Al Jazeera

 

Only by restoring to the realms of film, fiction, and myth we can try to fathom John Bolton’s fiendish cruelty.

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John Bolton: The man from the underground

You just have to see the toxic terror in the face, voice, and deranged ideas of this man to believe it, writes Dabashi [AP]
You just have to see the toxic terror in the face, voice, and deranged ideas of this man to believe it, writes Dabashi [AP]

John Bolton is a sick man … He is a spiteful man. He is an unattractive man. I believe John Bolton’s liver is diseased. However, he knows nothing at all about his disease and does not know for certain what ails him.

Yes, you guessed correctly, I am reworking Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s opening lines in his masterpiece, Notes from the Underground (1864). Ever since I heard that John Bolton, yet another warmonger, had been appointed to a position of power in the White House – the most dangerous house on planet Earth – I have been aghast at the thought, and bewildered at how to digest this latest apocalyptic news. The only apt, soothing words I could find are these sentiments from Notes from the Underground. I have no clue if this “Russian Probe” thing extends to Russian literature or not and if we are allowed to rely on such literary gems to try to fathom our predicament.

So, yes, I do believe John Bolton’s liver is bad, and he wishes to let it get even worse! 

It is impossible to understand the venomous bile boiling in the twisted mind and tormented soul of a person like John Bolton, or Steve Bannon, or Sebastian Gorka, without resorting to film, fiction, poetry, metaphysics, myth or particularly cartoon characters. 

The toxic terror of John Bolton

You just have to experience the toxic terror in the face, voice, and deranged ideas of this man to believe it. In any other sane and civilised society, John Bolton would be arrested, tried for crimes against humanity for his role in the Iraq war, placed in a straightjacket and put away in an asylum. But not in the US. In the US, he is appointed to the highest offices of trust, advising the lunatic charlatan that Americans have elected as their president.

This degree of arrogance, combined with incurable ignorance, underlined by a harebrained conviction in one’s take on the world, simply defies reason. One must resort to cartoons or fictional characters to even come close. For nowhere else in the world, nowhere in history, do we come across creatures like John Bolton – so astonishingly ignorant, so oblivious to this ignorance, and yet so bewilderingly assured of their fanatical convictions. He knows nothing about nothing, cares to know nothing about anything, and yet speaks his ignorance with alarming conviction. As such, he is possessed of uniquely American brand of stupidity that requires analogies to works of fiction to fully comprehend.

In the same way that Osama Bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are the cartoonish sketches of Muslim world conquerors, John Bolton, Steve Bannon, and Michael Flynn are the ridiculous gestations of medieval crusaders and subsequent conquistadors.

I know nothing of John Bolton’s childhood or teenage years. But I am absolutely certain Joffrey Baratheon from the popular TV series, Games of Thrones, is a close approximation of the sick disposition of this creature. Do you remember that treacherous charlatan, Walder Frey, at the infamous Red Wedding? That was John Bolton in his dotage. And of course, Bolton has a namesake on the fictional continent of Westeros: that sick bastard, Ramsay Bolton. John Bolton is Ramsey Bolton who has been brought back to life by Melisandre to wreak havoc on the world.

I find myself racing from film to literature to cartoons to try to understand this John Bolton character. The real pathology of John Bolton, I now believe, is actually captured by two cartoon characters. He sees himself as Yosemite Sam, the aggressive gunslinging cowboy with a hair-trigger temper and intense hatred of Iranians and other Muslims. But in reality, he is the clueless Elmer J Fudd, always out to hunt Muslim Bugs but ending up hurting himself and those dumber than he.

We have, ladies and gentlemen, exited the realm of reality and entered an animated simulation of our humanity, led by Donald Trump, who is today the crowning achievement of American (indeed “Western”) liberal democracy.

In search of new metaphors

John (Ramsay) Bolton is usually described as a “hawk”. What a calamitous comparison! That beautiful, gentle, graceful bird minding his own solitary business in the skies, wasted as a metaphor for an ugly ogre!

Bolton and his ilk are neither hawks nor doves. Let those precious birds be and look for alternative metaphors for these noxious gases American democracy keeps emitting into our endangered environment and the very air we breathe.

Let me shift gears and try to think historically. People like John Bolton are neo-Crusaders, militant warriors in the cause of Christian imperialism that they think is their “manifest destiny” to advance. Their love for Israel is straight out of their Christian Zionist hatred of the Jews and Muslims alike – a deeply rooted Christian anti-Semitism that remains entirely medieval in its dark and diabolic zealotry.

In their Christian zealotry, they are identical or worse than those Islamist cannibals of  ISIL (also known as ISIS). The sick fanaticism that animates John Bolton, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Nikki Haley, etc etc, is not to be confused by Christianity at large. The liberation theology that has emerged from Latin America with such towering theologians and philosophers as Gustavo Gutierrez and Enrique Dussel is the perfect example that exposes the pathological evangelical Zionism rooted in the United States. In this frame, John Bolton and Steve Bannon are modelled on Guy of Lusignan, as cast by Sir Ridley Scott in his film, Kingdom of Heaven (2005).

Cartoonish criminals, East and West

The cartoonish character and criminal lunacy of people like John Bolton are to be understood as a particularly American ailment, which, along with their boss Donald Trump are symptoms of a deadly virus now endangering the planet Earth. This deadly virus is not accidental to liberal democracy. It is definitive and foundational to it.

American democracy began with the slaughter of the Native Americans, continued with the prolonged history of African slavery, was enriched on the broken backs of successive migrant labour and is now exposing all its related pathologies for the whole world to see by electing a racist warmonger who hates just about anything he fails to understand.

What John Bolton represents is a fanatical fusion of militarism and thinly secularised Christianity animating each other. The history of Christianity is, of course, not alien to this dangerous liaison and, both during the crusades and subsequently, in the course of the conquest of “the New World”, the world has seen many John Boltons and Steve Bannons. Islam has of course not been immune to such dangerous delusions. In the same way that Osama Bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are the cartoonish sketches of Muslim world conquerors, John Bolton, Steve Bannon, and Michael Flynn are the ridiculous gestations of medieval crusaders and subsequent conquistadors.

Menacing tinderboxes like John Bolton, Steve Bannon, Osama Bin Laden, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are triumphalist Christian and Muslim lunatics at each other’s throats – with the fate of the entire planet at the mercy of their dangerous delusions. The fact that we must resort to the realms of film, literature and fanatically dark episodes in human history to try to grasp the scope their fiendish cruelty marks the precise twilight zone where “Western democracy” is bidding farewell to an entire history of philosophical fantasies.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/john-bolton-man-underground-180402075258950.html

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Facebook has gotten too big for Mark Zuckerberg — “In over his head…”

March 23, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg is not comfortable with the enormous influence he has over the world.

During his apology tour this week for the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Zuckerberg lent support to the idea of regulating Facebook and admitted he’d rather not be the person making content policy decisions for the world.

But he pushed back on one thing: Facebook’s immense power.

Image result for Mark Zuckerberg, photos

When CNN’s Laurie Segall asked if Facebook (FB) had become “too powerful,” Zuckerberg responded: “I don’t think so.”

“The reason why we’ve succeeded as a company is because we serve people and give people power,” Zuckerberg said. “The day that we stop doing that, we’ll stop being a relevant company.”

Zuckerberg argued that history shows any list of “the biggest [companies] in any given industry” will inevitably change “ten years later, or ten years after that.”

And yet, at this moment, Facebook isn’t just on the list, but nearly unrivaled in its dominance. It has billions of users and tremendous influence over the media and advertising industries. It also has no obvious direct competitor who can take it down thanks to years of acquiring and cloning newer social media companies.

“It influences how more than 2 billion around the world people see, think, and feel. I can’t think of an institution that has close to that power, with the possible exception of Google,” says Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia and author of a forthcoming book on Facebook’s impact on democracy.

“For Mark Zuckerberg to deny that,” he added, “is insulting.”

Related: Zuckerberg opens the door to testifying before Congress

Facebook is widely considered one of the “big four” tech companies, along with Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN) and Google’s parent company, Alphabet (GOOGL). Like others in this group, Facebook has the ability to upend new industries overnight — and perhaps upend society itself.

News broke last weekend that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign, reportedly accessed information from about 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge.

Facebook has faced other controversies over user data and privacy, but the stakes have grown with the platform’s influence. This time, it wasn’t simply a matter of selling ads, but potentially swaying an election.

Once again, Facebook was forced to account for its role in the 2016 election after what was already a bruising year full of stories about fake newsforeign election meddling and filter bubbles.

“Any company that can influence a US presidential election without being aware that it is doing so is demonstrably too powerful,” Roger McNamee, Zuckerberg’s former mentor and a venture capitalist, told CNN by email.

Brian Wieser, an analyst who tracks Facebook for Pivotal Research Group, says the real issue plaguing the company may not be whether it’s too powerful so much as whether it became powerful too fast.

“It looks like a problem that has emerged is that they may have become big and powerful too quickly, without ensuring their foundations were solid enough to withstand the growth they have had,” Wieser told CNN.

