...story here. We still know only a tiny fraction about what CA did worldwide..
In times as dark as these, it’s the small things that give me hope. @podehaye was vital force behind Cambridge Analytica investigation. And he’s still at it. These are screenshots from #TheGreatHack. A day later & an Israeli journalist has already tracked down one of the leads...https://twitter.com/carolecadwalla/stat ... 8245041159
i got the date for what s on the top right for me incorrect: it's from nov 2017. so the months are aug, sept, nov 2017.
Replying to @podehaye @annmarlowe @carolecadwalla Leave EU, Florida, NRA on the same day.
Is that in 2017? Per the photo shots of the diary on screen form @podehaye ?
What was she doing meeting up with Leave EU in August/ September 2017, well over a year AFTER the Brexit referendum was done?
no, the doc jumps around in time, shows 2017 then 2015. the shot you posted is from 2015, as stated
Emails link Peter Thiel's Palantir and Eric Schmidt's daughter to Facebook's Cambridge Analytica fiasco Jim Edwards Peter Thiel burgundy wash Peter Thiel leaving an elevator at Trump Tower in November 2016. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
LONDON — Both Peter Thiel's data-mining company Palantir and a daughter of the former Google chairman Eric Schmidt had connections to Cambridge Analytica's misuse of Facebook user information, according to documents seen by The New York Times.
"We learned today that an employee, in 2013-2014, engaged in an entirely personal capacity with people associated with Cambridge Analytica," Palantir told The Times. "We are looking into this and will take the appropriate action."
The employee was Alfredas Chmieliauskas, according to The Times. His LinkedIn shows that he is a business-development staffer at Palantir in London. He suggested that Cambridge Analytica create a personality-quiz app to harvest data from Facebook users, The Times said. Cambridge Analytica eventually used a similar method to obtain data from about 50 million Facebook users it could then sell.
Alfredas Chmieliauskas LinkedIn The connection between Palantir and Cambridge Analytica was apparently suggested by Schmidt's daughter Sophie, who had been an intern at SCL Group, a UK-based defense and intelligence contractor that created Cambridge Analytica in 2012. A 2013 email seen by The Times indicated that Sophie Schmidt, who did not respond to the paper's request for comment, urged that SCL work with Palantir:
"Ever come across Palantir. Amusingly Eric Schmidt's daughter was an intern with us and is trying to push us towards them?" one SCL employee wrote to a colleague in the email.
sophie schmidt Sophie Schmidt, the daughter of the former Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt, visiting the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad in 2009. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani Cambridge Analytica and Palantir began their relationship in 2014, when Christopher Wylie, the pink-haired Cambridge Analytica cofounder turned whistleblower who testified to Parliament in London this week, visited Palantir's London headquarters in Soho Square with Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix. The Times said: "Mr. Chmieliauskas continued to communicate with Mr. Wylie's team in 2014, as the Cambridge employees were locked in protracted negotiations with a researcher at Cambridge University, Michal Kosinski, to obtain Facebook data through an app Mr. Kosinski had built. The data was crucial to efficiently scale up Cambridge's psychometrics products so they could be used in elections and for corporate clients.
"'I had left field idea,' Mr. Chmieliauskas wrote in May 2014. 'What about replicating the work of the cambridge prof as a mobile app that connects to facebook?' Reproducing the app, Mr. Chmieliauskas wrote, 'could be a valuable leverage negotiating with the guy.'"
Nix later tried to work officially with executives at Palantir, but they demurred. Ultimately, Cambridge Analytica pursued the app without Palantir's official help.
The emails will make uncomfortable reading for both companies.
Thiel is a Facebook board member and a conservative libertarian with a dystopian view of the future who funded Donald Trump's US presidential campaign. He became a billionaire through a series of tech investments including PayPal and Facebook.
Cambridge Analytica was founded by Robert Mercer, the conservative billionaire hedge fund creator who has also funded Trump and Breitbart News, the right-wing media group that is often accused of publishing misleading stories.
Cambridge Analytica is now the subject of criminal investigations in both the UK and the US over its role in the 2016 US presidential election and the Brexit referendum in the UK. The company has made contradictory statements about its alleged role persuading British people to vote to leave the European Union. https://www.businessinsider.com/emails- ... ica-2018-3
But the agency's probe into Cambridge Analytica continues.
Federal agency tries to serve Steve Bannon a subpoena The former Trump campaign CEO is part of a probe into "deceptive or unfair" use of Facebook data by the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.
“One of his minions, I believe, went back and either called him or spoke to him and said, ‘There’s nothing we can do about it, bro,‘” said the server, who would only give his name as Mike.
A man who later answered the door told a POLITICO reporter that he didn’t know anything about the subpoena or the attempted service. The townhouse was once known as the headquarters of the conservative website Breitbart News, of which Bannon served as executive chairman.
“Government agencies serve thousands of subpoenas for all types of minor and often irrelevant information. This is a non event,” Alex Spiro, an attorney representing Bannon, told POLITICO via email.
Bannon told Vanity Fair last year that Facebook is to blame for the sort of data abuses at issue in the Cambridge Analytica case: “They take your stuff for free and monetize it for huge margins." FTC spokespeople declined to answer questions about the probe.
The civil investigative demand, which POLITICO viewed, said the commission is examining whether Bannon’s "practices regarding the collection and use of consumers’ information from Facebook were deceptive or unfair," and "whether a Commission action to obtain money relief would be in the public interest.”
