The Saturday Profile: Long Before Cambridge Analytica, a Belief in the ‘Power of the Subliminal’

Adolf Hitler “didn’t have a problem with the Jews at all, but people didn’t like the Jews,” he told the academic, Emma L. Briant, a senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Essex. He went on to say that Donald Trump had done the same thing by tapping into grievances toward immigrants and Muslims.

This sort of campaign, he continued, did not require bells and whistles from technology or social science.

“What happened with Trump, you can forget all the microtargeting and micro-data and whatever, and come back to some very, very simple things,” he told Dr. Briant. “Trump had the balls, and I mean, really the balls, to say what people wanted to hear.”

Mr. Oakes did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for Cambridge Analytica endeavored to distance the company from Mr. Oakes and his comments, saying he “never had any role at Cambridge Analytica, has never worked for Cambridge Analytica and did not work on the Trump campaign in any way whatsoever.”


Nigel Oakes of SCL Group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica.

The company said his comments were made “in a personal capacity about the historical use of propaganda to an academic he knew well from her work in the defense sphere.”

The hearings marked a sudden public exposure for Mr. Oakes, an upper-crust Englishman whose air of mystery was also a selling point: From its inception, the central promise of the SCL Group was to shape public opinion without being seen. Dr. Briant, who interviewed Mr. Oakes repeatedly for her book “Propaganda and Counter-Terrorism: Strategies for Global Change,” said she suspected that for Mr. Oakes, the hearings had been a painful experience.

“You need to bear in mind, these are powerful, arrogant men,” she added. “They think they own the world. I honestly think they thought they were invincible.”

As a young man, Mr. Oakes cut a rakish figure. Raised in rural gentility — his father was for a time the high sheriff of Warwickshire — and educated at Eton, he had “a kind of smoothness and charm and charisma that you associate with people who have that kind of education,” his former colleague Barrie Gunter said.

After Eton, instead of continuing on to college, he embarked on a racy career as a disc jockey and music producer and dated Lady Helen Windsor, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth and 40th in line to the throne.

The business idea he brought to the team of psychologists was “Marketing Aromatics,” a service that pumped in fragrances — of pine trees, the ocean, or new-mown grass — on the principle that “smells can influence attitudes and therefore behavior.” Mr. Oakes was “a young man in a hurry,” under pressure to repay his investors, said Professor Gunter, of the department of mass communications at the University of Leicester.

He was also anxious over his lack of a university diploma, pressing the professors to suggest a “short cut” that would save him years of study. “He was what the English would call economical with the truth,” said Mr. Furnham, a professor of psychology at University College London.

They parted ways, the younger man intent on building a company with a strong research component, Professor Gunter said, “designed in such a way that if the client wanted, it could be used to influence the subject and make them do something.”

That company was Strategic Communication Laboratories, and its new targets — procurement officials in the American and British militaries, and politicians in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean — were more responsive. Mr. Oakes was able to leverage his aristocratic background, attracting a list of prominent people, like Jonathan Marland, a member of the British House of Lords and former treasurer of the Conservative Party, as shareholders in his venture. Lord Marland said he was steered by a private equity form to invest around $70,000 in the company, which he said was “set up to give people security and military advice.”

An element of what Mr. Oakes offered his clients was dirty tricks. In 2000, Jeremy Wagstaff, an investigative journalist, encountered Mr. Oakes as an adviser to the president of Indonesia at the time, Abdurrahman Wahid. Mr. Oakes was paid $300,000 in cash for a two-month campaign, Mr. Wagstaff said. It was heavy on optics, featuring “a Tom Clancy-style ops center with lots of screens and people beavering away at computers.”


Mr. Oakes with Lady Helen Windsor in 1985.

Mike Forster/ANL, via Shutterstock

“The money was changing hands in U.S. cash in sports bags, so it was a somewhat unusual arrangement,” he said.

Mr. Oakes abruptly left Indonesia after Mr. Wagstaff reported in The Wall Street Journal that he had paid several thousand dollars to a nongovernmental journalist’s organization, falsely claiming it was from the United States Agency for International Development, and that the organization had then put out statements beneficial to Mr. Wahid. Mr. Oakes denied claiming the money came from U.S.A.I.D.

By then, Mr. Oakes was pivoting to counterterrorism, presenting a more sophisticated option for “hearts and minds” campaigns than the blunt propaganda offered by P.R. firms and Madison Avenue, said Dr. Briant.

“This pseudointellectual, academic approach, it looked really good,” she said. “You are creating a situation in which behavior will change. That idea underpins a lot of what they have developed since.”

By 2012, Strategic Communication Laboratories was a trusted partner of Britain’s Ministry of Defense, included on the so-called “X list” of companies “cleared to routine access to U.K. secret information.” It was also providing training for Britain’s 15th Psyops Group, according to documents released this month by Christopher Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica employee.

When Dr. Briant last met Mr. Oakes for an interview, late last year, he was in an expansive, boastful mood. Mr. Oakes praised Mr. Nix, his younger colleague, for expanding the company’s electoral work swiftly, making it into “a very successful commercial entity.” But he credited himself with the big ideas behind the firm’s work.

“If he’s the Steve Jobs, I’m the Steve Wozniak,” he said, referring to the inventor who built the Apple computer. “I’m the sort of guy who wants to get the engineering right, and he’s the guy who wants to sell the flashy box.”

He rolled his eyes a little at the controversy that had built up around Cambridge Analytica’s advance work for a pro-Brexit campaign, a role which he said Mr. Nix had inflated for commercial reasons.

Yes, the company had been branded as using “pretty unethical ways of achieving their results,” he acknowledged to Dr. Briant. But on the bright side, he said, this was exactly what many clients were looking for.

“People coming to us are not ethical,” he continued. “I mean, frequently people come to us and say we’ve got so many dirty tricks against us, we now need to know the dirty tricks to go back. Or we need to know how to counter the dirty tricks and you guys seem to know how to do it.”

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Matter: All by Itself, the Humble Sweet Potato Colonized the World

Some agricultural experts are skeptical. “This paper does not settle the matter,” said Logan J. Kistler, the curator of archaeogenomics and archaeobotany at the Smithsonian Institution.

Alternative explanations remain on the table, because the new study didn’t provide enough evidence for exactly where sweet potatoes were first domesticated and when they arrived in the Pacific. “We still don’t have a smoking gun,” Dr. Kistler said.

The sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas, is one of the most valuable crops in the world, providing more nutrients per farmed acre than any other staple. It has sustained human communities for centuries. (In North America, it often is referred to as a yam; in fact, yams are a different species originating in Africa and Asia.)


A chromolithograph of Christopher Columbus arriving at the Caribbean.

Louis Prang and Company/Getty Images

Scientists have offered a number of theories to explain the wide distribution of I. batatas. Some scholars proposed that all sweet potatoes originated in the Americas, and that after Columbus’s voyage, they were spread by Europeans to colonies such as the Philippines. Pacific Islanders acquired the crops from there.

As it turned out, though, Pacific Islanders had been growing the crop for generations by the time Europeans showed up. On one Polynesian island, archaeologists have found sweet potato remains dating back over 700 years.

A radically different hypothesis emerged: Pacific Islanders, masters of open-ocean navigation, picked up sweet potatoes by voyaging to the Americas, long before Columbus’s arrival there. The evidence included a suggestive coincidence: In Peru, some indigenous people call the sweet potato cumara. In New Zealand, it’s kumara.