Dex Torricke-Barton, a former speechwriter for Zuckerberg and former executive communications manager for Facebook, disagrees that the company is too powerful. But the idea that it is does create a genuine challenge for Facebook, he said.

“The perception that Facebook is all-powerful places an unfair burden on the company,” he said. “The challenges of misinformation, fake news and bad online actors didn’t begin with Facebook, and can’t be solved by Facebook alone.”

CNN Exclusive: Zuckerberg apologizes
CNN Exclusive: Zuckerberg apologizes

Zuckerberg may play down how powerful Facebook is, but his interviews this week highlight his clear discomfort with the responsibility he now has, not just to make products, but to make policies with global impact.

“I feel fundamentally uncomfortable sitting here in California in an office making content policy decisions for people around the world,” Zuckerberg told Re/code. “[The] thing is like, ‘Where’s the line on hate speech?’ I mean, who chose me to be the person that did that? I guess I have to, because of [where we are] now, but I’d rather not.”

In the CNN interview, Zuckerberg said if anyone had told him when he founded Facebook in 2004 that he’d one day be battling state actors, “I wouldn’t have really believed that that would be something I’d have to work on 14 years later.”

 http://money.cnn.com/2018/03/23/news/companies/facebook-power-data/index.html
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How Facebook and Google threaten public health – and democracy

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/11/facebook-google-public-health-democracy

Zuckerberg Says Facebook Probe Into Apps Won’t Uncover All Data Abuse — “tens of thousands of apps” — “Like any security precaution, it’s not bulletproof.”

March 23, 2018

In interview, chief executive says the company will investigate tens of thousands of apps; describes probe as a ‘deterrent’ rather than solution

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said the investigation would cost ‘many millions of dollars.’
Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said the investigation would cost ‘many millions of dollars.’ PHOTO: JOSH EDELSON/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Facebook Inc.’s investigation into outsiders’ handling of its users’ information will help identify and deter bad actors but won’t be able to uncover where all the data ended up and how it is being deployed, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday.

Facebook will examine tens of thousands of apps that collected large amounts of user data, an effort that may cost “many millions of dollars,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in an interview.

Facebook will dispatch auditors to analyze the servers of developers who scooped up a suspicious amount of data, and interrogate them about their business practices. It isn’t clear how many apps will need audits—which Facebook expects will be most expensive part of the process—and Facebook still doesn’t know whether its investigation will take a matter of months or longer to complete, Mr. Zuckerberg said.

“Like any security precaution, it’s not that this is a bulletproof solve,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “It’s not that any process by itself is ever going to find every single thing,” but it will be a strong deterrent to stop developers who are “doing bad things” and help Facebook track down what users’ data was mishandled, he added.

“The real point of what we’re trying to do is to make it a lot harder for anybody to misuse the data,” he said.

The comments underscore the challenge confronting Facebook as it seeks to quell a controversy that has knocked its stock price lower and triggered renewed  calls for governments to better regulate technology businesses that hold mountains of information about their users. It is notoriously difficult to track down and secure personal information once it has been unleashed online, experts and former Facebook employees say.

Mr. Zuckerberg reiterated his openness to regulation requiring more disclosure about online advertising—an area Facebook is already working on.

“There’s no reason why the internet advertising industry should have a lower transparency standard than print or TV ads,” he said. But he didn’t say other specific areas where Facebook would be open to more regulation.

Over the past 18 months, Facebook has promised to hire more content moderators and security experts to help the company handle its various challenges. Mr. Zuckerberg said the company’s artificial intelligence tools will help Facebook bolster its human-review process.

“Because of the tools that we have…we can get leverage and we hire 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 people and that is a reasonable amount,” he said.

Why It Feels Like Facebook Is Listening Through Your Mic

Conspiracy theorists think Facebook has tapped your phone’s microphone to target ads by listening to your conversations. Truth is, it doesn’t have to. WSJ’s Joanna Stern explains how Facebook really keeps tabs on you.
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Facebook’s current crisis began last Friday, when it said it was looking into reports that data-analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, which worked with the Trump campaign in 2016, retained Facebook user data obtained by Aleksandr Kogan, a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge, years after the parties certified to Facebook that the records had been expunged.

Mr. Kogan collected the data by creating a personality-quiz app in 2013 that plugged directly into Facebook’s platform.

At the time, the social-media company’s platform allowed outsiders access to extensive data about its users as well as their Facebook connections. By 2015, Facebook had severely restricted the amount of data available to outsiders, but by then app developers like Mr. Kogan already had data about Facebook users in hand.

It isn’t clear how many other developers might have done the same.

Many of the offending apps may no longer exist and it is hard to pin down how much of the data they collected was copied or distributed or where those copies might exist.

Mr. Zuckerberg said, internally, company officials discussed whether “there are enough trained audit teams in the world to go audit the number of apps that were using our platform.”

Write to Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com

Appeared in the March 23, 2018, print edition as ‘Zuckerberg Sees Limits To Probe at Facebook.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/zuckerberg-says-facebook-probe-into-apps-wont-uncover-all-data-abuse-1521775456

See also:

Next Worry for Facebook: Disenchanted Users

https://www.wsj.com/articles/next-worry-for-facebook-disenchanted-users-1521717883

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How to delete facebook PHOTO credit NASIR KACHROO-ZUMA PRESS

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How Facebook and Google threaten public health – and democracy

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/11/facebook-google-public-health-democracy

Manipulators of human behavior are already planning the next algorithm: Trump, Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the Rise of 1984

March 22, 2018

Haaretz

As the U.S. President astounds the world by kowtowing to Putin, more details emerge of the Russian-style black ops that may have gotten him elected in the first place

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A woman poses in front of a computer displaying the Facebook logo in Mill Valley, California on March 21, 2018. 
A public apology by Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg failed on March 22, 2018, to quell outrage over the hijacking of personal data from millions of people, as critics demanded the social media giant go much further to protect privacy. But with pressure ratcheting up on the 33-year-old CEO over a scandal that has wiped around $60 billion (48 billion euros) off Facebook's value, the initial response suggested his promise of self-regulation had failed to convince. / AFP PHOTO / JOSH EDELSON
A woman poses in front of a computer displaying the Facebook logo in Mill Valley, California on March 21, 2018. A public apology by Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg failed on March 22, 2018, to quell oJOSH EDELSON/AFP

The annals of Cambridge Analytica can serve as a prologue for a novel about a dystopian future. The activities of the company, funded by algorithm-trading whiz Robert Mercer and directed by nationalism’s champion Steve Bannon, offer a peek to an Orwellian world run by oligarchs and business empires, in which reality is virtual, public opinion is malleable and democracy is nothing but a sham.

In this dystopian world, privacy is non-existent. Hi-tech and information conglomerates know everything there is to know about people, from their innermost inhibitions through their sexual preferences to their favorite kind of strawberry yogurt. Sophisticated algorithms, of the kind that made Mercer the most successful e-trader in the world, can analyze and categorize trillions of terabytes of personal information and then predict with 99.9% accuracy how people will react to any given situation or slogan. A few ringmasters – Mercer and Bannon, for example – sit in a secluded room and decide on strategy; then the scientists, computers, algorithms and artificial intelligence create the virtual reality that will envelop voters as well as the messages and slogans that will rile them up sufficiently to ensure they cast their ballot for the man sent in to do the job; In this case, if dystopia is already upon us, Donald Trump.

The Cambridge Analytica (CA) affair focused the media this week on Facebook, which interests everyone, including an Israeli government privacy protection agency that announced it is launching its own investigation. Turns out the magical marketing formula that made Mark Zuckerberg emperor of the world – the use of Facebook users’ data to sell them stuff – can also be exploited by political manipulators, including Cambridge Analytica, which specializes in psychological warfare, dissemination of fake news, rabble-rousing without leaving a trace and in persuading some voters to sit it out while pushing others into the voting booth.

The fact that Facebook enabled CA to collect the private data of 50 million users, against the company’s own guidelines and despite being repeatedly warned, has attracted the attention of investigators, politicians and the media in the U.S., Great Britain, Europe and now Israel, who are suddenly joining long time crusaders against the abuse of Facebook’s lucrative data bank. Most are citing the principled need to protect privacy and democracy, but after Facebook previously admitted that it provided a platform for a separate Russian black-ops operation against Clinton and for Trump, the Cambridge Analytica caper casts Zuckerberg as playing a significant if not critical role in the election of Donald Trump. In the eyes of many of the President’s critics, that’s a crime far worse than simply distorting democracy.

The ostensibly deposed director of CA, Alexander Nix boasts that his company is responsible for Trump’s victory. Many mavens dispute his account but it provides a plausible explanation, at the very least, for Trump’s win, which remains as inconceivable today as it was on November 8, 2016. The data mining and manipulating company, or one of its lookalike competitors, concocted scandals that distanced voters from Clinton and manufactured media storms that pushed others into Trump’s arms. It also pinpointed and micro-targeted the remote counties of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania with the 70,000 votes that would make all the difference. Finally, in the waning days of the campaign, and to the amazement of anyone who thought they knew anything about politics, the strategists sent in Trump himself, to seal the deal.

