Who among us is not registered in at least one social network? The choice is vast: LinkedIn (in the workplace), Instagram (for beautiful images), Twitter (for “flying” thoughts and aphorisms), TikTok (loved by the younger generations, full of irony and music videos), and then again WhatsApp and Telegram (to converse) and the most famous of all – Facebook, to maintain relations with friends. They are flexible, very fast tools, to which we entrust our most intimate thoughts, our tastes, our fears and our passions.
What would happen if, suddenly, there was a system to record everything you do, say and are told, to manipulate your opinion, to artificially shift your attention away from important things and even to get you to vote for the candidate wanted by “their”? Who are they? Who can ever have a reason to make you vote Donald Trump, or get the UK out of the European Union? Today, these questions are answered: a computer marketing company called Cambridge Analytica.
It did so by collecting all the data from social networks (especially Facebook), analyzing them, studying our individual preferences in terms of food, books, travel and, above all, opinions. He did it for money, no matter who paid. It did so by suggesting content to the customer – content that met the tastes of the majority of users who, in this way, received advertising stimuli without realizing it, most of the time in the form of electronic avatars which, once accepted as “friends”, covered the wall of manipulative messages, fake news, invitations to anger.
Nothing dangerous, you say? For Christopher Wylie, one of the nerds who worked on the algorithms and programs used by Cambridge Analytica, the results of the American elections were enough to convince him otherwise and be overwhelmed by the horror of all the things that can be achieved in this way. It was he, one of the tricks of Donald Trump’s victorious electoral campaign, who told the British and American magistrates this story from the inside: the secret ties, the dark mechanisms, the battle of interests and capital.
The judiciary reacted immediately: Cambridge Analytica’s contracts were declared illegal, the group’s companies filed for bankruptcy but, as in the best action films, this was not the end: the technology, the staff, the data, the network commercial and political, as well as the company’s capital, have been transferred to a new entity, Emerdata Plc, which is even more mysterious and uncontrollable.
Story of unscrupulous entrepreneurs
Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah (left), Alexander Nix (right), the founders of Cambridge Analytica
It is a very recent story: on July 20, 2005, in London, the American entrepreneur Robert Mercer, together with the very young advertising consultant Alexander Nix (he was 30 years old), founded an advertising and electoral consultancy company, the SCL Group (Strategic Communication Laboratories ), which wants to help companies prepare advertising campaigns for their products and politicians to prepare their individual electoral campaigns. The initial group is a mixture of advertising experts (such as Roger Michael Gabb, Nigel and Alexander Oakes), of crypto data analysts (such as John Bottomley), with surprising and unscrupulous ideas, which Mercer approaches personalities of politics and finance with money to make any dream come true.
SCL technicians are personally supported by a historical leader of the English right, Colonel Sir Geoffrey Edwin Pattie, Margaret Thatcher’s minister, who has always supported the idea that the army must have sophisticated technological systems to defend itself on the internet) – and by other right-wing extremists like Julian Wheatland. But the most famous initial financier of SCL is the exiled Iranian businessman Vincent Tchenguiz, shareholder of SCL through his Consensus Business Group: already involved in a major financial scandal, from which he will later be acquitted, Tchenguiz is still engaged in espionage and invests in Israeli military technology.
The company initially had a single client, brokered by Sir Pattie, but in the short space of a few months, SCL obtains important new contracts with several defense ministries in NATO countries. At the same time, the money used in the various projects also grows, and for this the contributions of the Mercer family and Steve Bannon were fundamental, and with the increase in the number of customers, the need to have a boutique for the best customers also arises: Cambridge Analytica.
Mercer is a former IBM technician, who became a billionaire thanks to a company that studies artificial intelligence, Renaissance Technologies Llc, and further enriched himself by speculating on the stock market, managing hedge funds and accompanying Donald Trump’s commercial career. Mercer will also ask Trump to invest in Cambridge Analytica, after the two billionaires became friends and discovered that they have common ideas that unite them to the extreme right-wing supremacist and undemocratic.
Mercer is the founder of the far-right blog “Breitbart News,” which he later succumbed to his daughters “for personal reasons,” as they both share his extremist views. His daughter Rebekah is the owner of the “Center Firearms Co” gun shop, accused of financing the assault on Capitol Hill in 2021. The family has been donating large sums to the Republican Party for years, financing Steve Bannon’s propaganda activities and Donald Trump’s commercial activities, for which Rebekah recently formed her own lobbying group, Making America Great, headed by Emily Cornell, ex Cambridge Analytica executive.