A potential link between South America and the Pacific was the inspiration for Thor Heyerdahl’s famous 1947 voyage aboard the Kon-Tiki. He built a raft, which he then successfully sailed from Peru to the Easter Islands.

Genetic evidence only complicated the picture. Examining the plant’s DNA, some researchers concluded that sweet potatoes arose only once from a wild ancestor, while other studies indicated that it happened at two different points in history.

According to the latter studies, South Americans domesticated sweet potatoes, which were then acquired by Polynesians. Central Americans domesticated a second variety that later was picked up by Europeans.

Hoping to shed light on the mystery, a team of researchers recently undertook a new study — the biggest survey of sweet potato DNA yet. And they came to a very different conclusion.

“We find very clear evidence that sweet potatoes could arrive in the Pacific by natural means,” said Pablo Muñoz-Rodríguez, a botanist at the University of Oxford. He believes the wild plants traveled thousands of miles across the Pacific without any help from humans.

Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez and his colleagues visited museums and herbariums around the world to take samples of sweet potato varieties and wild relatives. The researchers used powerful DNA-sequencing technology to gather more genetic material from the plants than possible in earlier studies.


A sweet potato farmer in in Papua New Guinea. The plant arrived there long before humans, scientists reported.


Their research pointed to only one wild plant as the ancestor of all sweet potatoes. The closest wild relative is a weedy flower called Ipomoea trifida that grows around the Caribbean. Its pale purple flowers look a lot like those of the sweet potato.

Instead of a massive, tasty tuber, I. trifida grows only a pencil-thick root. “It’s nothing we could eat,” Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez said.

The ancestors of sweet potatoes split from I. trifida at least 800,000 years ago, the scientists calculated. To investigate how they arrived in the Pacific, the team headed to the Natural History Museum in London.

The leaves of sweet potatoes that Captain Cook’s crew collected in Polynesia are stored in the museum’s cabinets. The researchers cut bits of the leaves and extracted DNA from them.

The Polynesian sweet potatoes turned out to be genetically unusual — “very different from anything else,” Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez said.

The sweet potatoes found in Polynesia split off over 111,000 years ago from all other sweet potatoes the researchers studied. Yet humans arrived in New Guinea about 50,000 years ago, and only reached remote Pacific islands in the past few thousand years.

The age of Pacific sweet potatoes made it unlikely that any humans, Spanish or Pacific Islander, carried the species from the Americas, Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez said.

Traditionally, researchers have been skeptical that a plant like a sweet potato could travel across thousands of miles of ocean. But in recent years, scientists have turned up signs that many plants have made the voyage, floating on the water or carried in bits by birds.

Even before the sweet potato made the journey, its wild relatives traveled the Pacific, the scientists found. One species, the Hawaiian moonflower, lives only in the dry forests of Hawaii — but its closest relatives all live in Mexico.


Different varieties of sweet potato on display at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru. The sweet potato originated in the Americas and spread across the globe.

Robert Scotland

The scientists estimate that the Hawaiian moonflower separated from its relatives — and made its journey across the Pacific — over a million years ago.

But Tim P. Denham, an archaeologist at the Australian National University who was not involved in the study, found this scenario hard to swallow.

It would suggest that the wild ancestors of sweet potatoes spread across the Pacific and were then domesticated many times over — yet wound up looking the same every time. “This would seem unlikely,” he said.

Dr. Kistler argued that it was still possible that Pacific Islanders voyaged to South America and returned with the sweet potato.

A thousand years ago, they might have encountered many sweet potato varieties on the continent. When Europeans arrived in the 1500s, they likely wiped out much of the crop’s genetic diversity.

As a result, Dr. Kistler said, the surviving sweet potatoes of the Pacific only seem distantly related to the ones in the Americas. If the scientists had done the same study in 1500, Pacific sweet potatoes would have fit right in with other South American varieties.

Dr. Kistler was optimistic that the sweet potato debate would someday be settled. The world’s herbariums contain a vast number of varieties that have yet to be genetically tested.

“There are more than we could look at in a lifetime,” Dr. Kistler said.

For his part, Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez plans on searching for more wild sweet potato relatives in Central America, hoping to get more clues to how exactly a thin-rooted weed gave rise to an invaluable crop.

Working out the history of crops like this could do more than satisfy our curiosity about the past. Wild plants hold a lot of genetic variants lost when people domesticated crops.

Researchers may find plants they can hybridize with domesticated sweet potatoes and other crops, endowing them with genes for resistance to diseases, or for withstanding climate change.

“Essentially, it’s preserving the gene pool that feeds the world,” Dr. Kistler said.

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Peter Thiel Employee Helped Cambridge Analytica Before It Harvested Data

Cambridge Analytica has found itself confronting a deepening crisis since reports about the firm’s data harvesting were published this month in The New York Times, The Observer of London and The Guardian.

The connections between Palantir and Cambridge Analytica were thrust into the spotlight by Mr. Wylie’s testimony on Tuesday. Both companies are linked to tech-driven billionaires who backed Mr. Trump’s campaign: Cambridge is chiefly owned by Robert Mercer, the computer scientist and hedge fund magnate, while Palantir was co-founded in 2003 by Mr. Thiel, who was an initial investor in Facebook.


“There were senior Palantir employees that were also working on the Facebook data,” said Christopher Wylie, a Cambridge Analytica co-founder, in testimony before British lawmakers on Tuesday.

Parliamentary Recording Unit, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Palantir employee, Alfredas Chmieliauskas, works on business development for the company, according to his LinkedIn page. In an initial statement, Palantir said it had “never had a relationship with Cambridge Analytica, nor have we ever worked on any Cambridge Analytica data.” Later on Tuesday, Palantir revised its account, saying that Mr. Chmieliauskas was not acting on the company’s behalf when he advised Mr. Wylie on the Facebook data.

“We learned today that an employee, in 2013-2014, engaged in an entirely personal capacity with people associated with Cambridge Analytica,” the company said. “We are looking into this and will take the appropriate action.”

The company said it was continuing to investigate but knew of no other employees who took part in the effort. Mr. Wylie told lawmakers that multiple Palantir employees played a role.

Documents and interviews indicate that starting in 2013, Mr. Chmieliauskas began corresponding with Mr. Wylie and a colleague from his Gmail account. At the time, Mr. Wylie and the colleague worked for the British defense and intelligence contractor SCL Group, which formed Cambridge Analytica with Mr. Mercer the next year. The three shared Google documents to brainstorm ideas about using big data to create sophisticated behavioral profiles, a product code-named “Big Daddy.”


Alfredas Chmieliauskas, a Palantir employee, suggested Cambridge Analytica scientists create an app to scrape Facebook data.

A former intern at SCL — Sophie Schmidt, the daughter of Eric Schmidt, then Google’s executive chairman — urged the company to link up with Palantir, according to Mr. Wylie’s testimony and a June 2013 email viewed by The Times.

“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.

Ms. Schmidt did not respond to requests for comment, nor did a spokesman for Cambridge Analytica.

In early 2013, Alexander Nix, an SCL director who became chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, and a Palantir executive discussed working together on election campaigns.

A Palantir spokeswoman acknowledged that the companies had briefly considered working together but said that Palantir declined a partnership, in part because executives there wanted to steer clear of election work. Emails reviewed by The Times indicate that Mr. Nix and Mr. Chmieliauskas sought to revive talks about a formal partnership through early 2014, but Palantir executives again declined.


Cambridge Analytica is chiefly owned by Robert Mercer, a computer scientist and hedge fund magnate.