“Without Mercer, Trump wouldn’t be President,” as one of his former associates at his Renaissance Technologies hedge fund told the New Yorker. The reclusive billionaire, who can be described as an anarchist capitalist with a slight racist tinge, recruited the no-less revolutionary Bannon at the start of the decade, before Trump became a candidate. Together they navigated Citizens United to open the floodgates of corporate dollars into election campaigns; together they took over Breitbart News, providing a platform for vicious invective against Clinton and Barack Obama and for their own inflammatory brand of white nationalism; together they injected the psychographic tactics of Cambridge Analytica and others of its ilk in a way that, according to this rendering of events, paved Trump’s way to the White House.

In 2016, Mercer seemed to initially back Texas Senator Ted Cruz, but based on the testimony of CA whistleblower Christopher Wylie, perhaps it was just for show. Bannon had already discussed the idea of running with Trump before the 2012 elections. Cambridge Analytica was testing out slogans that would serve as Trump’s 1-2 punch in the campaign a year and a half before he announced his candidacy. By that time, CA had already contacted several of Trump’s future advisers, including campaign manager Paul Manafort, indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for fraud and various financial crimes, some in the service of the deposed, pro-Putin Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych.

Cambridge Analytica provides one of possible meeting grounds between the Trump campaign and the black arts of disinformation and brainwashing that Russia has always excelled in. Robert Mueller is reportedly probing the links between CA and the Trump campaign and he will probably look into the company’s previous ties to Russia as well. The British government is also investigating reports of CA crimes and misdemeanors in the LeaveIt! campaign the firm ran before the Brexit referendum, with the blessings of Brexit-aficionado Bannon; Theresa May’s motivation to find a hidden link to Russia was undoubtedly fortified by the row that has broken out between London and Moscow over the attempt to murder former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

Mercer and Bannon’s partner and project manager at Cambridge Analytica, SCL – which also offered psy-ops operations to armies and secret services – was owned for many years by a Ukrainian oligarch allied with Putin. CA had extensive but inexplicable contacts with energy giant Lukoil, also owned by a billionaire owned by the Kremlin. And the private data of the 50 million Facebook users was sold to CA by Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan, who is a story unto himself.

Kogan developed the social app thisisyourdigitallife that enticed users to test their personalities in exchange for access to the private Facebook data of their friends. The 270,000 Facebook members who took the bait opened the door for Kogan to the private data of their 50 million friends, which he then sold to Cambridge Analytica. His colleagues at Cambridge, some of whom had worked with SCL, immediately dissociated themselves from Kogan, as did his prestigious university, which still carries remains of the stain left by the Cambridge Five, one of the greatest spy scandals of the 20th century. Kogan claims he is a scapegoat but he does so, one must admit, with a distinct Russian accent, which, in this context, is grotesquely comical. Kogan, who was born in Moldova and emigrated to the U.S. with his parents, is named after his grandfather Alexander Borosovich Kogan who, in another stretch of credulity, set up a research institute for ‘psychokinetics’ in 1971 in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. After initially devoting itself to researching control of mind over matter, a favorite Soviet preoccupation, the institute is now more interested in control of mind over behavior, which grandson Kogan and Cambridge Analytica espouse.

Coincidentally or not, Kogan also tried to make light of his close ties to the University of St. Petersburg and to his participation in some of its researches that were funded by the Russian government. But the most bizarre detail about Kogan is his abrupt and short-lived change of name to what is apparently his wife’s maiden name, Spectre. “This is Doctor Spectre,” he would announce, in a thick Russian accent, trying to solicit clients for his private firm Global Science Research. Perhaps he wanted to escape the Russian-Jewish identification of his name, perhaps it was a Freudian slip and perhaps Kogan has a macabre Russian sense of humor: SPECTRE, after all, is the name of the ultra-national rogue organization pursued by James Bond and headed by that reclusive evil genius, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who pulls the world’s strings and pits the United States and then Soviet Union against each other so that his criminal ventures will triumph.

Trump supporters will claim this is all baloney, fantastical half-truths mixed with fake news, a smear campaign with which the liberal media and old establishment seek to destabilize and then depose Trump. Most people are probably wishing for an outcome that is neither here nor there, something that will enable everyone to sleep soundly at night and get on with their lives. Nonetheless, in a week in which – contrary to his advisers’ caution, to reasonable logic and to the reaction expected from the leader of the free world – Trump kowtowed to Putin instead of telling him off and refused to even mention the nerve gas incident that has outraged the Western world, it’s hard to escape thoughts about the worst possible conclusions from the CA affair:

That Mercer funded and Bannon planned and Russia supplied the expertise and knowhow that put Trump in the White House. That Trump, even if he was completely oblivious at the time, realizes today that he owes his job to Putin and, worse, that the Russian President can bring his presidency crashing to the ground at any minute by leaking damning info, accurate or fabricated, about the purported collusion and collaboration. And that against the hope that this is just an errant phase that will see America and democracy rebound in no time, there is the realization that in some godforsaken secret laboratory the manipulators of human behavior are already planning the next algorithm that will ensure that the world remain on track to 1984, with Trump or without him.

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/trump-facebook-cambridge-analytica-and-the-rise-of-1984-1.5936789

Psychometrics: How Facebook data helped Trump find his voters — Hillary Clinton had the FBI and Justice Department Going for Her But Forgot Facebook?

March 21, 2018

AFP

© AFP / by Paul HANDLEY | Powered by Facebook: President Donald Trump on the night of his 2016 election victory, which was helped by a massive social media database

WASHINGTON (AFP) – It was one of hundreds of cute questionnaires that were shared widely on Facebook and other social media, like “Which Pokeman Are You?” and “What Are Your Most Used Words?”This one, an app called “thisismydigitallife”, was a personality quiz, asking questions about how outgoing a person is, how vengeful one can be, whether one finishes projects, worries a lot, likes art, or is talkative.

About 320,000 people took the quiz, designed by a man named Alexsandr Kogan.

Kogan was contracted to do it by a company called Cambridge Analytica, founded by US Republican supporters including Steve Bannon, who would become the strategist for Donald Trump.

Because Kogan’s app was circulated via Facebook, it reaped far more than just the information on those who took the test. At the time, in 2015, such apps could scrape up all the personal details of not only the quiz-taker, but all their Facebook friends.

That ultimately became a horde of data on some 50 million Facebook users — their personal information, their likes, their places, their pictures, and their networks.

Marketers use such information to pitch cars, clothes, and vacations with targeted ads. It was used in earlier elections by candidates to identify potential supporters.

But for Kogan and Cambridge it was a much bigger goldmine. They used it for psychological profiling of US voters, creating a powerful database that helped carry Trump to victory in the 2016 presidential election.

The data let the Trump campaign know more than perhaps anyone has ever known about Facebook users, creating targeted ads and messaging that could play on their individual biases, fears and loves — effectively creating a bond between them and the candidate.

– Psychometric profiling –

The project was based on the work of a former Cambridge scientist, Michal Kosinski, who studies people based on what information they generate on line.

Kosinski and fellow researcher David Stillwell had for several years tapped into Facebook for psychometric profiling using their own personality test app, “myPersonality”.

The app accumulated six million test results, along with users’ Facebook profiles, and their friends’ profiles, in a powerful research database.

In 2015 they published a study carrying the bold title: “Computer-based personality Judgments are more accurate than those made by humans.”

They showed, for example, that they could divine a fairly accurate psychometric portrait of a person using only their Facebook “likes”.

“Computers outpacing humans in personality Judgment presents significant opportunities and challenges in the areas of psychological assessment, marketing, and privacy,” they wrote.

Kosinski would not share the database with Kogan and Cambridge Analytica, reportedly knowing it would be used for a political campaign.

But Kogan created his own app quiz and, through that, amassed the database on 50 million people that would be the backbone of Trump’s social media campaign.

Facebook now says Kogan did that illegally. And it has since also restricted apps from such broad data collection on friend networks.

– Powerful results —

But Cambridge Analytica proved that Kosinski’s methods were powerful.

They started with the standard psychological profiling test known as Big Five or OCEAN, which measures five traits: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

The test-taker answers a list of statements like “I am someone who tends to be organized” or “who rarely feels excited” or “has few artistic interests,” using a scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”.

Those basic results were combined with the data raked from Facebook profiles and friend networks, associating longer lists of traits.

For example, to categorize voters, an algorithm could find links between “agreeableness” or “neuroticism” and gender, age, religion, hobbies, travel, specific political views, and a host of other variables.

The data generated an incredible 4,000 or more data points on each US voter, according to Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive before he was suspended on Tuesday.

The power of psychographic data, experts say, is not in the granularity itself, but in combining data to make significant correlations about people — something with requires powerful computer algorithms.

Ultimately, it allowed the campaign to know far more about voters than anyone ever has before.

The output was put to work in what Nix called “behavioral microtargeting” and “psychographic messaging”.