The subpoena is an outgrowth of the Cambridge Analytica controversy that exploded into view in March 2018, with the revelation that the company had improperly exploited a quiz app on Facebook to suck up data on tens of millions of people for voter targeting operations.
The FTC settled its case with Facebook over the scandal in July with a record-setting $5 billion fine. But the agency's probe into Cambridge Analytica continues. In July, the FTC filed a lawsuit against the firm, alleging that it deceived Facebook users by harvesting their information without their consent. That data was paired with other records to build psychological profiles used to target voters, the commission said.
The FTC issues civil investigative demand letters to individuals and entities that are either the subject of any agency investigation or are believed to have information of interest to investigators. When recipients of demand letters don't comply, the FTC's general counsel may step in to have it enforced by the courts, according to the agency.
Bannon played an early role in getting Cambridge Analytica off the ground and served on the firm's board. He saw the company, launched in 2013 and financially backed by Republican mega-donor Robert Mercer, as a way of tapping cutting-edge data science to power a global nationalist movement. A former contractor for Cambridge Analytica turned whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, told CNN in 2018 that the company was "Steve Bannon's baby."
The FTC in July reached a proposed settlement with two key figures tied to Cambridge Analytica, former CEO Alexander Nix and Aleksandr Kogan, the academic who developed the quiz app. Cambridge Analytica filed for bankruptcy in 2018.
Investigators in both the U.S. and UK have probed whether Cambridge Analytica had connections to Russian actors who used Facebook and other social media to try to manipulate the 2016 presidential election in Trump's favor. The office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller also looked into that issue as part of his investigation into Russian election interference, but no mention of the firm appears in Mueller's final report issued in April.
Trump named Bannon his chief strategist in the White House in November 2016, shortly after winning office. Bannon's rocky tenure there ended in August 2017, when he left as part of a White House shake-up led by then-chief of staff John Kelly. https://www.politico.com/news/2019/09/2 ... ica-001022
While disinformation campaigns are often associated with governments, new research indicates there is a robust, easy-to-navigate market for anyone looking to buy their own propaganda arms.
It is “alarmingly simple and inexpensive” to launch a sophisticated disinformation campaign, analysts from threat-intelligence company Recorded Future concluded after studying the issue. “Disinformation services are highly customizable in scope, costing anywhere from several hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, or more depending on the client’s needs.”
The analysts set up their own fake company and commissioned disinformation projects from two different “threat actors” active on Russian-language forums. One of the hired hands generated positive press for the fake company, while the other pushed out smears. A network of inauthentic social media accounts posted articles about the fake company that gained traction on news sites. Like any effective disinformation campaign, the social media interactions included a mix of bots, trolls and real people drawn in by the digital waves the fictitious firm was making.
The findings show how cybercriminal forums — already infamous as clearinghouses for malware and hacking techniques — are becoming go-to venues for buyers of bots and phony traffic. The two sellers of “disinformation-as-a-service” on the underground forums were exceedingly professional and amenable to feedback. They sent samples of past work, and cleaned up their choppy English after feedback from the fake company.
“If the ease of this experience is any indication, we predict that disinformation-as-a-service will soon spread from a nation-state tool to one increasingly used by individuals and organizations,” the Recorded Future analysts said.
With all of the attention on state-back information operations, such as Russia’s intervention in the 2016 U.S. election, corporate disinformation campaigns sometimes get overlooked. However, some of that activity has been large and impactful enough to be dismantled by social media platforms.
In May, for example, Facebook announced the takedown of 265 Facebook and Instagram accounts, the majority of which were allegedly run by an Israeli political consulting firm, for spreading disinformation. The firm had spent some $812,000 over the course of seven years on a campaign that targeted politicians in several African countries. -In this Story- bots, information operations, Recorded Future, social media, trolls
If Barthes can forgive me, “What the public wants is the image of passion Justice, not passion Justice itself.”
Cambridge Analytica, Whistle-Blowers, and Tech's Dark Appeal Christopher Wylie was the architect of Cambridge Analytica’s big plans and also its whistle-blower. His new book explores how he ended up being both.
Steven Levy10.15.2019 07:00 AM
In his new memoir, Christopher Wylie writes about how technology can seduce engineers into ignoring the consequences of their work.Photograph: Dominic Lorrimer/The Sydney Morning Herald/Getty Images We’re in a whistle-blower moment. An administration truth-teller has helped ignite an impeachment investigation. Another whistle is allegedly perched on the lips of someone at the IRS, who might report damaging information about the president’s tax return. Edward Snowden’s book has hit the bestseller lists.
The moment is seemingly perfect for Christopher Wylie, the former head of research for Cambridge Analytica, and his new book Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica And the Plot To Break America. The back-flap biography says that Wylie “has been called the millennials’ first great whistleblower.” The quote seems to have come from his personal Boswell, the Guardian and Observer writer Carole Cadwalladr, who is neither a millennial nor unbiased. Wylie, after all, was Cadwalladr’s Deep Throat, the main source for her Pulitzer-nominated exposé of the company that exploited ill-gotten Facebook data to campaign for Donald Trump.
The claims to “great whistleblower,” though, are outsized. Wylie does have an important point to make, but it’s not about Trump or Facebook.