Andrew Toth/Getty Images

In his testimony, Mr. Wylie acknowledged that Palantir and Cambridge Analytica never signed a contract or entered into a formal business relationship. But he said some Palantir employees helped engineer Cambridge’s psychographic models.

“There were Palantir staff who would come into the office and work on the data,” Mr. Wylie told lawmakers. “And we would go and meet with Palantir staff at Palantir.” He did not provide an exact number for the employees or identify them.

Palantir employees were impressed with Cambridge’s backing from Mr. Mercer, one of the world’s richest men, according to messages viewed by The Times. And Cambridge Analytica viewed Palantir’s Silicon Valley ties as a valuable resource for launching and expanding its own business.

In an interview this month with The Times, Mr. Wylie said that Palantir employees were eager to learn more about using Facebook data and psychographics. Those discussions continued through spring 2014, according to Mr. Wylie.


An app built by Aleksandr Kogan collected data that helped Cambridge Analytica develop voter profiles.

Mr. Wylie said that he and Mr. Nix visited Palantir’s London office on Soho Square. One side was set up like a high-security office, Mr. Wylie said, with separate rooms that could be entered only with particular codes. The other side, he said, was like a tech start-up — “weird inspirational quotes and stuff on the wall and free beer, and there’s a Ping-Pong table.”

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.”

Those negotiations failed. But Mr. Wylie struck gold with another Cambridge researcher, the Russian-American psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, who built his own personality quiz app for Facebook. Over subsequent months, Dr. Kogan’s work helped Cambridge develop psychological profiles of millions of American voters.

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Adult Film Star Says She Stayed Silent on Trump Out of Fear


Stephanie Clifford, the adult film star known as Stormy Daniels, told “60 Minutes” that a man threatened her after she agreed to a tell a magazine about an affair with Donald J. Trump. Ms. Clifford said the man told her: “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story.”

CBS News, via Associated Press

The adult film star Stephanie Clifford told “60 Minutes” that she struck a $130,000 deal for her silence about an alleged affair with Donald J. Trump in the final days of the 2016 campaign because she was worried about her safety and that of her young daughter.

That concern, she told “60 Minutes” in an interview for broadcast on Sunday night, was based on a threat she received in 2011 from a man who approached her in Las Vegas. She said the threat came after she sold her story about Mr. Trump for $15,000 to InTouch magazine, which decided not to run it after Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, threatened to sue the publication.

“I was in a parking lot going to a fitness class with my infant daughter,” she told the “60 Minutes” correspondent and CNN host Anderson Cooper, according to a transcript of the interview. “And a guy walked up on me and said to me, ‘Leave Trump alone. Forget the story.’ And he leaned round and looked at my daughter and said, ‘That’s a beautiful little girl, it would be a shame if something happened to her mom.”

So when her previous lawyer came to her with an offer brokered by Mr. Cohen in the final days of the presidential campaign, she said, she agreed because, “I was concerned for my family and their safety.”

Ms. Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels, was the featured subject of what was the most highly anticipated episode of “60 Minutes” in its recent history, turning her story about a consensual relationship with the president into something of a national event, one replete with viewing parties and “Dark and Stormy” cocktail specials at bars. She is one of two women who have recently filed suit seeking to get out of agreements they said they entered during the last stretch of the 2016 campaign to give up the rights to their stories about what they have said were affairs with Mr. Trump. The other woman, a former Playmate named Karen McDougal, sold her rights to the company that owns The National Enquirer, and spoke to Mr. Cooper on CNN on Thursday.

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Adult Film Star Says She Stayed Silent on Trump Out of Fear


Stephanie Clifford, the adult film star known as Stormy Daniels, told “60 Minutes” that a man threatened her after she agreed to a tell a magazine about an affair with Donald J. Trump. Ms. Clifford said the man told her: “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story.”

CBS News, via Associated Press

The adult film star Stephanie Clifford told “60 Minutes” that she struck a $130,000 deal for her silence about an alleged affair with Donald J. Trump in the final days of the 2016 campaign because she was worried about her safety and that of her young daughter.

That concern, she told “60 Minutes” in an interview for broadcast on Sunday night, was based on a threat she received in 2011 from a man who approached her in Las Vegas. She said the threat came after she sold her story about Mr. Trump for $15,000 to InTouch magazine, which decided not to run it after Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, threatened to sue the publication.

“I was in a parking lot going to a fitness class with my infant daughter,” she told the “60 Minutes” correspondent and CNN host Anderson Cooper, according to a transcript of the interview. “And a guy walked up on me and said to me, ‘Leave Trump alone. Forget the story.’ And he leaned round and looked at my daughter and said, ‘That’s a beautiful little girl, it would be a shame if something happened to her mom.”

So when her previous lawyer came to her with an offer brokered by Mr. Cohen in the final days of the presidential campaign, she said, she agreed because, “I was concerned for my family and their safety.”

Ms. Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels, was the featured subject of what was the most highly anticipated episode of “60 Minutes” in its recent history, turning her story about a consensual relationship with the president into something of a national event, one replete with viewing parties and “Dark and Stormy” cocktail specials at bars. She is one of two women who have recently filed suit seeking to get out of agreements they said they entered during the last stretch of the 2016 campaign to give up the rights to their stories about what they have said were affairs with Mr. Trump. The other woman, a former Playmate named Karen McDougal, sold her rights to the company that owns The National Enquirer, and spoke to Mr. Cooper on CNN on Thursday.

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Using Digital Firm, Brexit Campaigners Skirted Spending Laws, Ex-Employee Says

In response, one of the two Downing Street advisers, Stephen Parkinson, said that Vote Leave had adhered to all relevant laws. Mr. Parkinson also suggested that Mr. Sanni was lashing out because the two had “dated for 18 months, before splitting up — I thought amicably — in September 2017.”

He said he had not spoken to Mr. Sanni as a supervisor from the Vote Leave campaign, but as a friend. “That is the capacity in which I gave Shahmir advice and encouragement, and I can understand if the lines became blurred for him,” Mr. Parkinson said in the statement, “but I am clear that I did not direct the activities of any separate campaign groups.”

The other adviser, Cleo Watson, could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Sanni said his relationship with Mr. Parkinson had been a short fling that started after the referendum. In a statement, he said the disclosure of his sexual orientation had endangered his family, who live in Pakistan, and he accused Mr. Parkinson of intimidation.

“I never imagined that he, with the help of No. 10, would choose to tell the world I am gay, in a last, desperate attempt to scare me,” Mr. Sanni said.

His lawyer, Tamsin Allen, said in a statement, “We believe this is the first time a Downing Street official statement has been used to out someone.”

British campaign finance experts said the allegations about Vote Leave underscored the porousness and ineffectiveness of rules on spending around referendums like the vote in 2016 to exit the European Union.


Shahmir Sanni worked with a small team of young volunteers in what was initially a unit of Vote Leave called BeLeave that tried to craft messages to turn young and liberal people against the European Union.

Andrew Testa for The New York Times

“They were useless,” said Justin Fisher, a professor of political science at Brunel University London who has studied the regulations for the Electoral Commission, which oversees elections and regulates political finance in Britain.

Multiple organizations, each with its own spending limit, were allowed to campaign in parallel on either side of the referendum issue, and they were allowed to work together in ill-defined ways, allowing donors on either side many ways to sidestep spending limits, Mr. Fisher noted.

The rules “had never really been tested before because we never had a referendum of any consequence before,” Mr. Fisher said, noting that in total the supporters of remaining in the European Union had outspent the advocates of leaving.