Robert Mercer is a shy man, and the only visible signs of his existence are the billionaire yachts he buys, all called Sea Owl; plus a set of $ 2.9 million model trains, plus billions more paid to climate-denying NGOs (Heartland Institute, CO2 Coalition and Cato Institute) and finally his favorite toy, Breitbart News, an online newspaper that publishes campaigns based on lies, which splashes mud on the enemies of the American far right, which seeks to defeat, in a Darwinistic-post-industrial key, those that Mercer and his dolphin, Steve Bannon consider the two greatest woes of our time: liberalism and democracy.
Stephen Bannon led Breitbart from its founding to 2018, when an argument with Trump made him decide to leave – only briefly, because Bannon, who has since joined Cambridge Analytica’s management and shareholder base, is a man Trump does not. he can renounce: and in fact, in 2017, he appoints him as a member of the Security Council of the United States, where he will be the inspirer of the Muslim Travel Ban and of the “wall” on the border with Mexico.
After the election, Bannon was considered “Trump’s black mind”, especially after he was able to persuade the new president to unilaterally withdraw the United States from the Paris climate deal to please conservative industrialists. In November 2018, Bannon was investigated by the Senate for his relations with George Papadopoulos (later sentenced to 14 days in prison) and William Page, two former advisers in Trump’s presidential campaign accused of being in contact with Russian secret agents (Russiagate) and with managers of the Russian oil group LukOil; a few days later the investigation was also extended to his activities in Cambridge Analytica, convincing Bannon, who feared arrest, to emigrate to Europe and create the “The Movement” project to bring together the populist leaders of the Old Continent, promote nationalism economic and right-wing populism in Europe – a movement that Matteo Salvini has joined since 2018.
Children of a lesser nerd
Aleksandr Kogan (left) and Christopher Wylie (right)
Trump, Mercer and Bannon are great puppeteers, people used to dealing with the powerful and running global campaigns. Cambridge Analytica is mainly made up of nerds who, following their creativity, discover computerized systems of manipulation of consent. Cambridge Analytica, founded in 2013 as a subsidiary of the SCL Group of Mercer, Tchenguiz and Bannon, has set itself, from the outset, the aim of “changing public behavior”. She specializes in “election management strategies” and “messaging and information operations”, already perfected by obscure nerds, in obscure small IT companies with military contracts, over 25 years of operations in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In military circles this is known as “psyops” – psychological operations, which serve to reduce the enemy’s will to fight. Cambridge Analytica initially uses that software for micromarketing programs. The company collects data from various sources including social media platforms like Facebook and, instead of selling items, it imagines selling a political project with the systems of the psyops. And he sells it to every single person, gathering all his accessible data to develop a highly detailed psychological and emotional profile. The set of various profiles is then used to develop political strategies.
This program is developed by Michal Kosinski, a Cambridge nerd expert in computer and psychonometry, who wanted to use the program to persuade the supporters of abstention to go and vote – so that Kosinski, when he understands the Mercer and Bannon project, gives up everything, but it has now lost possession of its software. In his place Mercer calls another nerd, Aleksandr Kogan, who has his own small software company called GSR Global Science Research: he discovers a new Facebook application, called “This is Your Digital Life” which has a special permission to collect information. not only from the person using the app, but also from his network, collecting the info on each of the contacts.
Kogan is Moldovan, his childhood was spent in Moscow, for him the West is the Promised Land. The GSR founded it together with a friend, Joseph Andrew Chancellor, who like Kogan is extremely ambitious and doesn’t give a damn about Hamletic doubts. When GSR gets the big contract with SCL, Joseph leaves and goes to work for Facebook… . Joseph’s place is taken by Christopher Wylie, who calls himself a “gay vegan Canadian” and, after spending terrible years as a victim of bullying, drops out of school, becomes a successful self-taught and graduates from the London School of Economics. He joined Cambridge Analytica in 2013, after moving to Alexander Nix’s SCL Elections Ltd.
But seeing Bannon at work upsets him, so he leaves and goes to tell the police everything. And Wilye begins by telling about Alexander Nix, a boy with a good college resume, selfish and ambitious. Nix is the charming man who gives client presentations, gives university lectures, smiles on TV – and who, surprisingly, will stay out of the Cambridge Analytica management criminal investigation.
The great presidential race of 2016
Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica, in the company’s office in New York City in October 2016
The first to notice that something is wrong with the personal data of Facebook users is The Guardian reporter Harry Davies in December 2015: he says that Cambridge Analytica works for US Senator Ted Cruz and uses data collected from millions of accounts Facebook without any consent from their owners – which is why Facebook ordered Kogan to stop and blocked him on all sites.