Wylie was at the center of Cambridge Analytica’s misdeeds. He worked closely with its one-time VP Steve Bannon, and writes that the intellectual sparks between the two of them were so intense that it “felt like we were flirting.” He was a willing participant at the meeting where Cambridge CEO Alexander Nix solicited its operating funds from Robert Mercer, the shadowy financier of the far right. It was Wylie who used those funds to launch Project Ripon, the system that wound up combining the personal data of around 50 million unsuspecting Facebook users with other information to manipulate them to vote for Trump, or, if they were unlikely Trump voters, to stay at home on election day.
So when we met last week to discuss his book, I wasn’t expecting the next Daniel Ellsberg. Wylie is, however, rather convivial. His close-cropped hair dyed pink, he’s sporting a nose ring and wearing a suede tunic that’s kind of like a medieval hoodie. When I ask him about the irony of calling himself out, he says it’s only natural that whistle-blowers are often participants in the wrongdoing they’re exposing. “One of the reasons why a lot of people will have access to information is because they’re somehow involved in that thing, right?” he says. Chelsea Manning and others, he notes, "were also working on projects that they then realized were not things that they want to be working on, that people probably should know about.”
But Chelsea Manning didn’t draw up the plans for what she exposed. Wylie was the architect. What seems puzzling is why Wylie, an openly gay Canadian who worked on the Obama reelection campaign, was serving a movement so opposed to his own views. He claims, dubiously, that he was slow to learn how his creation would be used, and then he left. Still, he accepts some responsibility for his actions, and says his cooperation with investigations in the US and UK come from his remorse.
His previous self-description as a “chatterbox” is an apt one. In conversation and in his book, he offers all kinds of policy suggestions, but it’s his argument about the power of technology that warrants attention.
As he learned firsthand, technology can seduce an engineer, data scientist, or academic into ignoring the consequences of an experiment or a project on actual people. Wylie was fascinated by the concept of reconstructing a society in silico—capturing people’s data trails and their behavior to remake the actual world. “For me, this whole idea of society as a game was super epic,” he writes. When he got hired to head up research for SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, he saw a chance to pursue that dream, even if it meant working for the likes of Nix, Bannon, and Mercer.
“One of the things that I learned about myself is that I can get involved in an idea and forget, in a really terrible way, what are the actual consequences of what I'm working on?” he says. “When you're, like, writing a Python script, it doesn't feel like you're doing something to someone. You just don't think, ‘How could this actually harm people?’”
Wylie says he’s talked to engineers who've worked at places like Google, YouTube, and Facebook, and heard similar stories. Maybe not as bad as Cambridge Analytica, but bad nonetheless. The people at YouTube working on engagement algorithms surely didn’t think that they were creating a recipe for white-nationalist recruitment. As I listened to Wylie on this subject, I recalled a quote from an early head of research at Facebook, Jeff Hammerbacher. "The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” Hammerbacher once said to a reporter. “That sucks.” (It also sucks when those best minds are figuring out how to sell political ads even though the ads clearly lie.)
Wylie worries engineers don’t spend enough time considering how their projects might go wrong. “You feel like you're just optimizing a button. But what is that button? Could that actually have a social impact? At the point you start to realize what the effects are, you've already built it, and somebody else probably is in control of it.”
Facebook and Google have long lured engineers to their ranks by promising them that because their products reach billions of people, the decisions they make will have tremendous impact. Wylie’s case shows the need for those wizards to question exactly what that impact is. When pursuing an interesting problem like developing facial recognition or recreating a society in silico, it’s all too easy for curious and driven researchers and coders to charge ahead blindly.
The lure of epic impact is hard to restrain. Even as Christopher Wylie explained to me how wrong he was to use people’s data to learn how to manipulate them, he admitted that just describing his system to me got him excited about it again. It’s a clear example of how building and using powerful tools all too often overwhelms the consideration of whether to use them. “I’m literally doing it now,” he says.
Book review: 'MindF*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America,' by Christopher Wylie Inside the world of social-media manipulation
Mon., October 21, 2019
MindF*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America By Clint Watts, Washington Post About a year after I testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee about Russia’s use of social media to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, a young guy with pink hair surfaced in front of the British Parliament and told of how a company called Cambridge Analytica had manipulated Britons into voting to leave the European Union. His name was Christopher Wylie, and in March 2018 he blew the whistle about a firm that was able to influence voters with Facebook data and psychological-warfare techniques developed during the global fight against terrorism. Two months later, Wylie testified before the U.S. Congress, describing how the company, founded in part by former White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon, used social media to promote the political campaigns of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), regimes in the Middle East and Africa, and, most significantly, Donald Trump.
Wylie returns in 2019 with a tell-all book called “MindF*ck” that takes readers into some of the darkest corners of social media manipulation while at the same time showcasing one man’s journey as a self-styled whistleblower - just when whistleblowers are again grabbing the headlines as Congress ponders the impeachment of President Trump. “MindF*ck,” it seems, is Wylie’s shot at redemption, his public alert to the dangers of loose data and the sinister spin artists of social media. “As one of the creators of Cambridge Analytica,” he explains, “I share responsibility for what happened, and I know that I have a profound obligation to right the wrongs of my past.”
“MindF*ck” demonstrates how digital influence operations, when they converged with the nasty business of politics, managed to hollow out democracies - not to mention Wylie’s very soul. Of his time at Cambridge Analytica, he writes: “I stupidly fell for the hubristic allure of Facebook’s call to ‘move fast and break things.’ I’ve never regretted something so much. I moved fast, I built things of immense power, and I never fully appreciated what I was breaking until it was too late.” He details in hundreds of pages his role in making social media a battlefield for political warfare.