Mr. Sanni’s allegations have come to light because of a tangle of connections to an online consulting company with ties to the campaign that elected President Trump — Cambridge Analytica.

Mr. Sanni is friends with Christopher Wylie, a former research director of Cambridge Analytica who has recently provided information to journalists indicating that the company improperly obtained the data of 50 million Facebook users in order to help target voters.

The Vote Leave campaign relied heavily for online ad placement on a Canadian company called AggregateIQ, which according to documents and testimony submitted to the Electoral Commission by Mr. Wylie was a satellite business set up to support Cambridge Analytica.

Public filings also show that Vote Leave provided virtually the entire $990,000 budget of BeLeave — 625,000 pounds — which took the form of additional spending paid directly to AggregateIQ.

As Mr. Wylie was coming forward with his disclosures about Cambridge Analytica, he encouraged his friend Mr. Sanni to come forward with his claims about Vote Leave and BeLeave as well.

Testimony and documents provided by Mr. Wylie in his filing to the Electoral Commission show that AggregateIQ was founded in 2013 in discussion with executives at Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, initially licensed all its software from that company, and for a time received virtually all its income from the company.

In a statement this week, Jeff Silvester, one of the founders of AggregateIQ, said it was a “digital advertising, web and software development company” and “has never managed, nor did we ever have access to, any Facebook data or database allegedly obtained improperly by Cambridge Analytica.”

Mr. Silvester did not address the company’s work for Vote Leave and BeLeave. A spokesman for Cambridge Analytica did not respond to a request for comment.

An initial investigation by the Electoral Commission found nothing improper in the relationship between the two organizations, but a court appeal last fall prompted the commission to reopen its inquiry. Mr. Sanni’s testimony is additional information recently submitted to that ongoing inquiry.


Darren Grimes, far left, posing for a photograph with Michael Gove, a leading Vote Leave campaigner who is now Britain’s environment secretary, at the campaign’s headquarters in February 2016.

Pool photo by Stefan Rousseau

He and Mr. Wylie also gave the commission records showing that anyone at Vote Leave continued to have access to the Google Drive used for BeLeave’s strategy, planning and internal discussion after the referendum, on June 23, 2016.

Mr. Sanni graduated from the University of East Anglia at the end of 2015, and began volunteering the next March for the Vote Leave campaign. He worked with a small team of young volunteers in what was then a unit of Vote Leave called BeLeave that tried to craft messages to turn young and liberal people against the European Union by arguing, for example, that it closed doors to the non-European world.

The small BeLeave team initially worked in the same office as Vote Leave and under the oversight of its senior staff, including Mr. Parkinson and Ms. Watson, as did two AggregateIQ employees managing the campaign’s online advertising, Mr. Sanni testified to the commission.

By mid-May, however, with the referendum little more than a month away, the Vote Leave campaign was nearing its spending cap.

At about the same time, the leaders of the Vote Leave campaign instructed their lawyers to draw up a charter for BeLeave to become an independent group. Mr. Sanni was named its secretary and research director while another friend, Darren Grimes, was named its principal and campaign director.

Mr. Sanni told the commission he was surprised to learn that the leaders of Vote Leave had also decided to direct $900,000 to BeLeave, given that it was overseen by two unpaid, inexperienced people: He and Mr. Grimes were then both 22. But then his friend Mr. Grimes explained that virtually all of that money would be paid directly to AggregateIQ for online advertising.

In practice, Mr. Sanni said, nothing changed. The BeLeave staff continued to work inside the Vote Leave office. The senior officials of Vote Leave continued to approve their messages. And the same AggregateIQ workers continued to place BeLeave’s online advertisements while providing the same service to Vote Leave.

“We never saw ourselves as a separate organization from the get-go,” Mr. Sanni said in an interview, echoing his testimony. “We were just volunteers.”

The money paid to AggregateIQ for online advertising produced few results for BeLeave — 1,164 email sign-ups and 1,005 mobile phone numbers for more than $900,000 — leading Mr. Sanni to suspect the money may have gone to promote the larger Vote Leave campaign instead.

He insisted in the interview that the reason he provided testimony to the commission was not about any past feelings for Mr. Parkinson, now at No. 10.

Instead, he said, it was out of concern for Mr. Grimes, the other young volunteer. By making Mr. Grimes the nominal owner of BeLeave, the leaders of Vote Leave had made him a target of critical news coverage and potential legal claims, Mr. Sanni argued. “He is getting thrown to the dogs,” Mr. Sanni said. “Everything I am doing is to protect Darren.”

“I now feel sick about what happened,” Mr. Sanni said in his testimony. The officials of Vote Leave “used two 22-year-olds to cheat in the referendum.”

Mr. Grimes did not respond to messages seeking comment.

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Oracle’s Ellison Unveils Hydroponic Farming Start-Up: DealBook Briefing

Silicon Valley Start-up Plenty raised $200 million from SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund. Bowery Farming, whose vegetables are now sold in a few grocery stores in New York City, has collected money from the likes of Google’s venture arm and General Catalyst.

Sensei is focused more on wellness. While the company ultimately plans to expand into an array of businesses, its initial focus is on hydroponic farming, using software and sensors to monitor growing conditions. (Its first farm is on Lanai, the Hawaiian island of which Mr. Ellison owns roughly 98 percent.)

Sensei’s first batch of crops includes Black Trifele tomatoes and Komatsuna mustard greens, with its yardstick for production being nutrition per acre.

“So far, the conversation in agriculture has been dominated by productivity: How much food can we grow in a square foot. But scale is just part of the equation,” Dr. Agus said in a statement. “To properly nourish the world, we need to consider how nutritious that food is. This is where Sensei is focused.”

Its first customer is Hawaii, which imports the majority of its food. Sensei said that it can provide the state fresh food within 24 hours of harvesting, compared with over a week for imported vegetables.

But the company is also eager to tout its tech bona fides. Its farm runs off solar power provided by Tesla panels. And it claims to use just 10 percent of the water used in traditional farming methods.

“For so long, agriculture has been one of the least digitized industries,” Daniel Gruneberg, Sensei’s president, said in a statement. “Now, we can combine software, sensors and robotics to make giant leaps in sustainable farming and perhaps, more importantly, the quality of our food.”

— Michael de la Merced

Facebook’s slide drags down FANG stocks.

Facebook’s stock had its worst day in about four years.

Shares of the social media giant finished down about 7 percent after the NYT reported that a political data firm with ties to 2016 Trump campaign harvested private information from over 50 million user profiles.

The news reports raised the specter of greater government scrutiny and potential regulatory action toward the technology sector. Already, government officials in the United States, Europe and elsewhere have been demanding tougher oversight of the world’s largest tech companies. That, in turn, could erode the industry’s profits and potentially force some companies to adjust their business models.

Facebook’s stock is now down more than 12 percent from its all-time high hit at the start of February.

“We think this episode is another indication of systemic problems at Facebook,” said Brian Wieser, an analyst at New York-based brokerage Pivotal Research Group.

Facebook’s woes showed signs of spreading, too.

The S.&P. 500 tech sector is the worst performing of the index’s 11 sectors.

Shares of Google-parent Alphabet closed down about 3.2 percent. Amazon fell around 1.7 percent and Apple finished off 1.5 percent.

In all, Monday’s slide wiped more than $80 billion off the market value of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet. Facebook accounted for more than $35 billion of that total. In fact, the company is no longer among the five biggest companies in the S.&P. 500 by market capitalization.