More simply said, the campaign could put out messages, news and images via Facebook and other social media that was finely targeted to press the right buttons on an individual that would push them into Trump’s voter base.

For Trump, it worked.

“If you know the personality of the people you’re targeting, you can nuance your messaging to resonate more effectively with those key audience groups,” Nix said in a 2016 presentation.

by Paul HANDLEY
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Cambridge Analytica, Trump and 50 Million Facebook Accounts: What You Need to Know

March 20, 2018

Cambridge Analytica obtained data on million Facebook users via means that deceived both the users and Facebook to create Trump campaign’s ‘secret sauce’

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(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 27, 2018 A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament's Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) on February 27, 2018 shows Chief Executive, Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, giving evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of members of parliament on the subject of fake news at the Houses of Parliament in London on February 27, 2018. Cambridge Analytica is a private company for strategic communication and data analysis at the heart of a scandal over the use of personal data collected on Facebook. A subsidiary of Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), Cambridge Analytica (CA) has offices in New York, Washington and London and is directed by Alexander Nix. / AFP PHOTO / PRU / HO / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT " AFP PHOTO / PRU " - NO USE FOR ENTERTAINMENT, SATIRICAL, MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 27, 2018 A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) on February 27, 2018 shows Chief Executive Alexander Nix, CambridgHO/AFP

British data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica is at the center of controversy in the United States and Britain after two newspapers reported on Sunday that the company harvested personal data about Facebook users beginning in 2014.

Best known for assisting the 2016 presidential campaign of U.S. President Donald Trump, Cambridge Analytica is now facing a government search of its London office, questions from U.S. state authorities, and a demand by Facebook that it submit to a forensic audit.

Here is some of what is known about the company.

How did it start? 

Cambridge Analytica is an offshoot of SCL Group, a government and military contractor that says it works on everything from food security research to counter-narcotics to political campaigns. SCL was founded more than 25 years ago, according to its website.

Cambridge Analytica was created around 2013 initially with a focus on U.S. elections, with $15 million in backing from billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer and a name chosen by future Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon, the New York Times reported.

The company, which the New York Times reported was staffed by mostly British workers then, assisted Republican Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign before helping Trump’s.

What do they do? 

Cambridge Analytica markets itself as providing consumer research, targeted advertising and other data-related services to both political and corporate clients.

It does not list its corporate clients but on its website describes them as including a daily newspaper that wanted to know more about its subscribers, a women’s clothing brand that sought research on its customers and a U.S. auto insurer interested in marketing itself.

Britain’s Channel 4 News reported on Monday, based on secretly recorded video, that Cambridge Analytica secretly stage-managed Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaigns in the hotly contested 2013 and 2017 elections. Cambridge Analytica denied the report.

Cambridge Analytica Uncovered: Secret filming reveals election tricksChannel 4 News

The company’s website lists five office locations in New York, Washington, London, Brazil and Malaysia.

When did it first get attention? 

After Trump won the White House in 2016, in part with the firm’s help, Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix went to more clients to pitch his services, the Times reported last year. The company boasted it could develop psychological profiles of consumers and voters which was a “secret sauce” it used to sway them more effectively than traditional advertising could.

Rival consultants and campaign aides, though, expressed doubts about the company’s claims. Brad Parscale, who ran Trump’s digital operations in 2016, said the campaign did not use Cambridge Analytica’s data, relying instead on voter data from a Republican National Committee operation.

What is it accused of? 

Cambridge Analytica beginning in 2014 obtained data on 50 million Facebook users via means that deceived both the users and Facebook, the New York Times and London’s Observer reported on Saturday.

The data was harvested by an application developed by a British academic, Aleksandr Kogan, the newspapers said. Some 270,000 people downloaded the application and logged in with their Facebook credentials, according to Facebook. The application gathered their data and data about their friends, and then Kogan passed the data to Cambridge Analytica, according to both Cambridge Analytica and Facebook.

Cambridge Analytica said on Saturday that it did not initially know Kogan violated Facebook’s terms, and that it deleted the data once it found out in 2015. Kogan could not be reached for comment.

The data, though, was not deleted, the two newspapers reported on Saturday. Cambridge Analytica said that the allegation was not true. Facebook said it was investigating to verify the accuracy of the claim.

What happens next?

Facebook said it was pressing Cambridge Analytica for answers, after getting assurances from the firm in 2015 that it had deleted all data. Facebook has hired forensic auditors from the firm Stroz Friedberg to help.

While Facebook investigates, the social network said it was suspending Cambridge Analytica, its parent SCL, Kogan and another man, Christopher Wylie, formerly of Cambridge Analytica, from its platform for violating Facebook rules.

Facebook’s probe, though, may have to wait until government authorities complete their investigation. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office is pursuing a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s office and asked Facebook’s auditors to stand down in the meantime, according to Facebook.

Attorneys general from the U.S. states of Massachusetts and Connecticut have launched investigations into how the Facebook data was handled, and the attorney general’s office in California, where Facebook is based, said it had concerns.

Related:

How Facebook and Google threaten public health – and democracy

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/11/facebook-google-public-health-democracy

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: ‘We spent $1m harvesting millions of Facebook profiles’

March 20, 2018

For more than a year we’ve been investigating Cambridge Analytica and its links to the Brexit Leave campaign in the UK and Team Trump in the US presidential election. Now, 28-year-old Christopher Wylie goes on the record to discuss his role in hijacking the profiles of millions of Facebook users in order to target the US electorate

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The first time I met Christopher Wylie, he didn’t yet have pink hair. That comes later. As does his mission to rewind time. To put the genie back in the bottle.

By the time I met him in person, I’d already been talking to him on a daily basis for hours at a time. On the phone, he was clever, funny, bitchy, profound, intellectually ravenous, compelling. A master storyteller. A politicker. A data science nerd.

 Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: ‘We spent $1m harvesting millions of Facebook profiles’ – video

Two months later, when he arrived in London from Canada, he was all those things in the flesh. And yet the flesh was impossibly young. He was 27 then (he’s 28 now), a fact that has always seemed glaringly at odds with what he has done. He may have played a pivotal role in the momentous political upheavals of 2016. At the very least, he played a consequential role. At 24, he came up with an idea that led to the foundation of a company called Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that went on to claim a major role in the Leave campaign for Britain’s EU membership referendum, and later became a key figure in digital operations during Donald Trump’s election campaign.

Or, as Wylie describes it, he was the gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool”.

In 2014, Steve Bannon – then executive chairman of the “alt-right” news network Breitbart – was Wylie’s boss. And Robert Mercer, the secretive US hedge-fund billionaire and Republican donor, was Cambridge Analytica’s investor. And the idea they bought into was to bring big data and social media to an established military methodology – “information operations” – then turn it on the US electorate.

It was Wylie who came up with that idea and oversaw its realisation. And it was Wylie who, last spring, became my source. In May 2017, I wrote an article headlined “The great British Brexit robbery”, which set out a skein of threads that linked Brexit to Trump to Russia. Wylie was one of a handful of individuals who provided the evidence behind it. I found him, via another Cambridge Analytica ex-employee, lying low in Canada: guilty, brooding, indignant, confused. “I haven’t talked about this to anyone,” he said at the time. And then he couldn’t stop talking.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/embed/article-embeds/Sidebar-ca/embed.html

By that time, Steve Bannon had become Trump’s chief strategist. Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL, had won contracts with the US State Department and was pitching to the Pentagon, and Wylie was genuinely freaked out. “It’s insane,” he told me one night. “The company has created psychological profiles of 230 million Americans. And now they want to work with the Pentagon? It’s like Nixon on steroids.”

He ended up showing me a tranche of documents that laid out the secret workings behind Cambridge Analytica. And in the months following publication of my article in May, it was revealed that the company had “reached out” to WikiLeaks to help distribute Hillary Clinton’s stolen emails in 2016. And then we watched as it became a subject of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian collusion in the US election.

The Observer also received the first of three letters from Cambridge Analyticathreatening to sue Guardian News and Media for defamation. We are still only just starting to understand the maelstrom of forces that came together to create the conditions for what Mueller confirmed last month was “information warfare”. But Wylie offers a unique, worm’s-eye view of the events of 2016. Of how Facebook was hijacked, repurposed to become a theatre of war: how it became a launchpad for what seems to be an extraordinary attack on the US’s democratic process.

Wylie oversaw what may have been the first critical breach. Aged 24, while studying for a PhD in fashion trend forecasting, he came up with a plan to harvest the Facebook profiles of millions of people in the US, and to use their private and personal information to create sophisticated psychological and political profiles. And then target them with political ads designed to work on their particular psychological makeup.

“We ‘broke’ Facebook,” he says.

And he did it on behalf of his new boss, Steve Bannon.

“Is it fair to say you ‘hacked’ Facebook?” I ask him one night.

He hesitates. “I’ll point out that I assumed it was entirely legal and above board.”

