, 04.02.2018 07:17 AM

Column: the Canadian connection

It’s the biggest political scandal in the world.

And it involves a bunch of Canadians.

For quite some time now, it’s been known that Vladimir Putin’s Russia – and assorted other outlaw states, like North Korea – have been engaged in acts of cyber-war against democracies around the globe.  Long before Special Counsel Robert Mueller was hired to probe Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, in fact, it was widely accepted that hackers had targeted Western democracy.

In one extraordinary July 2016 press conference at one of his South Florida resorts, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump even said the following: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing…They probably have them. I’d like to have them released.”

Trump had invited a hostile foreign power to hack into the computers of private U.S. citizens.  After his request to his pal Vlad, it should have surprised no one that Russia did precisely that.  They hacked democracy. Trump would go on to “win” the Electoral College with three million fewer votes than his opponent.  Interesting, that.

In the ensuing months, that is what has constituted the broad outlines of this story.  One, the bad guys were Russians, mainly.  Two, the beneficiaries were Trump and his cabal, mostly.  Three, the victims were the legions of normal people who opposed Trump, and who cling to the notion that democracy is worth saving.  And, four, the criminals and the crime were known, too: predominantly anonymous Russian hackers who manipulated less than 80,000 votes in three American states, thereby engineering a “victory” for Trump.

In recent days, however, the story has changed.  The cast of characters has expanded.  So too the victims, and the nature of the alleged crimes.

A few days ago, Canadian Press revealed that the self-proclaimed “whistleblower” in the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal was a Canadian who had worked for the Liberal Party of Canada, receiving tens of thousands of dollars to do…well, we don’t know, exactly.  The managing director of the Liberal Caucus Research Bureau says Christopher Wylie was simply “assist[ing] the Liberal Research Bureau in acquiring and setting up social media monitoring tools.”

As benign as that may sound, however, let’s not forget that “acquiring and setting up social media monitoring tools” was also what Putin and Co. were doing, too, for their American pal, the Mango Mussolini.

Wylie claims to be a whistleblower, one who is now profoundly offended by what everyone at Cambridge Analytica and Facebook were doing.  But the unvarnished facts remain: Wylie helped create Cambridge Analytica, he worked there, and he sold the Canadian Liberals (and, later, the U.S. Trumpist Republicans) on making use of personal information appropriated from the profiles of millions upon millions of Facebook users.

And – surprise, surprise – he wasn’t alone.  It turns out a few other Canadians were involved, too, at a shadowy British Columbia-based outfit that called itself AggregateIQ.  Last week, Wylie told British Parliamentarians that AggregateIQ was up to no good, too.

AggregateIQ was co-founded by Canadian Liberals Jeff Silvester and Zack Massingham in Victoria in 2013, Wylie told a British Parliamentary committee – and it worked very closely with Cambridge Analytica’s parent company.  The three companies were allied from 2013 to 2016, influencing vote outcomes in Trinidad and Tobago; Nigeria; the United States; and Britain’s Brexit campaign.

Wylie – in whose mouth the proverbial butter would not melt – told the British MPs that AggregateIQ, which he helped to set up, “really doesn’t consider the ethics of its actions,” adding that the Canadian company would go to considerable lengths “to do what their clients want.”  Up to and including, he said, disseminating videos of people being slaughtered with machetes, to intimidate their votes in the 2014 Nigerian presidential election.

Chistopher Wylie was deeply involved with, and helped to create, Cambridge Analytica and AggregateIQ.  For him to now claim to be shocked and appalled by their activities stretches credulity to the breaking point.  But, with multiple investigations now underway on two continents – some involving law enforcement – we will all get a truer picture of Wylie’s role, soon enough.

What remains stubbornly unanswered, however, is whether these three young men – Messrs. Wylie, Silvester and Massingham – broke any laws here in Canada. And whether they did so on behalf of the political entity they all supported.

The Liberal Party of Canada.

11 Comments

  1. doconnor says:

    I’m not sure there is much connection between what Cambridge Analytica did and what the Russians did except that they both tried to manipulate people through social media, both worked for Trump and what both did may have been illegal, but in different ways.