Fund flows added fuel to the selloff. MoneyBeat’s Akane Otani reports that mutual funds and exchange-traded funds tracking U.S. technology stocks posted a record $2.6 billion in net inflows last week, according to data from fund tracker EPFR Global. That put year-to-date inflows at $47.5 billion.

“The record-setting stream of money into stock funds has underlined how much the market has been driven by investor fervor for a handful of popular names, which some say makes stocks vulnerable to sudden reversals.”

Given the outsized role the tech sector has played in the aging bull market, its declines Monday dragged down the broader stock indexes.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 336 points, or 1.35 percent, while the S.&P. 500, was off nearly 39 points, or 1.42 percent.


A senator demanded that Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a British lawmaker has called for him to testify in an inquiry into the “Brexit” referendum.

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The latest test to Zuckerberg’s leadership.

Is Mark Zuckerberg’s unusually powerful position at Facebook in part to blame for the latest backlash against the company?

The giant social media company is under the spotlight because a political data firm apparently misused information about more than 50 million Facebook users. Facebook is still facing questions about Russia-linked accounts that had significant reach within the United States through the social network. In both cases, Facebook has struggled to show the public that it can get in front of its problems. Information about the Russia-linked accounts came out piecemeal, and Facebook knew as early as 2015 that the political data firm had violated its data policies.

Mr. Zuckerberg at first downplayed concerns about Facebook’s role in the 2016 presidential election (something he later said he regretted). His recent communications contain more high-minded deliberation than hard discussion of the company’s problems and how to deal with them.

These look like the reactions of a leader who thinks he is not going anywhere. Indeed, through his holding of special voting shares, Mr. Zuckerberg has an especially powerful position at Facebook that might shield him from the normal forces of accountability. C.E.O.s without that protection might do more to tackle a big problem because it more directly threatens their job security.

Facebook, of course, has taken steps to address the abuse of its network. It has added hundreds of new employees to help police posts, and it has implemented artificial intelligence technology to spot material that falls afoul of the company’s guidelines. Such initiatives cost money. Mr. Zuckerberg earlier this year said that such initiatives would have a significant impact on Facebook’s profitability. Indeed, there’s a strong argument to make that Mr. Zuckerberg’s protected position will allow the company to press ahead with expensive investments in the face of any shareholder grumbling that may arise.

In the near term, though, it’s hard to envision shareholders applying significant pressure on Facebook to be more responsive to the political and legal risks. They may believe Facebook’s extraordinary profitability – its operating profits are roughly equivalent to 40 percent of its revenue – will help the stock ride what they see as a passing storm.

If governments propose restrictions on using members’ data, Facebook’s business model would be tested. The company’s board, in theory, should press Mr. Zuckerberg for details on how he will deal with such shackles. But prominent board members like Marc L. Andreessen and Peter A. Thiel are skeptical of regulation. Facebook might be tempted to fight back.

Lawmakers may hold the line, however, sensing that the public has real concerns about the company. And if Facebook’s responses look tardy and inadequate, the consequences could be harsh, as the fate of Wells Fargo shows. Mr. Zuckerberg, in his uniquely dominant position, is the one person who can make sure this doesn’t happen.

— Peter Eavis

Lawmakers want answers on Facebook’s latest controversy

Lawmakers in the U.S. and Britain want Mark Zuckerberg to explain how Cambridge Analytica, the political data firm founded by Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer, harvested private information from over 50 million user profiles.

“It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves,” tweeted Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

What happened: The NYT and The Observer of London reported how Cambridge had collected data from an outside researcher to better target Facebook users. Christopher Wylie, who oversaw Cambridge’s data collection until 2014, told the NYT of his former company, “For them, this is a war, and it’s all fair.”

Facebook argued that the incident wasn’t a data breach and that Cambridge had committed a violation. But former Federal Trade Commission officials told the WaPo that Facebook may have violated a privacy pact reached with the regulator. (The tech giant is reviewing whether one of its employees had been aware of the data leak.)

More on Cambridge Analytica: Alexander Nix, the company’s chief, is facing scrutiny over business dealings with Russian interests. Mr. Wylie said that one Russian company, the oil giant Lukoil, appeared more interested in political message targeting than commercial uses. And Cambridge is reportedly trying to block the airing of a report by Channel 4, a British television channel, in which reporters went undercover at the firm.

Critic’s corner

Jeffrey Goldfarb of Breakingviews writes:

“Facebook has abjectly failed to grasp the magnitude of its problems. It took Zuckerberg almost a year to apologize for his blithe 2016 comment that fake news posted across his website didn’t influence the U.S. election. In the meantime, there are mounting concerns over its online advertising power, handling of privacy matters and how much tax it pays in Europe. Ten years ago, Zuckerberg hired Sheryl Sandberg to help turn his startup into a serious corporation. It may be time for more adult supervision.”


A fleet of self-driving Uber cars in 2016. The company said it was was “fully cooperating” with the authorities in Arizona after a pedestrian was struck and killed by a driverless Uber vehicle.

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

A self-driving Uber car kills a pedestrian.

A woman in Tempe, Ariz., has died after being hit by a self-driving car operated by Uber, in what appears to be the first known death of a pedestrian struck by an autonomous vehicle on a public road.

The Uber vehicle was in autonomous mode with a human safety driver at the wheel when it struck the woman, who was crossing the street outside of a crosswalk, the Tempe police said in a statement. The episode happened on Sunday around 10 p.m. The woman was not publicly identified.

Uber said it had suspended testing of its self-driving cars in Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident,” an Uber spokeswoman, Sarah Abboud, said in a statement.

The fatal crash will most likely raise questions about regulations for self-driving cars. Testing of self-driving cars is already underway for vehicles that have a human driver ready to take over if something goes wrong, but states are starting to allow companies to test cars without a person in the driver’s seat. This month, California said that, in April, it would start allowing companies to test autonomous vehicles without anyone behind the wheel.

— Daisuke Wakabayashi


Michael W. Ferro Jr. stepped down as chairman of the newspaper publisher Tronc after a period of intense scrutiny that included newsroom unrest at The Los Angeles Times.

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Michael Ferro has stepped down as chairman of Tronc.

The newspaper publisher announced Monday that Michael W. Ferro Jr., a Chicago entrepreneur and its biggest shareholder, has stepped down as the company’s chairman. The move came just weeks after Mr. Ferro helped negotiate the sale of Tronc’s crown jewel, The Los Angeles Times.

Justin Dearborn, the company’s chief executive, will replace Mr. Ferro as chairman.

“I am confident that under the leadership of Justin and the rest of the board and management team Tronc will continue to deliver value for investors while executing the plan for digital transformation,” Mr. Ferro said in a statement.

Mr. Ferro will remain an investor in Tronc. But his decision to step down as chairman follows a period of intense public scrutiny.

— Sydney Ember

The LTSE takes a step to make companies think about the long term.

The Long-Term Stock Exchange hoping to popularize long-term thinking as a corporate governance strategy has taken another step toward making its goal a reality.

The start-up disclosed today that it has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to let it apply its listing rules to the IEX, the stock exchange famous for wanting to tamp down on high-frequency trading.

The filing — which will commence the public part of the S.E.C.’s rule-making process on the matter — advances the LTSE’s aim of enshrining what it believes are best practices in running companies into corporate charters.

