The whistleblower whose disclosures about Cambridge Analytica shook the tech world over questions about users’ data privacy told Congress on Wednesday that the company engaged in efforts to discourage or suppress voting.
Christopher Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica employee who blew the whistle on its alleged misuse of Facebook data, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the company offered services to discourage voting from targeted sections of the American population.
“Mr. Bannon sees cultural warfare as the means to create enduring change in American politics. It was for this reason Mr. Bannon engaged SCL (Cambridge Analytica’s parent company), a foreign military contractor, to build an arsenal of informational weapons he could deploy on the American population,” Wylie claimed, referring to Trump’s former top political adviser Steve Bannon.
Wylie did not provide specific evidence of voter suppression campaigns taking place in the US. But when asked by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, if one of Bannon’s “goals was to suppress voting or discourage certain individuals in the US from voting,” Wylie replied, “That was my understanding, yes.”
After the hearing, Wylie told CNN that although he did not take part in voter suppression activities, he alleged that African-Americans were particular targets of Cambridge Analytica’s “voter disengagement tactics,” which he said were used to “discourage or demobilize certain types of people from voting,” and that campaigns and political action committees requested voter suppression from Cambridge Analytica.
CNN has reached out to Bannon for comment.
Alleged Russian ties
Wylie also outlined during his testimony how he believed it may have been possible for the Facebook data of American voters to have been obtained by entities in Russia.
Wylie highlighted how Cambridge University professor Aleksandr Kogan – who has told CNN he gathered information on 30 million Americans through his Facebook personality test app in 2014, which he then passed to Cambridge Analytica – made numerous trips to Russia, in part a result of his work with St. Petersburg University.
Wylie said he believed it was possible that Cambridge Analytica was a target of the Russian security services and that Kogan’s computer could have been hacked during his visits there.
In response, Kogan told CNN, “Mr. Wylie is confusing fantasy for probable” and said he did not travel to Russia while he was working for Cambridge Analytica in 2014.
“Mr. Wylie has proven once again that he has a very active imagination without actual knowledge to back it up. As with his claims about the usefulness of the data, his claims here also quickly fall apart under any sensible scrutiny,” Kogan told CNN.
After the hearing, Wylie said he was happy both Republican and Democratic lawmakers had attended.
“Although Cambridge Analytica may have supported particular candidates in US elections, I am not here to point fingers. The firm’s political leanings are far less relevant than the broader vulnerabilities this scandal has exposed,” his written testimony read.
Among lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee questioning Wylie were Republican Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas. Both have operated campaigns that were Cambridge Analytica clients.
Cambridge Analytica announced earlier this month that it was shutting down its operations and would announce bankruptcy proceedings.
Controversy around Cambridge Analytica’s alleged misuse of Facebook data raised a host of new questions about the social media giant’s role in the public discourse and elections, and helped prompt renewed scrutiny in Washington, where last month Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before committees in both houses of Congress.
On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that Cambridge Analytica was under investigation by the Department of Justice and the FBI.