Last month, Facebook’s UK director of policy, Simon Milner, told British MPs on a select committee inquiry into fake news, chaired by Conservative MP Damian Collins, that Cambridge Analytica did not have Facebook data. The official Hansard extract reads:

Christian Matheson (MP for Chester): “Have you ever passed any user information over to Cambridge Analytica or any of its associated companies?”

Simon Milner: “No.”

Matheson: “But they do hold a large chunk of Facebook’s user data, don’t they?”

Milner: “No. They may have lots of data, but it will not be Facebook user data. It may be data about people who are on Facebook that they have gathered themselves, but it is not data that we have provided.”

Alexander Nix
 Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica CEO. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

Two weeks later, on 27 February, as part of the same parliamentary inquiry, Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane, asked Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix: “Does any of the data come from Facebook?” Nix replied: “We do not work with Facebook data and we do not have Facebook data.”

And through it all, Wylie and I, plus a handful of editors and a small, international group of academics and researchers, have known that – at least in 2014 – that certainly wasn’t the case, because Wylie has the paper trail. In our first phone call, he told me he had the receipts, invoices, emails, legal letters – records that showed how, between June and August 2014, the profiles of more than 50 million Facebook users had been harvested. Most damning of all, he had a letter from Facebook’s own lawyers admitting that Cambridge Analytica had acquired the data illegitimately.

Going public involves an enormous amount of risk. Wylie is breaking a non-disclosure agreement and risks being sued. He is breaking the confidence of Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer.

It’s taken a rollercoaster of a year to help get Wylie to a place where it’s possible for him to finally come forward. A year in which Cambridge Analytica has been the subject of investigations on both sides of the Atlantic – Robert Mueller’s in the US, and separate inquiries by the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK, both triggered in February 2017, after theObserver’s first article in this investigation.

It has been a year, too, in which Wylie has been trying his best to rewind – to undo events that he set in motion. Earlier this month, he submitted a dossier of evidence to the Information Commissioner’s Office and the National Crime Agency’s cybercrime unit. He is now in a position to go on the record: the data nerd who came in from the cold.

There are many points where this story could begin. One is in 2012, when Wylie was 21 and working for the Liberal Democrats in the UK, then in government as junior coalition partners. His career trajectory has been, like most aspects of his life so far, extraordinary, preposterous, implausible.

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Wylie grew up in British Columbia and as a teenager he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. He left school at 16 without a single qualification. Yet at 17, he was working in the office of the leader of the Canadian opposition; at 18, he went to learn all things data from Obama’s national director of targeting, which he then introduced to Canada for the Liberal party. At 19, he taught himself to code, and in 2010, age 20, he came to London to study law at the London School of Economics.

“Politics is like the mob, though,” he says. “You never really leave. I got a call from the Lib Dems. They wanted to upgrade their databases and voter targeting. So, I combined working for them with studying for my degree.”

Politics is also where he feels most comfortable. He hated school, but as an intern in the Canadian parliament he discovered a world where he could talk to adults and they would listen. He was the kid who did the internet stuff and within a year he was working for the leader of the opposition.

“He’s one of the brightest people you will ever meet,” a senior politician who’s known Wylie since he was 20 told me. “Sometimes that’s a blessing and sometimes a curse.”

Meanwhile, at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre, two psychologists, Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell, were experimenting with a way of studying personality – by quantifying it.

Starting in 2007, Stillwell, while a student, had devised various apps for Facebook, one of which, a personality quiz called myPersonality, had gone viral. Users were scored on “big five” personality traits – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism – and in exchange, 40% of them consented to give him access to their Facebook profiles. Suddenly, there was a way of measuring personality traits across the population and correlating scores against Facebook “likes” across millions of people.

An example of the visual messages trialled by GSR’s online profiling test.
 Examples, above and below, of the visual messages trialled by GSR’s online profiling test. Respondents were asked: How important should this message be to all Americans?

The research was original, groundbreaking and had obvious possibilities. “They had a lot of approaches from the security services,” a member of the centre told me. “There was one called You Are What You Like and it was demonstrated to the intelligence services. And it showed these odd patterns; that, for example, people who liked ‘I hate Israel’ on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.

“There are agencies that fund research on behalf of the intelligence services. And they were all over this research. That one was nicknamed Operation KitKat.”

The defence and military establishment were the first to see the potential of the research. Boeing, a major US defence contractor, funded Kosinski’s PhD and Darpa, the US government’s secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is cited in at least two academic papers supporting Kosinski’s work.

But when, in 2013, the first major paper was published, others saw this potential too, including Wylie. He had finished his degree and had started his PhD in fashion forecasting, and was thinking about the Lib Dems. It is fair to say that he didn’t have a clue what he was walking into.

An example of the visual messages trialled by GSR’s online profiling test. Respondents were asked: How important should this message be to all Americans?

“I wanted to know why the Lib Dems sucked at winning elections when they used to run the country up to the end of the 19th century,” Wylie explains. “And I began looking at consumer and demographic data to see what united Lib Dem voters, because apart from bits of Wales and the Shetlands it’s weird, disparate regions. And what I found is there were no strong correlations. There was no signal in the data.

“And then I came across a paper about how personality traits could be a precursor to political behaviour, and it suddenly made sense. Liberalism is correlated with high openness and low conscientiousness, and when you think of Lib Dems they’re absent-minded professors and hippies. They’re the early adopters… they’re highly open to new ideas. And it just clicked all of a sudden.”

Here was a way for the party to identify potential new voters. The only problem was that the Lib Dems weren’t interested.

“I did this presentation at which I told them they would lose half their 57 seats, and they were like: ‘Why are you so pessimistic?’ They actually lost all but eight of their seats, FYI.”

Another Lib Dem connection introduced Wylie to a company called SCL Group, one of whose subsidiaries, SCL Elections, would go on to create Cambridge Analytica (an incorporated venture between SCL Elections and Robert Mercer, funded by the latter). For all intents and purposes, SCL/Cambridge Analytica are one and the same.

Alexander Nix, then CEO of SCL Elections, made Wylie an offer he couldn’t resist. “He said: ‘We’ll give you total freedom. Experiment. Come and test out all your crazy ideas.’”

An example of the visual messages trialled by GSR’s online profiling test. Respondents were asked: How important should this message be to all Americans?
 Another example of the visual messages trialled by GSR’s online profiling test.

In the history of bad ideas, this turned out to be one of the worst. The job was research director across the SCL group, a private contractor that has both defence and elections operations. Its defence arm was a contractor to the UK’s Ministry of Defence and the US’s Department of Defense, among others. Its expertise was in “psychological operations” – or psyops – changing people’s minds not through persuasion but through “informational dominance”, a set of techniques that includes rumour, disinformation and fake news.

SCL Elections had used a similar suite of tools in more than 200 elections around the world, mostly in undeveloped democracies that Wylie would come to realise were unequipped to defend themselves.

Wylie holds a British Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa – a UK work visa given to just 200 people a year. He was working inside government (with the Lib Dems) as a political strategist with advanced data science skills. But no one, least of all him, could have predicted what came next. When he turned up at SCL’s offices in Mayfair, he had no clue that he was walking into the middle of a nexus of defence and intelligence projects, private contractors and cutting-edge cyberweaponry.

“The thing I think about all the time is, what if I’d taken a job at Deloitte instead? They offered me one. I just think if I’d taken literally any other job, Cambridge Analytica wouldn’t exist. You have no idea how much I brood on this.”

A few months later, in autumn 2013, Wylie met Steve Bannon. At the time, he was editor-in-chief of Breitbart, which he had brought to Britain to support his friend Nigel Farage in his mission to take Britain out of the European Union.

What was he like?

“Smart,” says Wylie. “Interesting. Really interested in ideas. He’s the only straight man I’ve ever talked to about intersectional feminist theory. He saw its relevance straightaway to the oppressions that conservative, young white men feel.”

Wylie meeting Bannon was the moment petrol was poured on a flickering flame. Wylie lives for ideas. He speaks 19 to the dozen for hours at a time. He had a theory to prove. And at the time, this was a purely intellectual problem. Politics was like fashion, he told Bannon.

“[Bannon] got it immediately. He believes in the whole Andrew Breitbart doctrine that politics is downstream from culture, so to change politics you need to change culture. And fashion trends are a useful proxy for that. Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically. So how do you get from people thinking ‘Ugh. Totally ugly’ to the moment when everyone is wearing them? That was the inflection point he was looking for.”

But Wylie wasn’t just talking about fashion. He had recently been exposed to a new discipline: “information operations”, which ranks alongside land, sea, air and space in the US military’s doctrine of the “five-dimensional battle space”. His brief ranged across the SCL Group – the British government has paid SCL to conduct counter-extremism operations in the Middle East, and the US Department of Defense has contracted it to work in Afghanistan.

I tell him that another former employee described the firm as “MI6 for hire”, and I’d never quite understood it.

“It’s like dirty MI6 because you’re not constrained. There’s no having to go to a judge to apply for permission. It’s normal for a ‘market research company’ to amass data on domestic populations. And if you’re working in some country and there’s an auxiliary benefit to a current client with aligned interests, well that’s just a bonus.”