If the S.E.C approves the rule, it means that companies can go public using the LTSE principles, but also have their stocks trade on traditional exchanges like the N.Y.S.E. and the Nasdaq like any other listing. That means these companies can get the liquidity they need along with the corporate governance structure that they want, according to the LTSE’s founder, Eric Ries.

It also formalizes a tie-up between LTSE and IEX, the exchange best known as the subject of Michael Lewis’s “Flash Boys.”

What the principles include

• Letting so-called “citizens,” or investors who plan on sticking with companies for the long term, eventually accumulate more voting power over the years than “tourists” who plan on sticking around for a shorter time.

• Blocking the use of certain kinds of compensation, including short-term bonuses paid to executives based on metrics like reaching a certain milestone for end-of-year earnings

• Banning short-term guidance

• Having long-term investors register their holdings with the company. “The company will know effectively in real time who their long-term investors are,” Mr. Ries said.

• Reporting requirements that include disclosing earnings per share net of buybacks, to provide a more accurate way of measuring how a company is doing without factoring in financial engineering.

The context

• Mr. Ries has spoken of the need to reward long-term investors. “Most of the listing standards are designed to align managers and long-term shareholders,” he told me. “That frees up management to do what’s right.”

• It comes as companies continue to bemoan short-term thinking in the stock markets that has C.E.O.s focused more on meeting a quarter’s targets than longer-term goals.

• LTSE’s goal is to eventually become a stock exchange on which companies list their shares. But for now, it wants to be allowed to create a special kind of listing for IEX that lets companies go public under its principles.

• LTSE also plans to promote itself as serving companies first and foremost and to make money more from listing fees and tools and services for its companies, rather than from trading offerings and data aimed at investors.

The caveat

It’s a long road ahead. Not just for the S.E.C. rule-making process, but also in convincing start-ups to adopt these rules when they go public.

“What we have promised our venture investors is not that this is going to instantly transform the market overnight,” Mr. Ries said.

— Michael de la Merced


Win Mcnamee/Getty Images

It’s budget time, and Congress is preparing to spend

Friday is the deadline for lawmakers to pass a budget, and they are considering a plan that would cost more than $1 trillion. Expect the deficit to widen to more than $800 billion, as well as a lot of pet projects.

The proposal will probably garner Democratic support, but opposition could come from: a) fiscal conservatives, and b) President Trump (if it includes funding for a New York tunnel project).

In related news: How the tax bill could make your credit card payments more expensive.


Thomas Donohue, chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Alexandre Meneghini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

U.S. companies warn the White House on China tariffs

Forty-five trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urged President Trump not to move forward with sweeping tariffs on Chinese goods.

Here’s what Thomas Donohue, the C.E.O. of the chamber, said:

“The livelihood of America’s consumers, businesses, farmers, and ranchers are at risk if the administration proceeds with this plan.”

Elsewhere in trade: Mr. Trump is requesting authority to unilaterally raise tariffs, power that could undermine the World Trade Organization. And Latin American countries are forging closer commercial ties with each other, and with China.

The political flyaround

• President Trump attacked Robert Mueller’s investigation, using the special counsel’s name in his tweets for the first time and drawing rebukes from some Republican lawmakers. Despite one Trump lawyer’s call for an end to the special counsel’s investigation, another says that there is no plan to fire Mr. Mueller.

• The special counsel is looking into the Trump Organization’s finances. What’s the connection to Russia? (NYT)

• Mr. Mueller’s case against Paul Manafort includes evidence from hard-to-crack jurisdictions like Cyprus and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (WSJ)

• Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Andrew McCabe, the F.B.I.’s deputy director. Several Democratic lawmakers offered to hire Mr. McCabe to help him qualify for his government pension. Mr. McCabe says he kept memos on Mr. Trump.

• Senior Trump administration officials were asked to sign nondisclosure agreements about their time in the White House that would extend past Mr. Trump’s tenure.

• Kushner Companies filed false paperwork with New York City to improperly remove tenants in Queens. (A.P.)

• Keep track of who has left the Trump administration. (NYT)


President Trump with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia last year.

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

What does the Saudi crown prince want from his U.S. tour?

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will meet with the Trump administration and tour several cities this week. Here are a few things most likely on his agenda:

• Shoring up military and political support for its bombing in Yemen, despite American lawmakers’ concerns about the U.S. role.

• Persuading American businesses to invest in Saudi Arabia as part of his Vision 2030 plan. The crown prince will meet with Apple and Google, among other companies. Also of interest: In an interview on “60 Minutes,” he said that women were “absolutely” equal to men.

Elsewhere in the Middle East: How Saudi Arabia is building a homegrown entertainment industry. The head of the broadcast conglomerate MBC touted his company’s expanding ties to the kingdom — after he was freed from detention. And here’s the fascinating tale of Qatari royalty who were kidnapped while on a falconry hunt.


Your Spotify must-read

Bill Gurley of Benchmark asked in a tweet storm whether the streaming giant was better off pursuing profitability instead of growth. Mr. Gurley argues no — and points out that the company is now more valuable takeover bait.


Paul Jacobs, Qualcomm’s former chairman

Ruben Sprich/Reuters

How realistic is Paul Jacobs’s quest to buy Qualcomm?

The son of the company’s founder wants to take the chip maker private, à la Michael Dell and his eponymous computer empire. But it would be a herculean task. Consider:

• Mr. Jacobs would probably have to pay more than the $117 billion that Broadcom offered.

• He only owns about 1 percent of the company. Mr. Dell owned 14 percent of his.

• He would have to bring in significant equity partners, since there is no way he could finance a takeover with debt alone. But it’s not clear where they might come from (SoftBank has shown little interest so far) and whether any foreign backers could pass a national security review.

Critics’ corner: Shira Ovide of Gadfly writes, “It’s unwise for the company’s former C.E.O. to chase after a dream that can’t possibly come true.” And John Foley of Breakingviews asserts that Qualcomm’s biggest issue is mending fences with Apple.

Elsewhere in deals: Newell Brands revamped its board to settle a fight with Carl Icahn. HNA plans to sell $2.2 billion worth of property across China. CACI has bid $7.2 billion for the tech services contractor CSRA to try to spoil CSRA’s impending sale to General Dynamics.


Masayoshi Son, the founder of Softbank.

Toru Hanai/Reuters

The tech flyaround

• SoftBank is considering taking ARM Holdings public again, though it’s not clear when. (FT)

• Dropbox has reached a new low for corporate governance, John Plender of the FT writes. (FT)

• Bitcoin is at $8,353 after another wild weekend. And Mastercard says it would be “very happy to look at” digital money issued by central banks. And Twitter will ban many virtual currency ads.

• Ola, the Indian ride-hailing company, is expanding in Australia and challenging Uber there. (NYT)

• Foreign smugglers are trying to ship advanced American military technologies to China, Russia and other adversaries at rates that outpace the Cold War. (NYT)

• FedEx has found that while robots may take your role, they might not take your job. (NYT)

• Apple is designing and producing its own device displays for the first time, unnamed sources said. (Bloomberg)

• Google wants a cut of the purchases made through user searches. (Reuters)

• Pricing ever-more-popular cybersecurity insurance is difficult. (FT)


The billionaire investor Steven A. Cohen in 2016.

Coley Brown for The New York Times

Point72’s president quits amid gender bias accusations

Douglas D. Haynes, who was named as a defendant in a suit that accuses Point72 Asset Management of underpaying women and fostering a hostile work environment, resigned on Friday, the NYT reported. Two sources said the move wasn’t related to the litigation, but it still creates another headache for Steven Cohen’s investment firm as it prepares to become a full-fledged hedge fund.