My path and Wylie’s never crossed, but they seem to have paralleled in the social media influence space. Over a decade, terrorists moved to the internet and social media, and I followed along. I first worked in counterterrorism at the FBI, then spent years tracking terrorists on social media for the military and designing campaigns to counter violent extremism, before leading a team that stumbled into the Russian disinformation operations targeting the 2016 election. Wylie, in short order, studied the Obama social media political campaigns in America, did voter-targeting campaigns for British politicians and checked in for some war-on-terror psychological operations with Strategic Communications Lab (SCL) before moving to SCL’s burgeoning political-influence subsidiary, Cambridge Analytica. By age 25, Wylie had completed an impressive tour of the world of social media manipulation.
His account of the charlatans of digital influence rings true to me. And his personal story, woven into the book’s narrative, illustrates the confusion of our current political era as well as the challenge to Wylie’s fellow members of the social media generation as they seek identities real and imagined, physical and virtual. “I am a queer whistleblower,” Wylie writes, “and this was my second coming out.” He says early on in the book, “At just twenty years old, I was already a midlife crisis waiting to happen.” His crisis continued post-Cambridge Analytica when he was banned from both Facebook and Instagram. Wylie seems lost without a social media presence, unable to fully realize himself. He makes clear how important the virtual world is to personal identity for his generation and those that follow. (Here, Wylie and I diverge: Having spent the majority of my life without WiFi, I see time away from tweets, likes and shares as a vacation.)
Wylie’s book offers invaluable lessons for any generation about how social media influencing works. “We Fight Terror in Prada,” the third chapter, reminded me of the better information-warfare briefings of my counterterrorism years. Wylie describes how SCL, which he joined in 2013, used social media in programs to break down psychological resilience. It did this by creating “unrealistic perceptions in the targets that result in confusion and damaging self-efficacy,” then following up with counternarratives “to foster distrust,” “trigger negative emotions” and “provoke disunity.” According to Wylie, his understanding of these psychological dynamics influenced the foundation and rapid creation of Cambridge Analytica’s political-warfare operations.
In a chapter titled “The Dark Triad,” he illustrates how rapidly techniques to target social media users improved - and then shifted from use on terrorists and criminals to use on voters. By 2014, Cambridge Analytica had harvested millions of Facebook profiles identifying users’ “five big traits”: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. The firm then mapped these traits alongside what it called the “dark triad” minority traits of “narcissism (extreme self-centeredness), Machiavellianism (ruthless self-interest) and psychopathy (emotional detachment).” By Wylie’s account, Cambridge Analytica would engage those who exhibited dark triad traits, “introducing narratives via Facebook groups, ads, or articles that the firm knew from internal testing were likely to inflame the very narrow segments of people with these traits.” Readers encountering this passage will very likely wonder if they’ve ever been deliberately engaged this way on social media.
Throughout his book, Wylie demonstrates how our social media data has become the oil that feeds the algorithmic engines of an artificially intelligent world mastered by Big Tech kingpins and ruthless oligarchs.
In addition to illustrating how social media manipulation works, Wylie offers insight into some of its chief characters, including those credited with elevating Trump. Hired by Cambridge Analytica’s now-infamous Alexander Nix, Wylie quickly paints his boss as a cheap, elitist scoundrel who would knock over expensive wine bottles and then exclaim, “When you have $20 million, it doesn’t really matter, does it?” Having viewed the undercover video recordings of Nix explaining how to sully political challengers by setting them up with prostitutes, I found this not at all surprising. As for Bannon, Wylie’s conversations with him contribute to a richer understanding of this culture warrior. In the chapter “Steve From America,” Wylie describes how he and Bannon “were clearly on the same wavelength, and the conversation ... flowed so naturally, it felt as if we were flirting.” Wylie concludes only a few months later that “Bannon was also a monster.” He writes, “The social and cultural research I’d been enjoying ... had given birth to this (BEGIN ITAL)thing(END ITAL) - and it was terrifying.”
The deeper Wylie descends into the world of Nix and Bannon, the more troubled he becomes: “We were creating a machine to contaminate America with hate and cultish paranoia, and I could no longer ignore the immorality and illegality of it all.” Throughout the book, I felt a tension between Wylie and Bannon over who gets to decide what means are just. I doubt that Bannon would refute any of Wylie’s account, but he probably doesn’t see the harms the same way Wylie does. Ultimately, the book demonstrates that gatherings of disingenuous, backstabbing, contemptible, often bumbling people can be devastatingly successful when interests align. This may even be the definition of modern politics.
To read “MindF*ck,” one might conclude that Cambridge Analytica alone engineered the entire global populist revolution we see today. But political strategists I’ve met in recent years refer to the company as digital snake oil, only one of many social media efforts pushing Trump. It was probably less effective than Facebook’s own staff assisting Trump campaign digital director Brad Parscale in 2016, and it didn’t have nearly the impact of the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. Wylie marks a lot of suspicious dots from his 2013-2014 time at Cambridge Analytica, but they don’t necessarily connect in a grand 2016 Cambridge Analytica-Brexit-Trump conspiracy, as I believe he intended them to.
Wylie should be applauded for actively seeking to warn America and the world about the likes of Cambridge Analytica and the digital dangers of social media. In the age of celebrity whistleblowers like Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, it’s puzzling, though, that Wylie seems dumbfounded by the negative consequences of attaining his goal: isolation, scorn from the opposition and an uncertain future.