When I ask how Bannon even found SCL, Wylie tells me what sounds like a tall tale, though it’s one he can back up with an email about how Mark Block, a veteran Republican strategist, happened to sit next to a cyberwarfare expert for the US air force on a plane. “And the cyberwarfare guy is like, ‘Oh, you should meet SCL. They do cyberwarfare for elections.’”

U.S. President Trump’s former chief strategist Bannon walks in Piazza Navona in Rome
 Steve Bannon: ‘He loved the gays,’ says Wylie. ‘He saw us as early adopters.’ Photograph: Tony Gentile/Reuters

It was Bannon who took this idea to the Mercers: Robert Mercer – the co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, who used his billions to pursue a rightwing agenda, donating to Republican causes and supporting Republican candidates – and his daughter Rebekah.

Nix and Wylie flew to New York to meet the Mercers in Rebekah’s Manhattan apartment.

“She loved me. She was like, ‘Oh we need more of your type on our side!’”

Your type?

“The gays. She loved the gays. So did Steve [Bannon]. He saw us as early adopters. He figured, if you can get the gays on board, everyone else will follow. It’s why he was so into the whole Milo [Yiannopoulos] thing.”

Robert Mercer was a pioneer in AI and machine translation. He helped invent algorithmic trading – which replaced hedge fund managers with computer programs – and he listened to Wylie’s pitch. It was for a new kind of political message-targeting based on an influential and groundbreaking 2014 paperresearched at Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre, called: “Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans”.

“In politics, the money man is usually the dumbest person in the room. Whereas it’s the opposite way around with Mercer,” says Wylie. “He said very little, but he really listened. He wanted to understand the science. And he wanted proof that it worked.”

And to do that, Wylie needed data.

How Cambridge Analytica acquired the data has been the subject of internal reviews at Cambridge University, of many news articles and much speculation and rumour.

When Nix was interviewed by MPs last month, Damian Collins asked him:

“Does any of your data come from Global Science Research company?”

Nix: “GSR?”

Collins: “Yes.”

Nix: “We had a relationship with GSR. They did some research for us back in 2014. That research proved to be fruitless and so the answer is no.”

Collins: “They have not supplied you with data or information?”

Nix: “No.”

Collins: “Your datasets are not based on information you have received from them?”

Nix: “No.”

Collins: “At all?”

Nix: “At all.”

The problem with Nix’s response to Collins is that Wylie has a copy of an executed contract, dated 4 June 2014, which confirms that SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, entered into a commercial arrangement with a company called Global Science Research (GSR), owned by Cambridge-based academic Aleksandr Kogan, specifically premised on the harvesting and processing of Facebook data, so that it could be matched to personality traits and voter rolls.

He has receipts showing that Cambridge Analytica spent $7m to amass this data, about $1m of it with GSR. He has the bank records and wire transfers. Emails reveal Wylie first negotiated with Michal Kosinski, one of the co-authors of the original myPersonality research paper, to use the myPersonality database. But when negotiations broke down, another psychologist, Aleksandr Kogan, offered a solution that many of his colleagues considered unethical. He offered to replicate Kosinski and Stilwell’s research and cut them out of the deal. For Wylie it seemed a perfect solution. “Kosinski was asking for $500,000 for the IP but Kogan said he could replicate it and just harvest his own set of data.” (Kosinski says the fee was to fund further research.)

Dr Aleksandr Kogan
 An unethical solution? Dr Aleksandr Kogan Photograph: alex kogan

Kogan then set up GSR to do the work, and proposed to Wylie they use the data to set up an interdisciplinary institute working across the social sciences. “What happened to that idea,” I ask Wylie. “It never happened. I don’t know why. That’s one of the things that upsets me the most.”

It was Bannon’s interest in culture as war that ignited Wylie’s intellectual concept. But it was Robert Mercer’s millions that created a firestorm. Kogan was able to throw money at the hard problem of acquiring personal data: he advertised for people who were willing to be paid to take a personality quiz on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Qualtrics. At the end of which Kogan’s app, called thisismydigitallife, gave him permission to access their Facebook profiles. And not just theirs, but their friends’ too. On average, each “seeder” – the people who had taken the personality test, around 320,000 in total – unwittingly gave access to at least 160 other people’s profiles, none of whom would have known or had reason to suspect.

What the email correspondence between Cambridge Analytica employees and Kogan shows is that Kogan had collected millions of profiles in a matter of weeks. But neither Wylie nor anyone else at Cambridge Analytica had checked that it was legal. It certainly wasn’t authorised. Kogan did have permission to pull Facebook data, but for academic purposes only. What’s more, under British data protection laws, it’s illegal for personal data to be sold to a third party without consent.

“Facebook could see it was happening,” says Wylie. “Their security protocols were triggered because Kogan’s apps were pulling this enormous amount of data, but apparently Kogan told them it was for academic use. So they were like, ‘Fine’.”

Kogan maintains that everything he did was legal and he had a “close working relationship” with Facebook, which had granted him permission for his apps.

Cambridge Analytica had its data. This was the foundation of everything it did next – how it extracted psychological insights from the “seeders” and then built an algorithm to profile millions more.

For more than a year, the reporting around what Cambridge Analytica did or didn’t do for Trump has revolved around the question of “psychographics”, but Wylie points out: “Everything was built on the back of that data. The models, the algorithm. Everything. Why wouldn’t you use it in your biggest campaign ever?”

In December 2015, the Guardian’s Harry Davies published the first report about Cambridge Analytica acquiring Facebook data and using it to support Ted Cruz in his campaign to be the US Republican candidate. But it wasn’t until many months later that Facebook took action. And then, all they did was write a letter. In August 2016, shortly before the US election, and two years after the breach took place, Facebook’s lawyers wrote to Wylie, who left Cambridge Analytica in 2014, and told him the data had been illicitly obtained and that “GSR was not authorised to share or sell it”. They said it must be deleted immediately.

Christopher Wylie
 Christopher Wylie: ‘It’s like Nixon on steroids’

“I already had. But literally all I had to do was tick a box and sign it and send it back, and that was it,” says Wylie. “Facebook made zero effort to get the data back.”

There were multiple copies of it. It had been emailed in unencrypted files.

Cambridge Analytica rejected all allegations the Observer put to them.

Dr Kogan – who later changed his name to Dr Spectre, but has subsequently changed it back to Dr Kogan – is still a faculty member at Cambridge University, a senior research associate. But what his fellow academics didn’t know until Kogan revealed it in emails to the Observer (although Cambridge University says that Kogan told the head of the psychology department), is that he is also an associate professor at St Petersburg University. Further research revealed that he’s received grants from the Russian government to research “Stress, health and psychological wellbeing in social networks”. The opportunity came about on a trip to the city to visit friends and family, he said.

There are other dramatic documents in Wylie’s stash, including a pitch made by Cambridge Analytica to Lukoil, Russia’s second biggest oil producer. In an email dated 17 July 2014, about the US presidential primaries, Nix wrote to Wylie: “We have been asked to write a memo to Lukoil (the Russian oil and gas company) to explain to them how our services are going to apply to the petroleum business. Nix said that “they understand behavioural microtargeting in the context of elections” but that they were “failing to make the connection between voters and their consumers”. The work, he said, would be “shared with the CEO of the business”, a former Soviet oil minister and associate of Putin, Vagit Alekperov.

“It didn’t make any sense to me,” says Wylie. “I didn’t understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?”

Mueller’s investigation traces the first stages of the Russian operation to disrupt the 2016 US election back to 2014, when the Russian state made what appears to be its first concerted efforts to harness the power of America’s social media platforms, including Facebook. And it was in late summer of the same year that Cambridge Analytica presented the Russian oil company with an outline of its datasets, capabilities and methodology. The presentation had little to do with “consumers”. Instead, documents show it focused on election disruption techniques. The first slide illustrates how a “rumour campaign” spread fear in the 2007 Nigerian election – in which the company worked – by spreading the idea that the “election would be rigged”. The final slide, branded with Lukoil’s logo and that of SCL Group and SCL Elections, headlines its “deliverables”: “psychographic messaging”.

Robert Mercer with his daughter Rebekah.
 Robert Mercer with his daughter Rebekah. Photograph: Sean Zanni/Getty Images

Lukoil is a private company, but its CEO, Alekperov, answers to Putin, and it’s been used as a vehicle of Russian influence in Europe and elsewhere – including in the Czech Republic, where in 2016 it was revealed that an adviser to the strongly pro-Russian Czech president was being paid by the company.

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When I asked Bill Browder – an Anglo-American businessman who is leading a global campaign for a Magnitsky Act to enforce sanctions against Russian individuals – what he made of it, he said: “Everyone in Russia is subordinate to Putin. One should be highly suspicious of any Russian company pitching anything outside its normal business activities.”

Last month, Nix told MPs on the parliamentary committee investigating fake news: “We have never worked with a Russian organisation in Russia or any other company. We do not have any relationship with Russia or Russian individuals.”