The misconduct flyaround

• A lawyer for Steve Wynn reported a woman to the F.B.I. after she threatened to go public with allegations of the casino mogul’s misconduct toward her. (WSJ)

• An Alaska Airlines pilot sued the company, alleging she was drugged and raped by another pilot during a layover last year. (NYT)

• James Levine, former music director at the Metropolitan Opera, is suing the company after he was fired following an internal inquiry that said it had found evidence of sexual misconduct. (NYT)

• Few law firms are choosing to include partners in their gender pay gap reporting in Britain, a move that would likely widen the pay gap significantly. (FT)

Revolving door

• Alex Wilmot-Sitwell, the head of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s European operations, has left amid frustration with Brexit. (FT)

• Ann Gronowski, a professor of pathology at the Washington University School of Medicine, has resigned from Theranos’s board. (FT)

The speed read

• The activist investor Edward Bramson has acquired just over 5 percent of Barclays, increasing pressure on the British bank to turn around its performance. (FT)

• Hillhouse Capital Management is raising a fund that could be the largest ever devoted to the China region, surpassing the $9.3 billion raised by K.K.R. last year. (FT)

• BBL Commodities, one of the biggest energy-focused hedge funds, is looking to raise $1 billion for a new fund that will wager on macroeconomic trends. (WSJ)

• China plans to name Yi Gang, an American-educated economist, to lead its central bank in a move signaling that Beijing will continue an ambitious — and, some say, much needed — financial shake-up to get the country’s debt under control and keep its economy growing. China’s president also handed the reins of the country’s financial system to a close ally, Liu He.

• Blackstone guaranteed Stephen Schwarzman new rewards for his contribution to the firm as a founder when he chooses to retire — and even after his death. (WSJ)

• Christian Bittar, once a star banker for Deutsche Bank, pleaded guilty to conspiring to rig the interest-rate benchmark known as Euribor. (Bloomberg)

• An influential committee of lawmakers in Britain says the country should seek to postpone its exit from the European Union if talks drag on. (NYT)

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How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions

“They want to fight a culture war in America,” he added. “Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war.”

Details of Cambridge’s acquisition and use of Facebook data have surfaced in several accounts since the business began working on the 2016 campaign, setting off a furious debate about the merits of the firm’s so-called psychographic modeling techniques.

But the full scale of the data leak involving Americans has not been previously disclosed — and Facebook, until now, has not acknowledged it. Interviews with a half-dozen former employees and contractors, and a review of the firm’s emails and documents, have revealed that Cambridge not only relied on the private Facebook data but still possesses most or all of the trove.

Cambridge paid to acquire the personal information through an outside researcher who, Facebook says, claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.

During a week of inquiries from The Times, Facebook downplayed the scope of the leak and questioned whether any of the data still remained out of its control. But on Friday, the company posted a statement expressing alarm and promising to take action.

“This was a scam — and a fraud,” Paul Grewal, a vice president and deputy general counsel at the social network, said in a statement to The Times earlier on Friday. He added that the company was suspending Cambridge Analytica, Mr. Wylie and the researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic, from Facebook. “We will take whatever steps are required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all — and take action against all offending parties,” Mr. Grewal said.

Alexander Nix, the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, and other officials had repeatedly denied obtaining or using Facebook data, most recently during a parliamentary hearing last month. But in a statement to The Times, the company acknowledged that it had acquired the data, though it blamed Mr. Kogan for violating Facebook’s rules and said it had deleted the information as soon as it learned of the problem two years ago.

In Britain, Cambridge Analytica is facing intertwined investigations by Parliament and government regulators into allegations that it performed illegal work on the “Brexit” campaign. The country has strict privacy laws, and its information commissioner announced on Saturday that she was looking into whether the Facebook data was “illegally acquired and used.”

In the United States, Mr. Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, a board member, Mr. Bannon and Mr. Nix received warnings from their lawyer that it was illegal to employ foreigners in political campaigns, according to company documents and former employees.


The conservative donor Robert Mercer invested $15 million in Cambridge Analytica, where his daughter Rebekah is a board member.

Patrick McMullan, via Getty Images

Congressional investigators have questioned Mr. Nix about the company’s role in the Trump campaign. And the Justice Department’s special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has demanded the emails of Cambridge Analytica employees who worked for the Trump team as part of his investigation into Russian interference in the election.

While the substance of Mr. Mueller’s interest is a closely guarded secret, documents viewed by The Times indicate that the firm’s British affiliate claims to have worked in Russia and Ukraine. And the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, disclosed in October that Mr. Nix had reached out to him during the campaign in hopes of obtaining private emails belonging to Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The documents also raise new questions about Facebook, which is already grappling with intense criticism over the spread of Russian propaganda and fake news. The data Cambridge collected from profiles, a portion of which was viewed by The Times, included details on users’ identities, friend networks and “likes.” Only a tiny fraction of the users had agreed to release their information to a third party.

“Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do,” Mr. Grewal said. “No systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”

Still, he added, “it’s a serious abuse of our rules.”

Reading Voters’ Minds

The Bordeaux flowed freely as Mr. Nix and several colleagues sat down for dinner at the Palace Hotel in Manhattan in late 2013, Mr. Wylie recalled in an interview. They had much to celebrate.

Mr. Nix, a brash salesman, led the small elections division at SCL Group, a political and defense contractor. He had spent much of the year trying to break into the lucrative new world of political data, recruiting Mr. Wylie, then a 24-year-old political operative with ties to veterans of President Obama’s campaigns. Mr. Wylie was interested in using inherent psychological traits to affect voters’ behavior and had assembled a team of psychologists and data scientists, some of them affiliated with Cambridge University.

The group experimented abroad, including in the Caribbean and Africa, where privacy rules were lax or nonexistent and politicians employing SCL were happy to provide government-held data, former employees said.

Then a chance meeting brought Mr. Nix into contact with Mr. Bannon, the Breitbart News firebrand who would later become a Trump campaign and White House adviser, and with Mr. Mercer, one of the richest men on earth.

Mr. Nix and his colleagues courted Mr. Mercer, who believed a sophisticated data company could make him a kingmaker in Republican politics, and his daughter Rebekah, who shared his conservative views. Mr. Bannon was intrigued by the possibility of using personality profiling to shift America’s culture and rewire its politics, recalled Mr. Wylie and other former employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had signed nondisclosure agreements. Mr. Bannon and the Mercers declined to comment.

Mr. Mercer agreed to help finance a $1.5 million pilot project to poll voters and test psychographic messaging in Virginia’s gubernatorial race in November 2013, where the Republican attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, ran against Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic fund-raiser. Though Mr. Cuccinelli lost, Mr. Mercer committed to moving forward.

The Mercers wanted results quickly, and more business beckoned. In early 2014, the investor Toby Neugebauer and other wealthy conservatives were preparing to put tens of millions of dollars behind a presidential campaign for Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, work that Mr. Nix was eager to win.

When Mr. Wylie’s colleagues failed to produce a memo explaining their work to Mr. Neugebauer, Mr. Nix castigated them over email.

“ITS 2 PAGES!! 4 hours work max (or an hour each). What have you all been doing??” he wrote.

Mr. Wylie’s team had a bigger problem. Building psychographic profiles on a national scale required data the company could not gather without huge expense. Traditional analytics firms used voting records and consumer purchase histories to try to predict political beliefs and voting behavior.