Wylie’s epilogue offers recommendations for legislators and a call for “a code of ethics for software engineers,” but I found myself wondering why he wasted time authoring these when, as he notes, “Cheating is a pretty good strategy to win, as there are very few consequences.”
How Cambridge Analytica fueled a shady global passport bonanza A controversial billion-dollar citizenship-for-sale business led the elections firm to conduct clandestine campaigns across the Caribbean, insiders say.
In 2010, as elections neared in Saint Kitts and Nevis, a grainy hidden-camera video was uploaded to YouTube. In the anonymously produced clip, voters across the small Eastern Caribbean island nation saw prime minister candidate Lindsey Grant in a hotel room, listening as a British-accented property developer promises him a $1.5 million payment in exchange for a bargain price on a plot of government land.
“What we’re after is making sure you get into power,” says the developer, whose face and voice are obscured. In return, “you will help us. . . how does that sound?”
Grant, a Harvard Law School-educated lawyer running on an anti-corruption platform, appears reluctant, but eventually pushes the bribe higher, to $1.7 million. The video cuts to white text on black: “He sold his country and the people’s land just to win power.”
The video went viral in Saint Kitts, and the incumbent prime minister, Denzil Douglas, was soon re-elected for a fourth term. Douglas denied any knowledge of the sting operation, but across the Caribbean, speculation swirled that it was the work of a clandestine London-based political consultancy: SCL Group.
The now-defunct Anglo-American firm has gained notoriety for its harvesting of Facebook profiles and shady campaign tactics, but the storm of controversy has been building for decades. Before its younger sibling, Cambridge Analytica, worked for Donald Trump, SCL Group claimed to have built a portfolio of political work in three dozen countries, deploying its “behavioral change” tactics in sometimes shaky democracies.
In the Eastern Caribbean, where SCL quietly operated in at least six countries, some of its work had an indirect objective: Assisting a lucrative trade in passports. The sales are legal, and lucrative, with the world’s rich thought to spend over $2 billion on “citizenship by investment,” or CBI. But reporting and interviews with industry insiders show how a nexus of buyers, officials, citizenship agents, and consultants has helped enable criminals and ignited political wildfires that continue to rage even now.
In at least five Caribbean nations, the company’s campaigns were backed by Christian H. Kalin, the chief executive of Henley and Partners, a London-based firm that markets and sells second passports, and helped support politicians thought to be sympathetic to Henley’s interests. With a friendly politician in office, according to people familiar with the arrangement, Henley could then become that country’s primary passport merchant, giving it the right to earn lucrative commissions on every sale.
Where SCL worked on campaigns, in some cases with support from Christian Kalin. View a world map of its elections work. [Map: Wikipedia / Infogram / Fast Company] “It was a particular way of achieving his strategic objective, which was to supply money and supply campaign provision to put in to power the government that would be conducive to both him and his clients,” Sven Hughes, who worked on the campaigns as SCL’s head of elections from 2009 to 2010, told Fast Company. To win elections, he said, SCL’s then-CEO Alexander Nix regularly turned to questionable techniques, including the hidden-camera video. Well before the 2010 campaign in Saint Kitts, Henley and Partners worked with Denzil Douglas’s government to turn the country into a citizenship Mecca. For the bargain price of $150,000, approved applicants who donate to the island’s sustainable growth fund can now obtain a passport that, as of 2009, allows visa-free travel to over 100 countries, including the U.K. and the 26-nation European Schengen zone. In Dominica, a similar passport can now be had for $100,000. For those interested in investing in real estate, the passport fees are even lower.
Funds from the passports are now a major source of revenue and investment for these countries, filling holes left by weakening exports and the impacts of hurricanes and climate change: By 2014, passports had become Saint Kitts’s biggest export, with the revenue thought to account for 25% of GDP. Neighboring islands and over 30 countries around the world have set up similar CBI programs, and the U.S. has a related investment scheme, the EB-5 visa. (The use of the EB-5 by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s company is now under federal investigation.)
But Saint Kitts and Dominica offer two of the world’s cheapest, largest, and oldest CBI programs. And, unlike some rich countries that require aspiring citizens to actually reside there, Dominica, which is just 290 square miles, and Saint Kitts, which is only 105 square miles, do not.
Many of the passport holders are from countries with unpopular passports who may otherwise have trouble obtaining travel visas—think Iran, China, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan. The firms say their well-heeled clients are seeking protection against unpredictable situations at home amid an era of terrorism fears and economic instability.
Saint Kitts and Nevis [Photo: Flickr user Boss Tweed] But the investment programs have also proved popular with a Who’s Who of fugitives and fraudsters. Convicted felons Paul Bilzerian and Roger Ver gave up their U.S. citizenship and now use Saint Kitts passports. Ross Ulbricht, the founder of the illicit marketplace Silk Road, now appealing a life sentence handed down by a U.S. court, was attempting to obtain Dominica citizenship when he was arrested. Overseas tax evasion is estimated to cost the U.S. as much as $100 billion annually, but Washington’s concerns are larger than taxes. It was a series of “Iranian nationals” seeking to evade global sanctions whom the U.S. Treasury cited in 2014 when it added Saint Kitts’s passports to a watch list, warning financial institutions of their role in “illicit financial activity.”