Kogan closes GSR and goes to San Francisco, where he founds Philometrics and continues to work for Cambridge Analytica, initially analyzing forecasts on the trend of cryptocurrencies. But when, in March 2018, Special Attorney Robert Mueller investigates Russia’s alleged interference in US elections and suspicion that illegal counter-propaganda has been organized against the Clinton family, Kogan’s name is among the first to appear on documents seized in Cambridge. Analytica.
In the summer of 2016, as manager Molly Schweickert testifies, the Trump committee entrusts Cambridge Analytica with the management of the campaign: Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, hires a computer scientist, Brad Parscale, who puts the Trumps in contact with Cambridge Analytica. Steve Bannon, at the time head of Breitbart News, Trump’s election campaign manager and former vice president of Cambridge Analytica, decided to stake everything on this project.
Two years later it will be discovered that Nix had kept Wylie’s software and that much of Cambridge Analytica’s work was done using the data he had gleaned from Facebook. The software reads the data, organizes it, responds to each one, publishes fake news with millions of often fictitious avatars. But now the judiciary is unstoppable: in March 2018, Cambridge Analytica is the subject of criminal investigations on both sides of the Atlantic. The deeper the judiciary goes into the analysis of internal documents, the more it discovers: in the course of just four years, the staff of the nerds put together by Mercer has manipulated elections in at least 200 cases in a couple of dozen countries. It may seem strange to you, but no government of those countries has wanted to deepen the subject – Italy, France, Spain and Germany included.
Ties with Russia and the United Arab Emirates
In December 2016, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan visits Trump Tower and meets Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon – this is a serious violation of diplomatic protocol, as Abu Dhabi’s number two forgets to contact the federal administration, led by Barack Obama, just as it forgets to have met, a few minutes earlier, in the same rooms, the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
To federal magistrates, Trump’s men will tell that the trading of shares of the oil giant Rosneft was being negotiated, and that Mohammed Bin Zayed, in this regard, had previously organized a meeting in the Seychelles which was also attended by the oligarch Kirill Dmitriev, the founder Blackwater mercenary firm Erik Prince, and Trump consultant George Nader. In reality, there is discussion about the price that Moscow asks Trump for having a less cooperative attitude with Iran. It is not known what the Russians responded, but it is since that time that the Russian regime has started using Cambridge Analytica to try to influence the US presidential election in favor of Donald Trump – a project coordinated by Michael Flynn and Sergey Kislyak.
In the fall of 2017, the UAE Media National Council signs a contract with SCL Social (another SCL group company) for $ 330,000 to conduct a global media campaign against Qatar. As, a few months later, the companies of the SCL group are forced into bankruptcy, this contract will be transferred to a new company, based in Abu Dhabi, named Emerdata Plc, whose shareholders and managers are exactly the same as those of Cambridge Analytica, and which maintains the main and most delicate political and diplomatic ties. As for the activities that concern all the other customers and countries connected to the individual companies of the SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica, these were moved to Romania, to the offices of SC Strategic Communications Laboratories Srl Baia Mare.
While the old contracts seem to be concentrated within this new secret industrial and commercial group, on the other hand there are important managers of Cambridge Analytica who found new companies and acquire new customers. One among all: Ahmad Ahraf Al Khatib, a computer technician originally from the United Arab Emirates but currently a citizen of the Seychelles Islands. Al Khatib worked for the Mubadala military group, owned by Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and for the state-owned investment fund ADIA Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (also headed by Al-Nahyan) and from there he moved to the helm of Emerdata.
In the summer of 2018 he founded Auspex International Ltd. Chalvington (a small town a few kilometers from Eastbourne and Brighton), which has new and almost all unknown clients, but the same usual Cambridge Analytica software available. 20% of this company belongs to Vision Esop Ltd. Chalvington (currently in liquidation, owned by Al Khatib and another ex of SCL, Mike Popesku), 80% belongs to Vision Holdco Ltd., a company possibly registered in Seychelles, whose shareholders are unknown. In addition to this, Al Khatib has started a commercial activity in Brazil, linked to an Islamic religious association.
Like Al Khatib, a dozen other former Cambridge Analytica analysts are currently in full swing, either in the ranks of Emerdata or as owners of very small one-man businesses however connected to Emerdata. It is not known what they do, but they certainly use the same software, or possibly a further development of the technology that, a few years ago, was used by Cambridge Analytica. This means that the criminal investigations against the activities of Mercer and Bannon’s group have been, for Cambridge Analytica, like a huge global advertising campaign and that, everywhere on the planet, there are regimes and individual political groups that, just as we write, are using illegally social networks and any other data collection system to manipulate the electorate, that is you, that is us.
