One of the first uses of a trove of Facebook data on tens of millions of Americans that has thrown Facebook and Cambridge Analytica into crisis this week was in 2014 by a super PAC run by John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, two former Cambridge Analytica employees told CNN.
The Bolton super PAC and Cambridge Analytica signed a $454,700 contract in the summer of 2014. The contract, obtained by CNN, outlined how the data firm would provide the super PAC “behavioral microtargeting with psychographic messaging.” The contract stated that the data would be collected in accordance with the law.
Psychographic profiles are used to predict people’s interest, values, and opinions – Cambridge Analytica used the predictions to target voters with advertising.
The predictions were based on Facebook data that Cambridge University scientist Aleksandr Kogan sold to Cambridge Analytica, according to Christopher Wylie, who worked for the company in 2014, and another person who worked for the company but does not want to be named.
Kogan told CNN that he provided Cambridge Analytica with data on 30 million Americans. Facebook said in doing so, Kogan lied to them and breached its policies. Kogan said he believed he was acting within Facebook’s guidelines.
The super PAC and Cambridge Analytica say they were unaware the data shared with them was in violation of Facebook policy.
The Bolton PAC was one of the first beneficiaries of the data, both sources said, and Cambridge Analytica used the data to help produce ads for the super PAC.
A spokesman for the super PAC denies knowing of any alleged impropriety by Cambridge Analytica.
Bolton, a former US ambassador to the United Nations in the George W. Bush administration, was mulling a 2016 presidential bid when his super PAC hired Cambridge Analytica. In the 2014 midterms, the super PAC backed candidates including Republican Senate contenders Thom Tillis and Tom Cotton – both of whom also hired Cambridge Analytica and went on to win their races.
Documents provided to CNN show how the SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, outlined how to target voters in Arkansas, where Cotton was running for US Senate in 2014.
Entitled “Arkansas Priority Persuasion Clusters,” it split Arkansas voters into five groups and outlined what messaging would resonate with them.
One ad by Bolton’s super PAC for Cotton focused on patriotism, leadership and on the candidate’s military service.
Wylie said that ad was primarily targeted at “cluster two” of Arkansas voters, which consisted of males in their 40s to 60s who cared most about national security and the economy. Among the “image guidelines” outlined by SCL Group to appeal to this group was a picture of Cotton in military uniform – similar pictures appeared in the ad.
Another Bolton super PAC ad said “our world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place,” citing Iraq, Russia and ISIS, before asking “what’s next?”
In one example involving New Hampshire voters, a cluster of 35- to 55-year-olds, mostly female, was described as “polite and concerned with remaining in the good graces of others.” SCL Group suggested messages showing figures getting along well should be targeted at this group.
Wylie said that messaging was designed to exploit people’s “mental vulnerabilities.”
Cambridge Analytica was the brainchild of conservative billionaire Robert Mercer and conservative activist Steve Bannon, who later helped run the Trump campaign and served as chief strategist in the White House.
Federal Election Commission records show Bolton’s super PAC paid Cambridge Analytica more than $340,000 during the 2014 midterm elections cycle. Mercer donate $1 million to the super PAC in that same period.
The Mercers also donated to the Tillis and Cotton campaigns in 2014.
Tillis said Cambridge Analytica played a “relatively small part” in his campaign when he spoke to reporters Tuesday.
CNN has reached out to Cotton for comment.
Data on Americans was gathered through a Facebook personality test app built by Kogan. The app not only gathered information from those who used it, but also from their Facebook friends.
One point on an agenda that CNN obtained of a meeting between SCL and another contractor that worked for the Bolton PAC read, “SCL able to harvest substantial and useful information on people from Facebook, with permission.”
Cambridge Analytica said when it learned a year later in 2015 that Facebook had determined that Kogan had breached Facebook’s policies, Cambridge Analytica deleted the data Kogan had provided them.
CNN’s Curt Devine and Marshall Cohen contributed to this story.