Alexander Nix [Photo: Sam Barnes/Web Summit via Sportsfile] The following year, in testimony to the U.S Senate armed services committee, John Kelly, then Marine Corps general and current White House chief of staff, said the passport programs “could be exploited by criminals, terrorists, or other nefarious actors.” Kalin, a wiry Swiss economic citizenship impresario known as “the passport king,” admitted in an interview with 60 Minutes last year that the Saint Kitts program, which his firm helped design and relaunch in 2006, “tended for some time to attract quite a few people that I would never let into the country.” Like data about the passports—it’s not publicly known how many are out there and who holds them—the precise role of firms like Henley and SCL has also remained mostly in the shadows, the subject of allegations of dirty tricks, kickbacks, and hidden commissions that have circulated across the Caribbean for years. Then in March, as allegations by former SCL employee Christopher Wylie and Channel 4’s reporting documented a litany of misdeeds by the company, details of the Kalin-SCL relationship first began to emerge in a report in The Spectator.
In an interview with Fast Company, Hughes, the former SCL elections head, said that Kalin was “heavily involved” in the campaigns. As part of the partnership, the Henley CEO would supply financing from unknown investors, provide talking points for candidates, and discuss with them various development projects they could expect once in power. “That might be the building of an airport, that might be building a deep seaport, that might be real estate,” said Hughes. It isn’t clear if any such projects materialized.
During all of the campaigns, according to the former SCL employee, Alexander Nix deployed the same kind of underhanded tactics that the future Cambridge Analytica CEO would later brag about to an undercover reporter for Channel 4 News. Hughes, who said he refused to be involved in Nix’s techniques, decided to leave the company after the CEO’s methods began to imperil the safety of his on-the-ground foreign campaign staff. “I said to him, ‘You’re going to get someone killed.'”
In response to questions from Fast Company, Henley and Partners emailed a statement saying that neither the firm nor Kalin “has ever provided funding for any election campaign, and there has never been any form of connection between the granting of any government mandate we have received and any election.” However, as part of its citizenship-by-investment business, Henley “naturally sometimes also interacts with political leaders of opposition parties that are interested in the topic of investment migration for the purpose of their economic-policy agendas.”
Henley’s relationship with SCL, the firm said, was not a “formal working relationship.” Rather, shortly before the 2010 election in Saint Kitts, Nix was introduced to Kalin by the government of the time, “as he was to many other firms and consultants working with the government on economic, political, or social issues in the Caribbean.”
Nix would become Cambridge Analytica’s CEO when the firm was founded in 2012, with backing from the U.S. hedge fund billionaire and Trump donor Robert Mercer. The company, which declared bankruptcy in May, is now under investigation by British and American authorities.
Under questioning from British lawmakers last month, Nix acknowledged that he and Kalin had a “relationship” during SCL’s campaigning in the Caribbean, and that “he may well have made contributions towards the election campaigns.” Pressed on the nature of their relationship, Nix said that Kalin didn’t work on the campaigns, but “certainly had an interest in the outcome of the elections.”
Nix also told lawmakers that the claims he made in the Channel 4 video about deploying bribes and stings during elections were fabricated and “foolish.” Rather, it was he who had been the victim of an “entrapment sting” by the television network, he said. Representatives for SCL did not respond to a request for comment.
Timothy Harris, the prime minister of Saint Kitts, said his government would await the outcome of the British investigation before commenting on SCL’s and Kalin’s work in Saint Kitts. “The electorate needs to know who and what they are voting for and should not be manipulated through the use of clever analytics,” Harris said in an emailed statement to Fast Company.
Harris encountered SCL’s work in 2015, when he was running for office against Denzil Douglas on a pledge to reform the country’s passport program: Nix, according to a report in the Guardian, turned to a team of Israeli hackers to obtain the candidate’s private emails and medical records.
Harris won that election, and amid global scrutiny of the country’s citizenship investor program, Henley and Partners was dismissed as the country’s main passport seller. In 2014, Henley also lost its position as the primary agent for Dominica’s passports, after SCL’s second attempt to unseat incumbent Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit failed.
Cambridge Analytica’s website boasts of its 2010 victory in Saint Kitts and Nevis. View full size here [Screenshot: Cambridge Analytica] Despite its boasts of having never lost an election, SCL often lost in the Caribbean. The elections firm worked on unsuccessful political campaigns in Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, and Antigua and Barbuda, where it was accused of spreading deliberately false stories. An unsuccessful campaign for the then-governing party in Trinidad in 2013 has drawn the scrutiny of the country’s attorney general. Ahead of 2010 elections in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves complained that SCL had illegally brought in foreigners on tourist visas to work as political consultants, an accusation echoed in the recent firestorm over Cambridge Analytica’s work for Donald Trump. The fourth-term prime minister—who is alone among the region’s heads of state in resisting citizenship-by-investment programs—also accused foreign actors of spreading a barrage of false stories about him during the campaign.
According to an SCL presentation seen by the Times of London, the firm had launched a “targeted digital attack” against Gonsalves. “Within three weeks every single reference to him on the first two pages of Google . . . referred to the candidate’s horrific track record of corruption, coercion, rape allegations, and victimization,” SCL said in the documents. SCL’s $4 million bill for its work in Saint Vincent that year, according to one series of emails, included $100,000 for “counter operations.”
It was after that campaign that Hughes cut ties with SCL. Nix’s shady, under-the-radar tactics, he said, often left him and SCL’s team of on-the-ground campaign workers in danger. “He’d come in, do one of these leaks, and then fly out and leave the rest of us to pick up the pieces, which left us in a very compromised and sometimes dangerous position.”