 2005.07.13 SCL Group Ltd. Tunbridge Wells
 2008.07.21 SCL Group Ltd. Tunbridge Wells
 https://web.archive.org/web/20120207163707/http://www.palgrave.com/PDFs/1403903735.Pdf, pages 11-12 ; https://web.archive.org/web/20080604112403/http://www.psr.keele.ac.uk/table/york/Defence.html#Defence74
 https://www.businessinsider.com/theresa-may-dodges-question-on-tory-links-to-cambridge-analytica-2018-3?IR=T ; https://www.thisisoxfordshire.co.uk/news/national/16103068.cambridge-analytica-founders-behind-new-london-based-data-processing-company/
 2015.10.01 Consensus Business Group Ltd. London
 2011.01.24 Vincent Aziz Tchenguiz on eVigilo
 https://www.rentec.com/Home.action?index=true ; https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/robert-mercer-breitbart-war-on-media-steve-bannon-donald-trump-nigel-farage ; https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs//summary?id=D000022219&cycle=A
 Main financier of Parler – a social media that was born in 2018 to “support free speech” and that already has the profiles of Eric, son of Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others. The social network was blocked by Apple, Google and Android for numerous violations of the regulations and incitement to violence, see: https://forbes.it/2021/01/11/rebekah-mercer-ereditiera-dietro-parler-il-social-ultra-conservatore-bandito-dal-web/
 https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump ; https://www.npr.org/2019/10/08/768216311/whistleblower-explains-how-cambridge-analytica-helped-fuel-u-s-insurgency?t=1621004563814
 https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump ; https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/18/what-is-cambridge-analytica-firm-at-centre-of-facebook-data-breach
 Video interview con Christopher Wylie: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/18/what-is-cambridge-analytica-firm-at-centre-of-facebook-data-breach
 Video interview con Christopher Wylie: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/18/what-is-cambridge-analytica-firm-at-centre-of-facebook-data-breach
 Cambridge Analytica has handed over some of the data collected in the UK to the Leave faction during Brexit, in particular to committees close to Nigel Farage (his lawyer, moreover, lived in the same building as Bannon), see: https://www.pandorarivista.it/articoli/steve-bannon-e-robert-mercer/#_ftn14 ; https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/mar/15/cambridge-analytica-illegal-foreign-donors-leave-eu-arron-banks ; https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/robert-mercer-breitbart-war-on-media-steve-bannon-donald-trump-nigel-farage ; https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump
 Christopher Wylie, “Mindf*ck: inside Cambridge Analytica’s plot to break the world“, Profile Books, London 2019; Andreas Jungherr, “Retooling politics: How digital media are shaping democracy”, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2020; Nazzareno Tirino, “Cambridge Analytica. Il potere segreto, la gestione del consenso e la fine della propaganda”, Edizioni Libellula, Lecce 2019
 Prince is best known as the founder of Blackwater, a security company that has become a symbol of US abuse in Iraq after a series of incidents, including one in 2007 in which company guards were accused – and subsequently criminally convicted – of killing civilians in a crowded Iraqi square. Prince sold the company, which was later renamed, but went on to build a private paramilitary empire with contracts across the Middle East and Asia. He is now the head of a Hong Kong-based company known as the Frontier Services Group, see: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/blackwater-founder-held-secret-seychelles-meeting-to-establish-trump-putin-back-channel/2017/04/03/95908a08-1648-11e7-ada0-1489b735b3a3_story.html?utm_term=.d64b6acf36b6
 https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/blackwater-founder-held-secret-seychelles-meeting-to-establish-trump-putin-back-channel/2017/04/03/95908a08-1648-11e7-ada0-1489b735b3a3_story.html?utm_term=.d64b6acf36b6 ; https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-did-obama-dawdle-on-russias-hacking/2017/01/12/75f878a0-d90c-11e6-9a36-1d296534b31e_story.html?utm_term=.72af02c26db1
 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/10/us/politics/mercer-family-cambridge-analytica.html ; https://www.startmag.it/innovazione/cambridge-analytica-emerdata/ ; https://www.agi.it/estero/cambridge_analytica_chiude_dati-3854178/news/2018-05-04/ ; https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/10/us/politics/mercer-family-cambridge-analytica.html ; https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/10911848/filing-history?page=1 ; https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/10911848/filing-history?page=2
 2018.09.17 Auspex International Ltd. Chalvington
 2020.12.08 Vision Esop Ltd. Chalvington
 2019.06.19 Auspex International Ltd. Chalvington