But those kinds of records were useless for figuring out whether a particular voter was, say, a neurotic introvert, a religious extrovert, a fair-minded liberal or a fan of the occult. Those were among the psychological traits the firm claimed would provide a uniquely powerful means of designing political messages.


Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic, built an app that helped the firm harvest Facebook data.

Mr. Wylie found a solution at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre. Researchers there had developed a technique to map personality traits based on what people had liked on Facebook. The researchers paid users small sums to take a personality quiz and download an app, which would scrape some private information from their profiles and those of their friends, activity that Facebook permitted at the time. The approach, the scientists said, could reveal more about a person than their parents or romantic partners knew — a claim that has been disputed.

When the Psychometrics Centre declined to work with the firm, Mr. Wylie found someone who would: Dr. Kogan, who was then a psychology professor at the university and knew of the techniques. Dr. Kogan built his own app and in June 2014 began harvesting data for Cambridge Analytica. The business covered the costs — more than $800,000 — and allowed him to keep a copy for his own research, according to company emails and financial records.

All he divulged to Facebook, and to users in fine print, was that he was collecting information for academic purposes, the social network said. It did not verify his claim. Dr. Kogan declined to provide details of what happened, citing nondisclosure agreements with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, though he maintained that his program was “a very standard vanilla Facebook app.”

He ultimately provided over 50 million raw profiles to the firm, Mr. Wylie said, a number confirmed by a company email and a former colleague. Of those, roughly 30 million — a number previously reported by The Intercept — contained enough information, including places of residence, that the company could match users to other records and build psychographic profiles. Only about 270,000 users — those who participated in the survey — had consented to having their data harvested.


An email from Dr. Kogan to Mr. Wylie describing traits that could be predicted.

Mr. Wylie said the Facebook data was “the saving grace” that let his team deliver the models it had promised the Mercers.

“We wanted as much as we could get,” he acknowledged. “Where it came from, who said we could have it — we weren’t really asking.”

Mr. Nix tells a different story. Appearing before a parliamentary committee last month, he described Dr. Kogan’s contributions as “fruitless.”

An International Effort

Just as Dr. Kogan’s efforts were getting underway, Mr. Mercer agreed to invest $15 million in a joint venture with SCL’s elections division. The partners devised a convoluted corporate structure, forming a new American company, owned almost entirely by Mr. Mercer, with a license to the psychographics platform developed by Mr. Wylie’s team, according to company documents. Mr. Bannon, who became a board member and investor, chose the name: Cambridge Analytica.

The firm was effectively a shell. According to the documents and former employees, any contracts won by Cambridge, originally incorporated in Delaware, would be serviced by London-based SCL and overseen by Mr. Nix, a British citizen who held dual appointments at Cambridge Analytica and SCL. Most SCL employees and contractors were Canadian, like Mr. Wylie, or European.

But in July 2014, an American election lawyer advising the company, Laurence Levy, warned that the arrangement could violate laws limiting the involvement of foreign nationals in American elections.

In a memo to Mr. Bannon, Ms. Mercer and Mr. Nix, the lawyer, then at the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, warned that Mr. Nix would have to recuse himself “from substantive management” of any clients involved in United States elections. The data firm would also have to find American citizens or green card holders, Mr. Levy wrote, “to manage the work and decision making functions, relative to campaign messaging and expenditures.”

In summer and fall 2014, Cambridge Analytica dived into the American midterm elections, mobilizing SCL contractors and employees around the country. Few Americans were involved in the work, which included polling, focus groups and message development for the John Bolton Super PAC, conservative groups in Colorado and the campaign of Senator Thom Tillis, the North Carolina Republican.

Cambridge Analytica, in its statement to The Times, said that all “personnel in strategic roles were U.S. nationals or green card holders.” Mr. Nix “never had any strategic or operational role” in an American election campaign, the company said.

Whether the company’s American ventures violated election laws would depend on foreign employees’ roles in each campaign, and on whether their work counted as strategic advice under Federal Election Commission rules.

Cambridge Analytica appears to have exhibited a similar pattern in the 2016 election cycle, when the company worked for the campaigns of Mr. Cruz and then Mr. Trump. While Cambridge hired more Americans to work on the races that year, most of its data scientists were citizens of the United Kingdom or other European countries, according to two former employees.

Under the guidance of Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital director in 2016 and now the campaign manager for his 2020 re-election effort, Cambridge performed a variety of services, former campaign officials said. That included designing target audiences for digital ads and fund-raising appeals, modeling voter turnout, buying $5 million in television ads and determining where Mr. Trump should travel to best drum up support.


The White House advisers Stephen K. Bannon and Kellyanne Conway with Ms. Mercer at the 2017 inauguration. The firm helped the Trump campaign target voters.

Cambridge executives have offered conflicting accounts about the use of psychographic data on the campaign. Mr. Nix has said that the firm’s profiles helped shape Mr. Trump’s strategy — statements disputed by other campaign officials — but also that Cambridge did not have enough time to comprehensively model Trump voters.

In a BBC interview last December, Mr. Nix said that the Trump efforts drew on “legacy psychographics” built for the Cruz campaign.

After the Leak

By early 2015, Mr. Wylie and more than half his original team of about a dozen people had left the company. Most were liberal-leaning, and had grown disenchanted with working on behalf of the hard-right candidates the Mercer family favored.

Cambridge Analytica, in its statement, said that Mr. Wylie had left to start a rival firm, and that it later took legal action against him to enforce intellectual property claims. It characterized Mr. Wylie and other former “contractors” as engaging in “what is clearly a malicious attempt to hurt the company.”

Near the end of that year, a report in The Guardian revealed that Cambridge Analytica was using private Facebook data on the Cruz campaign, sending Facebook scrambling. In a statement at the time, Facebook promised that it was “carefully investigating this situation” and would require any company misusing its data to destroy it.

Facebook verified the leak and — without publicly acknowledging it — sought to secure the information, efforts that continued as recently as August 2016. That month, lawyers for the social network reached out to Cambridge Analytica contractors. “This data was obtained and used without permission,” said a letter that was obtained by the Times. “It cannot be used legitimately in the future and must be deleted immediately.”

Mr. Grewal, the Facebook deputy general counsel, said in a statement that both Dr. Kogan and “SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica certified to us that they destroyed the data in question.”


Cambridge Analytica harvested over 50 million Facebook users’ data, one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

But copies of the data still remain beyond Facebook’s control. The Times viewed a set of raw data from the profiles Cambridge Analytica obtained.

While Mr. Nix has told lawmakers that the company does not have Facebook data, a former employee said that he had recently seen hundreds of gigabytes on Cambridge servers, and that the files were not encrypted.

Today, as Cambridge Analytica seeks to expand its business in the United States and overseas, Mr. Nix has mentioned some questionable practices. This January, in undercover footage filmed by Channel 4 News in Britain and viewed by The Times, he boasted of employing front companies and former spies on behalf of political clients around the world, and even suggested ways to entrap politicians in compromising situations.

All the scrutiny appears to have damaged Cambridge Analytica’s political business. No American campaigns or “super PACs” have yet reported paying the company for work in the 2018 midterms, and it is unclear whether Cambridge will be asked to join Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign.

In the meantime, Mr. Nix is seeking to take psychographics to the commercial advertising market. He has repositioned himself as a guru for the digital ad age — a “Math Man,” he puts it. In the United States last year, a former employee said, Cambridge pitched Mercedes-Benz, MetLife and the brewer AB InBev, but has not signed them on.

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