Hughes, who is now the CEO of his own London-based communications consultancy, Verbalisation, now sees other dangers in the campaigns he helped run. “Is it acceptable to secretly guide elections with secret money and secret guidance in small countries and overturn the democratic process? Whether or not that’s criminal action or whether or not that’s unethical action, it certainly needs to be investigated.”
“Be ready for a big bill”
Concerns about the passport programs aren’t confined to the Caribbean. When reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bombing in Malta in October, she’d been investigating her country’s own controversial passport sales, and examining links between the government of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Henley and Partners. (The firm has been Malta’s exclusive passport agent since it helped launch its CBI program in 2013.) “The damage caused to Malta by the sale of citizenship is unquantifiable,” Caruana Galizia wrote on her blog about the country’s so-called golden visas. “Malta is not St. Kitts & Nevis. It is interlocked with the rest of the EU.”
At the time of her murder, which remains under investigation, Caruana Galizia was facing dozens of defamation lawsuits, including from Henley as well as the cofounder of Malta’s Pilatus Bank, Ali Sadr Hasheminejad. The son of one of Iran’s richest men, Hasheminejad has been linked to money laundering and other corrupt activities with officials in the prime minister’s inner circle. He was also one of Henley’s most prominent customers: the firm helped him secure a Saint Kitts passport in 2009. (When federal agents arrested him in March at a Washington, D.C. airport on charges of evading U.S. sanctions against Iran, he was carrying four passports.) A spokesperson for Henley said that the firm had no relationship with Hasheminejad, and that it had rejected a proposal of his to collaborate on Malta’s passport program.
Since Henley lost its position as the primary agent for marketing Dominica and Saint Kitts passports, another London-based citizenship firm called CS Global Partners has risen in its place. Founded and led by a former attorney at Henley and Partners, CS Global is said to have been financed in part by a British-Indian investor named Dev Bath. Bath, who served as a director at the firm for over a year, remains a consultant to the company. His LinkedIn profile doesn’t mention CS Global, and describes him only by his title, “Special Representative of St. Kitts and Nevis,” which furnishes him with a diplomatic passport to the country.
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Bath has also hired Lanny J. Davis, the longtime D.C. lobbyist and former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, to help promote Saint Kitts and Dominica passports. In one 2013 advertorial extolling the benefits of investor citizenship, Davis quotes his client, who “became a resident of Saint Kitts many years ago and has become a well-known global business leader.”
Last year, Davis’s lobbying work on behalf of Saint Kitts raised eyebrows in Parliament, particularly around the question of who paid him and his law firm more than $96,000. His services—lobbying U.S. and Canadian authorities to lift their restrictions on the country’s passports—”comes at no cost to our government,” Prime Minister Harris told the National Assembly in 2015. Indeed, as public filings indicate, Davis’s fees were paid by CS Global.
Prime Minister Timothy Harris [Photo: Flickr user Saint Kitts and Nevis Photo Stream] In an email to Fast Company, Davis said he had ceased representing Bath and Saint Kitts over a year ago. “Dev Bath and CS Global perform a valuable service,” he added. Bath declined to comment for this story. In recent months, one of Bath’s longtime business partners has thrust the country into a fresh storm of bribery allegations. Peter Singh Virdee, a property magnate also of British-Indian descent, had sought to secure solar energy contracts in the Caribbean as part of a renewable energy venture. In one 2016 phone call, disclosed in a British court in May, Virdee described to an associate the need to entertain the prime minister of Saint Kitts and his entourage in London that evening, “so be ready for a big bill.” In another conversation, Virdee, who also holds an Antiguan passport, said that Saint Kitts’s prime minister had asked for a watch and a pair of shoes.
In a preliminary judgment, the U.K.’s National Crime Agency stated that “the claimants were ready and willing to pay bribes, and had given at least one gift to a Caribbean politician.” Virdee, who was arrested in January 2017 at Heathrow Airport on separate charges of a plot to evade millions dollars in carbon credit taxes, has denied any wrongdoing.
Bath and CS Global have not been linked to the allegations surrounding Virdee. But when asked about Virdee’s association with Bath and Saint Kitts, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s office said that “a historical business relationship that involves CS Global and the country’s CBI program” is now “under review.”
Amid the allegations, Prime Minister Harris denied any impropriety, and in May called for an investigation into the government of his predecessor Denzil Douglas. Douglas, now leader of the opposition, called for Harris to resign. “As a small Caribbean nation, we are fast losing our reputation,” he said in a recent address, “and the lifeblood of this country is being sucked from it as corruption runs amok, and there seems to be a return of the image of Devil’s Island.”
Douglas–who himself has admitted to once meeting Virdee in the presence of Henley & Partners–is currently embroiled in his own passport scandal: It was recently revealed that he also holds a diplomatic passport from Dominica. The second passport is now being examined by Saint Kitts’s High Court.
A win-win—or a race to the bottom
The governments of the Caribbean and the passport firms insist they have stepped up their reviews of applicants and closed loopholes. (In one notorious instance, Saint Kitts had to recall 5,000 passports, because for years the documents did not include the owner’s place of birth.) Continuing reforms, the Prime Minister’s office said in an email, showed that “we are moving in the right direction.” The new vetting process for prospective Saint Kitts citizens, a CS Global spokesperson said, “is among the most strict in the world.” In May the European Union removed the country from an economic black list, citing the government’s commitment to reforming its passport program. (As of March, Dominica remains on a so-called gray list.)
