Boss at centre of data row tells MPs he has been ‘victimised'
The former boss of Cambridge Analytica has claimed his company has been “victimised” by a liberal backlash against Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.
Alexander Nix was suspended as the data analysis firm’s chief executive after being filmed discussing the use of prostitutes and bribes in honey-traps to discredit politicians, and later resigned amid claims of the misuse of Facebook users’ personal information in the Trump campaign.
Giving evidence to a parliamentary committee, he admitted he was”foolish” to be captured in what he described as a “very well-organised sting” by Channel 4 News (C4N).
But he insisted CA had never carried out the kind of unethical activities he discussed with an undercover reporter posing as a potential client, telling MPs it was “just a lie to impress the people I was talking to”.
And he dismissed as a “point-blank lie” the claims of whistle-blowing former CA employee Christopher Wyle that the company had played a pivotal role in delivering Brexit.
In a mammoth three-and-a-half hour evidence session in the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry into fake news, Mr Nix dismissed Mr Wylie as a “bitter and jealous” individual who had “bombarded” CA with allegations after leaving the company – many of which had proved to be false.
He acknowledged CA had discussions with Leave.EU about possible work for the campaign, and said it was likely the company was introduced to the group’s funder Arron Banks by former Trump aide Steve Bannon.
But he said the Electoral Commission had found there was no contract with Leave.EU, CA did no paid work for and had no impact on the group’s referendum campaign.
In one of a series of clashes with committee members, Mr Nix accused Ian Lucas of “building a conspiracy theory” after the Labour MP said his assertion that CA had nothing to do with Brexit was “complete nonsense”.
“I’m sorry if members of this committee are unhappy with the outcome of the referendum, I’m sorry if members of the committee are unhappy with Donald Trump being President of the United States,” said a clearly angry Mr Nix.
“But you can’t simply put forward your prejudices onto me and make sweeping assumptions about our involvement with a political campaign simply because that is what you want to believe… The fact is there is no evidence to support your position.”
Mr Lucas retorted: “Facts are what we are presenting to you. What we are getting back from you is bluster and rudeness.”
Mr Nix said that Mr Wylie had accused CA of working for Brexit, disseminating gruesomely violent videos in an African election, “capturing governments, colonising countries and being part of some right-wing conspiracy”.
But he asked the MPs: “What happens if none of that is actually true?”
He suggested Mr Wylie had provided ammunition for the “global liberal media” after they “decided to put us in their cross-hairs” because of CA’s perceived role in the Trump and Brexit victories and launched “an extremely well co-ordinated and effective attack on us as a company and destroyed our reputations and our business”.
He told them: “If you were sitting where I am right now, you would probably feel quite victimised.”
Mr Nix was returning to the committee for a second grilling, after his evidence to a February hearing was thrown into question by subsequent events, including the C4N broadcast in March.
He admitted his answers to the committee at the earlier hearing about Facebook data it received from Global Science Research (GSR) – a company set up by Cambridge University academic Dr Aleksandr Kogan – “could have been clearer” but insisted it was not his intention to mislead.
He told MPs he thought he was being asked whether CA held data from GSR at the time of the hearing, but later realised the question was whether it had ever held such information.
Mr Nix claimed he and CA colleague Mark Turnbull had been “over-zealous” in trying to secure a contract from a potential client when they were filmed discussing how pretty Ukrainian women could be used to lure rival politicians into compromising positions.
Insisting his remarks were “hypothetical”, he accused C4N of heavily editing them and removing caveats in order to cast CA in the worst possible light.
“We have never undertaken any work that involves a honey-trap or the use of a sex scandal or anything like that, or tried to create a sex scandal for political leverage or work on a campaign,” he told MPs.
But the broadcaster hit back, branding his claim that caveats were edited out as “wholly untrue”, and pointing out he had described the activities not only as “examples of what can be done” but also “what has been done”.
“The Channel 4 News footage also shows that the suggestions to entrap politicians with bribes and honeytraps were not solicited by our reporter but were both raised first by Mr Nix and Mr Turnbull,” said C4N.
Mr Nix declined to say whether he had taken eight million US dollars out of CA shortly before its collapse, but insisted a Financial Times article carrying the allegation was based on inaccurate information.
He insisted in fact he had paid millions from his own pocket to cover staff salaries, bonuses and redundancies.
He said he had “absolutely no knowledge” of allegations that former CA director Brittany Kaiser visited Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy and channelled him donations in crypto-currencies.
And he insisted it was correct for him to say at his previous hearing that CA had no relationship with Canadian data firm AggregateIQ, as it had not worked with them for a period of “many months” at that point.