There’s no evidence that Cambridge Analytica ever did any work for Lukoil. What these documents show, though, is that in 2014 one of Russia’s biggest companies was fully briefed on: Facebook, microtargeting, data, election disruption.

Cambridge Analytica is “Chris’s Frankenstein”, says a friend of his. “He created it. It’s his data Frankenmonster. And now he’s trying to put it right.”

Only once has Wylie made the case of pointing out that he was 24 at the time. But he was. He thrilled to the intellectual possibilities of it. He didn’t think of the consequences. And I wonder how much he’s processed his own role or responsibility in it. Instead, he’s determined to go on the record and undo this thing he has created.

Because the past few months have been like watching a tornado gathering force. And when Wylie turns the full force of his attention to something – his strategic brain, his attention to detail, his ability to plan 12 moves ahead – it is sometimes slightly terrifying to behold. Dealing with someone trained in information warfare has its own particular challenges, and his suite of extraordinary talents include the kind of high-level political skills that makes House of Cards look like The Great British Bake Off. And not everyone’s a fan. Any number of ex-colleagues – even the ones who love him – call him “Machiavellian”. Another described the screaming matches he and Nix would have.

“What do your parents make of your decision to come forward?” I ask him.

“They get it. My dad sent me a cartoon today, which had two characters hanging off a cliff, and the first one’s saying ‘Hang in there.’ And the other is like: ‘Fuck you.’”

Which are you?

“Probably both.”

What isn’t in doubt is what a long, fraught journey it has been to get to this stage. And how fearless he is.

After many months, I learn the terrible, dark backstory that throws some light on his determination, and which he discusses candidly. At six, while at school, Wylie was abused by a mentally unstable person. The school tried to cover it up, blaming his parents, and a long court battle followed. Wylie’s childhood and school career never recovered. His parents – his father is a doctor and his mother is a psychiatrist – were wonderful, he says. “But they knew the trajectory of people who are put in that situation, so I think it was particularly difficult for them, because they had a deeper understanding of what that does to a person long term.”

He says he grew up listening to psychologists discuss him in the third person, and, aged 14, he successfully sued the British Columbia Ministry of Education and forced it to change its inclusion policies around bullying. What I observe now is how much he loves the law, lawyers, precision, order. I come to think of his pink hair as a false-flag operation. What he cannot tolerate is bullying.

Is what Cambridge Analytica does akin to bullying?

“I think it’s worse than bullying,” Wylie says. “Because people don’t necessarily know it’s being done to them. At least bullying respects the agency of people because they know. So it’s worse, because if you do not respect the agency of people, anything that you’re doing after that point is not conducive to a democracy. And fundamentally, information warfare is not conducive to democracy.”

Russia, Facebook, Trump, Mercer, Bannon, Brexit. Every one of these threads runs through Cambridge Analytica. Even in the past few weeks, it seems as if the understanding of Facebook’s role has broadened and deepened. The Mueller indictments were part of that, but Paul-Olivier Dehaye – a data expert and academic based in Switzerland, who published some of the first research into Cambridge Analytica’s processes – says it’s become increasingly apparent that Facebook is “abusive by design”. If there is evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, it will be in the platform’s data flows, he says. And Wylie’s revelations only move it on again.

“Facebook has denied and denied and denied this,” Dehaye says when told of theObserver’s new evidence. “It has misled MPs and congressional investigators and it’s failed in its duties to respect the law. It has a legal obligation to inform regulators and individuals about this data breach, and it hasn’t. It’s failed time and time again to be open and transparent.”

Facebook denies that the data transfer was a breach. In addition, a spokesperson said: “Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook. If these reports are true, it’s a serious abuse of our rules. Both Aleksandr Kogan as well as the SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica certified to us that they destroyed the data in question.”

Millions of people’s personal information was stolen and used to target them in ways they wouldn’t have seen, and couldn’t have known about, by a mercenary outfit, Cambridge Analytica, who, Wylie says, “would work for anyone”. Who would pitch to Russian oil companies. Would they subvert elections abroad on behalf of foreign governments?

It occurs to me to ask Wylie this one night.

“Yes.”

Nato or non-Nato?

“Either. I mean they’re mercenaries. They’ll work for pretty much anyone who pays.”

It’s an incredible revelation. It also encapsulates all of the problems of outsourcing – at a global scale, with added cyberweapons. And in the middle of it all are the public – our intimate family connections, our “likes”, our crumbs of personal data, all sucked into a swirling black hole that’s expanding and growing and is now owned by a politically motivated billionaire.

The Facebook data is out in the wild. And for all Wylie’s efforts, there’s no turning the clock back.

Tamsin Shaw, a philosophy professor at New York University, and the author of a recent New York Review of Books article on cyberwar and the Silicon Valley economy, told me that she’d pointed to the possibility of private contractors obtaining cyberweapons that had at least been in part funded by US defence.

She calls Wylie’s disclosures “wild” and points out that “the whole Facebook project” has only been allowed to become as vast and powerful as it has because of the US national security establishment.

“It’s a form of very deep but soft power that’s been seen as an asset for the US. Russia has been so explicit about this, paying for the ads in roubles and so on. It’s making this point, isn’t it? That Silicon Valley is a US national security asset that they’ve turned on itself.”

Or, more simply: blowback.

 Revealed: 50m Facebook profiles harvested in major data breach
 How ‘likes’ became a political weapon

This article was amended on 18 March 2018 to clarify the full title of the British Columbia Ministry of Education

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump

France’s Le Pen, National Front, and Steve Bannon

March 11, 2018

AFP

© AFP / by Anne Renaut and Paul Aubriat | Marine Le Pen applauds Steve Bannon after his speech to the National Front party in Lille in which he said rightwing views should be worn as a “badge of honour”

LILLE (FRANCE) (AFP) – French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is to force through a controversial name change for her National Front party on Sunday after being re-elected for a third term as leader.Meeting in the northeastern city of Lille, the 49-year-old was expected to unveil the party’s new identity, burying the National Front (FN) name that has been associated with her father Jean-Marie since 1972.

The switch is meant to signal a new beginning for the anti-immigration movement — and a decisive break from the toxic past of Jean-Marie who was finally banished from the party on Sunday.

Le Pen scored a lower-than-expected 34 percent as she lost to President Emmanuel Macron last May and has since struggled to assert her authority after admitting to mistakes during her campaign.

“Without a name change, we will not be able to forge alliances. And without alliances we will never be able to take power,” she said last month as she faced questions from many sceptical members.

She will address the party faithful later after being re-elected as leader with 100 percent of votes on Sunday morning after standing unopposed but has kept the new name a closely-guarded secret.

The party is expected to keep the word “national” in its new name. “Rassemblement national” (national union) has been mooted as an option.

– Bannon support –

Le Pen won a major boost on Saturday from former Donald Trump aide Steve Bannon who appeared alongside her at the National Front conference and told delegates that “history is on our side”.

Bannon’s appearance reinforced the links between the Trump campaign and France’s far-right party which hold similar views on immigration, Islam, trade, the European Union and Russia.

Trump came close to endorsing Le Pen as she sought to defeat Macron last year.

“Let them call you racists, let them call you xenophobes, let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honour. Because every day we get stronger and they get weaker,” Bannon told the audience.

The presence of the former head of Breitbart News drew a stinging response from Macron’s government.

“The king of fake news and of white supremacists at an FN summit… why am I not surprised?” remarked parliamentary affairs minister Christophe Castaner, who is also the head of Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move party.

“Change of name but not of the political line.”

– Name debate –

Le Pen’s bid to change the party’s name does not have unanimous support at the grassroots level and has been heavily criticised by Jean-Marie, who sees it as an attack on his legacy.

The party canvassed 51,000 members last year about the new name proposal and on Saturday it emerged that just 52 percent had voted in favour among the 30,000 who responded.

That compared with 90 percent of respondents wanting a referendum on continued EU membership and 98 percent wanting to cut immigration to France.

Speaking Saturday, FN youth leader Gaetan Dussausaye admitted the party had to “swallow its pride” as “the FN brand is still a block for voters”.

The National Front was co-founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972 and led by him for nearly 40 years until he was replaced by his daughter Marine in 2011.

She attempted to banish him from the party in 2015 after he repeated his belief that the Nazi gas chambers were “a detail of history”.

The party voted to strip him of his role as honorary president on Sunday.

by Anne Renaut and Paul Aubriat
************************************
.

Bannon takes ‘economic nationalism’ message to Europe

Why Europe Is Giving Up on Trump’s America

March 8, 2018

PARIS — On Nov. 9, 2016, when we Europeans woke up to the news of Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States, most of us understood that it would have a significant impact on world politics. What we did not realize at the time was how much that event would alter the basic fabric of international relations.

Over the past 16 months, we have been through roughly three stages in dealing with the fact that our first ally, the United States of America, is ruled by such an unorthodox president. We began by betting on human wisdom and political realism: Soon enough, Donald Trump, the nationalist, populist candidate, would wise up and become President Trump. Maverick politicians tend to do this in democratic societies.