Still, some worry that recent discounts for some passports and a growing applicant pool will drive CBI programs to cut corners. David Jessop, former head president of the London-based nonprofit Caribbean Council, wrote last November that growing competition among the citizenship-by-investment programs risked “becoming a dangerous race to the bottom.” He cited “the sometimes-questionable comments and defensive public relations exercises undertaken by some agents selling CBI programs” and “the questions that remain about the due diligence processes some governments pursue.”
Last year, as part of efforts to raise money to rebuild infrastructure heavily damaged by Hurricane Maria, some Caribbean nations began to drastically cut their passport fees. In Dominica, Antigua, Barbuda, and Grenada, an investor passport can now be obtained through a $100,000 donation to a national fund. And investors seeking to obtain citizenship from Dominica, Saint Kitts, Antigua, or Grenada also have a new option: For an investment of at least $200,000 into a government-approved real estate project, a customer can obtain a passport for about $50,000, half the typical price.
(Paolo Zampolli, a businessman who holds an honorary ambassadorship to the U.N. from Dominica–and who takes credit for introducing Donald Trump to Melania Knauss in 1998–has also claimed some credit for kickstarting this newer passport option: He introduced Dominica’s ambassador to the U.S. to the head of Dubai-based Range Developments, a property firm that now markets the real estate investment program in Dominica and Saint Kitts.)
Scott’s Head, Dominica [Photo: Konstantin Krismer/Wikimedia Commons] In Saint Kitts, the application process now typically takes three to four months, but an accelerated process also allows clients a guaranteed outcome—including issuance of the passport— in 60 days or fewer. In October, after other impacted islands lowered their prices, Saint Kitts also set up its own Hurricane Relief Fund and reduced the price of citizenship through its real estate investment option, from the standard of rate of $150,000 to just $75,000 for a family of four. The new fund has brought in record numbers of applicants: Over a five-month period, according to rough statistics released by the prime minister, the island of 50,000 people attracted 1,200 investor passport applications. In April, the head of Dominica’s CIU program said that the country had seen between 1,500 and 2,000 applications over the course of the last year.
The Saint Kitts fund was “a win-win for applicant and country,” Micha Emmett, CS Global Partners CEO, said in a press release. But Douglas, the former prime minister, blasted it as “a blatantly opportunistic move”: Since Saint Kitts had emerged relatively unscathed from Hurricane Maria, the fund had effectively undercut recovery efforts on other islands, he argued.
Opposition parties in both countries continue to raise questions about the programs, including about how much revenue they have earned and where that money is. As of 2014, Saint Kitts’ Sugar Industry Diversification Fund, to which most aspiring citizens had donated, had reached $1.5 billion in Eastern Caribbean dollars, or about U.S. $550 million. However, according to an estimate by Dwyer Astaphan, former minister of national security and tourism, the total donations to the fund should have amounted to a number closer to around $611 million. The discrepancy is due to the passport agents’ override commissions, he alleges, estimating that passport consultants have pocketed some $61 million.
The programs and accounts of the sugar industry fund remain under an independent review, a spokesperson for Harris said it in a statement. “Final numbers have not yet been determined, and as such, any suggestion of a discrepancy is at best, premature.”
In Dominica, opposition leaders have also cited a gross discrepancy between the passport revenues publicly reported to the Treasury—around $9 million between 2014 and 2015—and likely estimated revenues of $30 million that year. Representatives for Dominica’s passport program did not respond to requests for comment, but a spokesperson for CS Global said that all funds received under the program are “regularly outlined and reviewed by Parliament for distribution in the national budget.”
Dominica and Saint Kitts also do not disclose comprehensive data about their normal or diplomatic passport holders. For instance, Dominica’s January 2017 Official Gazette listed the 2011 passport recipients: 288, compared with a total island population of around 80,000. In February 2017, as revelations emerged that the government had sold diplomatic passports to alleged criminals, public frustration over the passport sales boiled over into violence. After demonstrations in the capital Roseau deteriorated into vandalism, police in riot gear used tear gas against the crowd.
In the wake of the protests, a number of people were arrested, including an opposition Member of Parliament, an opposition Senator, and two other opposition politicians. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit accused “irresponsible politicians” with the opposition of conducting a “concerted and orchestrated campaign against the citizenship by investment program.” Skerrit also promised reforms to the way the country reviews prospective citizens, and expressed regret, he said, “at the unfortunate turn of events with respect to a few persons holding diplomatic passports becoming persons of interest to foreign countries and external security organizations.”
Cleaning up the Eastern Caribbean passport mess likely requires larger sociopolitical changes that are unlikely to occur soon. One measure, however, might be close to a quick fix: laws against non-citizens paying for or participating in election activities. Of course, this would still not prevent holders of investor passports from participating. But it might help preclude quickie carpetbagging of the type practiced by firms like Cambridge Analytica.
Meanwhile, both islands’ passport programs continue to flourish, thanks to tight relationships with industry partners. In April, Dominica appointed Nuri Katz as its ambassador to the Russian Federation, whom a government press release identifies as “a founding member of a number of businesses in Canada, Russia, and Ukraine.” (Katz holds a number of passports.) The government’s announcement about his appointment, however, does not mention his occupation, which suggests a conflict of interest: Katz is also president of Apex Capital, another prominent passport firm. The company is currently offering several real estate investment options in Saint Kitts and Dominica.
Ann Marlowe, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, is a writer and financial investigator in New York. Follow her at @annmarlowe.