Cambridge Analytica was offered hacked data on foreign politicians: report

Cambridge Analytica was offered hacked data on foreign politicians: report
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Cambridge Analytica, the data firm used by the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential campaign, was reportedly offered compromising material from hackers regarding two foreign politicians now serving as their respective heads of state.

Top officials at the firm, including CEO Alexander Nix, briefed staff members on how to handle what the staffers believe was information that had been illegally obtained by Israeli hackers regarding election campaigns in Nigeria and St. Kitts and Nevis, The Guardian reported Wednesday

The incidents involving the stolen information, which allegedly occurred in 2015, sparked concern among the firm's staff members, many of whom wanted no part in them, multiple sources told the news outlet.

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In the case of the Nigerian presidential race, Cambridge Analytica was hired to help reelect Goodluck Jonathan for an estimated $2 million by targeting his political rival, opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari. 

A senior director at the firm arranged for Israeli cybersecurity contractors to visit Cambridge Analytica’s London offices in 2015, staff working on the campaign told The Guardian.

The contractors offered a USB stick allegedly containing hacked emails, which the staff was then instructed to sift through to look for political dirt that could be used to damage Jonathan's opponents, including Buhari, sources told the news outlet.

“It made everyone feel really uncomfortable,” one of the sources said. “They wanted people to load it into their email programs.”

One email The Guardian reviewed referred to the “Israeli team” in late January 2015, according to the report.

SCL Elections, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, denied claims to The Guardian that they either accepted or used stolen data in their campaign work. 

The company defended the meetings with the Israeli contractors, saying it is common practice to meet with vendors who are offering a range of services.

“During an election campaign, it is normal for SCL Elections to meet with vendors seeking to provide services as a subcontractor. SCL Elections did not take possession of or use any personal information from such individuals for any purposes. SCL Elections does not use ‘hacked’ or ‘stolen’ data,” the statement reads.

The news outlet reported there is no indication Jonathan was aware of the covert operations. Buhari ended up winning the presidency.

In a second incident, the same Israeli contractors obtained information regarding St. Kitts and Nevis politician Timothy Harris, according to The Guardian.

As with the Nigerian campaign episode, staffers at Cambridge Analytica were uncomfortable with the situation and didn't want to deal with what they suspected was stolen information, the news outlet reported. 

The Guardian report is the latest development in an ongoing scandal involving the firm, which began over the weekend when Facebook suspended the company for its improper use of data from users on the social media platform.

The company was further pushed into the spotlight on Tuesday when a video surfaced in which Nix was surreptitiously filmed discussing the use of bribes, prostitutes and other dirty tricks in an effort to get ahead in political elections.

“I mean deep digging is interesting, but you know equally effective can be just to go and speak to the incumbents and to offer them a deal that’s too good to be true and make sure that video's recorded, you know,” Nix can be heard saying in the video published by Channel 4 News in the U.K.

“These sorts of tactics are very effective," he said.

The firm’s board of directors suspended Nix on Tuesday over the footage. Cambridge Analytica has denied using such tactics.

Nix, who has testified before Congress about his firm’s role in the 2016 election, now has Democratic House Intelligence Committee lawmakers questioning whether he was truthful in his interview and calling for him to again testify about his work for the Trump campaign.

GOP lawmakers such as Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayLive coverage: Democrats, Republicans seek to win PR battle in final House impeachment hearing Laughter erupts at hearing after Democrat fires back: Trump 'has 5 Pinocchios on a daily basis' Live coverage: Schiff closes with speech highlighting claims of Trump's corruption MORE (R-Texas) say that if the reports are true then the company’s misuse of Facebook users' information is “concerning."

Politicians in the U.K. are also looking into Cambridge Analytica's campaign practices.