Then came the “adults in the room” stage. When it became clear that there was no wising up in the Oval Office, we were led to believe that fortunately, the celebrated checks and balances of the American system were functioning. The toxic Steve Bannon would soon be on his way out. Some experienced, reliable generals were taking over; their advice would prevail. How would official Washington have reacted if generals were appointed to key posts in a French or German government? Not warmly, one suspects. But these being no ordinary times, Europeans went along with the idea.

For those who still bought it, the “adults in the room” theory took a serious beating last month at the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of top dogs in foreign and defense policy. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis came, but surprisingly did not take the floor. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, did speak but was very publicly chided a few hours later by a presidential tweet because he “forgot” to say that Russian interference had no impact on Mr. Trump’s election.

Senior European officials admit that however good their cooperation may be with counterparts in the Trump administration, the president’s unpredictability looms too large over decision-making. We have now entered the third stage of the great European disbelief. It could be called the “Angela Merkel was right” stage, in a nod to the German chancellor’s statement after the NATO and Group of 7 meetings last May that “we Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands.”

American officials keep trying to reassure their puzzled European interlocutors: “Don’t look at the tweets, look at what we do.” Repeated over and over, it is truly an extraordinary line. Think of representing your administration and telling foreigners every day: Ignore our president. But that’s a pipe dream. This president cannot be ignored because he is already profoundly transforming international relations, well beyond promoting unilateralism at the expense of multilateralism.

Will there be a trade war? Maybe not. Yet last week’s assault from the White House, like a bolt from the blue, is a taste, for Washington’s European and Canadian allies, of how low the trans-Atlantic relationship can go under President Trump. Western partners of the United States cannot expect to be treated any better than China. When Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on ABC on Sunday, “There is a lot of history that needs to be undone,” he was addressing trade relations. To Europeans, this has a deeper meaning. It is post-World War II history that is being undone — the very history that the United States built, the foundation of the Western alliance.

Mr. Trump earlier pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal as part of his “America First” doctrine. The TPP is now back, revived by its 11 remaining members — without America. A world where the United States led multilateral trade agreements is ending. But nations still engage in multilateral trade pacts, as the European Union has done with Japan and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc. The United States is just not part of them.

President Trump has also pulled his country out of the Paris accord on climate change. Signatory countries are finding ways to go around this defection by working with more cooperative partners — American cities, states, corporations — just as they’ve done with trade.

The president has allowed Vladimir V. Putin and Xi Jinping, the authoritarian leaders of Russia and China, to take center stage on the global scene. As Mr. Trump was being inaugurated in January 2017, President Xi was wasting no time stepping up, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to pose as the champion of multilateralism and free trade. President Putin had already started his forays into Ukraine and Syria when Mr. Trump was elected; the Russian foray into the democratic processes of Western countries, including the United States, would be exposed soon after. By stubbornly refusing to criticize Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump shortchanges his administration, confuses his allies and weakens the American response.

Mr. Trump is also threatening to overturn one of the biggest diplomatic achievements of recent years, the international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, which Europeans are frantically trying to save.

By unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the president has demonstrated his contempt for international law, reversed half a century of American commitments and, in doing so, badly damaged his country’s credibility in the region.

President Trump has promoted the image of the strongman in world governance. Dictators used to be ashamed. No more. In the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte can continue boasting about gunning down suspected drug dealers. In a phone call last year, circulated by the Philippine Foreign Ministry and reported by The New York Times, Mr. Trump congratulated Mr. Duterte for his “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”

President Trump has shown how little consideration he has for diplomacy: More than a year after he took office, senior positions are still vacant at the State Department. There are no American ambassadors to Germany, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey or the European Union — not to mention Mr. Trump’s indecently crude disparagement of African nations and Haiti. Diversity, once part of American soft power, has disappeared from images of administration officials. Photos of meetings at the Oval Office are crowded with white males, who also staffed the press briefings in Davos last January.

This list is incomplete. But it’s sufficient to justify skepticism at the mantra “Don’t pay attention to the tweets.”

Mr. Trump: In case you wondered, Europe is paying attention.

Has Jared Kushner Conspired to Defraud America?

March 1, 2018
Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser, has conducted foreign policy without officially disclosing all the personal interests he may have been serving. Credit Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Amid the dizzying details of internet trolls, almost a million dollars’ worth of antique rugs and fake bank accounts, the indictments brought by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, in his investigation of Russian tampering in the 2016 election have one thing in common.

Both the indictment of 13 Russians associated with a troll farm called Internet Research Agency and the indictment of President Trump’s onetime campaign chairman Paul Manafort accuse the defendants of pretending to engage in American politics in good faith but secretly serving someone else’s interest. In both cases, the charge, “conspiracy to defraud the United States,” is an assertion that they were really serving the interests of Russia or of a Russian-backed Ukrainian politician, and that by hiding their true intent, the defendants prevented the United States government from protecting our politics from undisclosed outside influence.

That precedent, and the guilty plea to the same charge by Rick Gates, Mr. Manafort’s deputy, may pose a real danger to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser. According to reports, Mr. Mueller appears to be assessing whether Mr. Kushner, in the guise of pursuing foreign policy on behalf of the United States, was actually serving the interests of his family and foreign governments.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that “officials in at least four countries” — United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico — “have privately discussed ways they can manipulate” Mr. Kushner by taking advantage of his “complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience.” The president gave his son-in-law an expansive foreign policy role, including an effort to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The implication in the article is that the United States government has intercepted communications of foreign leaders talking about ways they could take advantage of Mr. Kushner, whose family real estate empire is facing substantial debt woes.

The biggest concern in the Post report — and surely one reason such intelligence led to Mr. Kushner’s being stripped of his interim top-secret security clearance last week — is that foreign countries would offer him personal financial benefits in the same conversations in which he purports to represent America’s best interests.

There has already been ample reporting suggesting that Mr. Kushner may have done just that. During a period when Mr. Kushner was negotiating President Trump’s first visit to China, his family business was trying to sell a debt-ridden property in New York to an insurance company with ties to the Chinese Communist Party. Public scrutiny of the deal scuttled it. Last May, The New York Times described how, immediately after the Trump administration extended a visa program for wealthy investors, Mr. Kushner’s sister invoked Mr. Kushner in a presentation seeking Chinese investment in one of the family’s New Jersey real estate developments.

Such appearances of conflict might not, by themselves, get Mr. Kushner in trouble. The president has broad authority to set the country’s foreign policy, and public corruption laws have been far more difficult to enforce after a 2016 Supreme Court decision overturning the conviction of the former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell on bribery charges.

But Mr. Kushner might face more trouble to the extent he keeps such negotiations secret from those in charge of carrying out United States foreign policy. When the national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, learned of some of Mr. Kushner’s communications only after the fact, he was surprised, one official told The Post, and thought it was “weird.”

Mr. Kushner has been famously tardy in disclosing his business interests and ties with foreigners in his application for a security clearance. He was still making updates to his forms as recently as January. That means he has conducted an entire year of foreign policy without officially disclosing all the personal interests he may have been serving.

Finally, the risk might be greater still if Mr. Kushner negotiated such deals before Mr. Trump’s inauguration. That’s the possibility raised by Mr. Kushner’s pre-inauguration meetings with Russia. In December 2016, Mr. Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a bank under American sanctions, Vnesheconombank. That meeting came after Mr. Kushner suggested a back channel of communications in a meeting with Russia’s ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, according to Mr. Kislyak.

Nor did Mr. Trump’s transition team alert the Obama administration before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates visited New York in December 2016 for a meeting involving Mr. Kushner and others at Trump Tower.

While the proper authorities may not have been informed of this series of meetings, Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with Mr. Mueller’s investigators late last year, did attend or at least knew of them. Steve Bannon, who recently sat for 20 hours of interviews with special counsel prosecutors, participated in the Zayed Trump Tower meeting along with Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kushner. So if they are a concern to Mr. Mueller, he has recently gotten far more details of what happened at the meetings.

Mr. Kushner’s defense attorney, Abbe Lowell, has been very forthcoming with the press. But he seems to have relied on the same on-the-record quotation since Feb. 16, when news first broke that Mr. Kushner might lose his interim security clearance. Twelve days ago, a statement from Mr. Lowell to The Washington Post directly addressed the gist of the story that just broke Tuesday. Mr. Kushner’s job, Mr. Lowell said, was “to talk with foreign officials,” which, he added, Mr. Kushner has done “properly.”

Perhaps Mr. Kushner is just a person who had no idea what he was doing and wanted to improve his and his family’s finances. Still, there are many reasons to question whether he has talked with foreign officials with the proper disclosures, designed to ensure that those claiming to represent the interests of the United States aren’t hiding their own interests or those of foreign governments.

In pursuing his investigation into Russian tampering, Mr. Mueller appears to be doing something more: restoring the regulatory teeth to ensure that those engaging in American politics are doing what they publicly claim they are. If Mr. Mueller extends this effort to foreign policy, Mr. Kushner may be in real trouble.