    The question of whether they broke any laws almost always remains stubbornly unanswered in these things.

  2. crabby says:

    Canadian Press got this story a few days ago. So what? The Guardian blew the lid off AggregateIQ a year and a half ago. “For him to now claim to be shocked”? Really”? He’s been working with the Guardian and British authorities for a long time. There’s nothing “now” about this. AIQ and or Wylie worked for three BC Libs and for the federal libs including Ignatieff and Trudeau. Yes, they do need to come clean.

  3. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    IF this turns out to be anything like sponsorship, we are about to be in the wilderness, come 2019, for at least a decade.

    Do politicians ever really learn? Nope.

    • Pedant says:

      I loathe this government, but my reaction to this story continues to be “meh”. Shrug.

      Not even close to Adscam severity imo. There are many things that can bring down this government. Having a PM with the IQ of mildew, for example. But this story isn’t one of them.

      Adscam was very simple to understand. Liberal operatives were stealing taxpayer funds within a flawed program set up under false pretenses. This Cambridge Analytica story is far more convoluted, too complex for the average voter to bother pondering, that it won’t have much effect.

  4. Craig McKie says:

    Please note, from the Tyee articles, which btw started some time ago. This gang was first assembled in Keith Martin’s constituency office in 2008. Some were loaned to the Lib candidate in the adjacent riding…. “Ray Larson, who was the communications director on Penn’s campaign, later went to London to work for SCL with Wylie.”

    “Penn’s campaign manager in 2008 was Kit Spence, who along with strategist Brad Zubyk had worked in the Ukraine for Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russian Party of Regions. Also advising Yanukovych’s campaign was Paul Manafort, who would later become Trump’s campaign chair.”

    ====

    This puts Manafort in possible contact with members of the Keith Martin gang, which later became CA and AggregateIQ, in the Ukraine in the late 2000s.

  5. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Bill,

    A glaring case in point: written assurances given at the highest levels to Gorbachev in 1990 that NATO would not expand eastward beyond the borders of the former East Germany.

    In other words, our word meant nothing.

  6. Ron Benn says:

    Illusionists don’t make things disappear, they just distract the audience stage left while the elephant is led off stage right. Politicians are, for the most part, just illusionists with a very limited skill set. Politicians need to distract the people away from their, at best, barely competent (mis)management of the economy, the environment, foreign affairs, and well the list goes on and on and on.

    The illusion is that the other guy (Russia) is attacking our very way of life (back in the 50’s and 60’s it was communism – think of Senator McCarthy and the Vietnam War) by influencing the outcome of elections. As it turns out, the other guys are the politicians, and in their never ending drive for power, they are the ones who are attacking our very way of life, by subverting the democratic process from the inside.

    Two truisms resonate throughout these stories.

    The first casualty of war is the truth.

    Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  7. crabby says:

    Bill, Cambridge Analytica was incorporated in 2013 (public record) just in time for the 2014 mid-terms. SCL, the initial parent company, sold a controlling interest in CA to Robert Mercer who then installed Steve Bannon in some as yet unclarified management capacity.

  8. David Ray says:

    Once again Charles Pierce nails it.

    There simply was nothing about the Trump campaign that wasn’t rotten at its core. The candidate himself and most of his advisers had a positive gift for finding the most rancid operatives available to do the most rancid kind of work. By the time the election rolled around, the whole Trump operation had rats in its brains and poisonous spiders in its blood. It produced not a presidency, but a wart-ridden golem of a presidency, wandering and staggering around the landscape with bits of its pestiferous flesh falling into the public prints every day. Good Christ, what has this country done?

  9. Mervyn Norton says:

    Hacking into private emails or financial data is different from developing “profiles” on people who have signed on to social media sites where information is harvested in exchange for free service. How are targetted political ads (based on fake news or legitimate claims) any different from targetted commercial pitches that Google sends to sites you visit? Propaganda is a much older activity than hacking voting systems; we need to prevent or prosecute the latter practices, but only education will provide a prophylactic for the former.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*