There are two dangers in the media howl over Trump’s computer gurus Cambridge Analytica, the data-driven psy-ops company founded by billionaire brown-shirts, the Mercer Family. The story is that Cambridge Analytica, once directed by Steve Bannon, by shoplifting Facebook profiles to bend your brain, is some unique “bad apple” of the cyber world.
That’s a dangerously narrow view. In fact, the dark art of dynamic psychometric manipulation in politics was not pioneered by Cambridge Analytica for Trump, but by i360 Themis, the operation founded by… no points for guessing… the Brothers Koch.
Mark Swedlund, himself an expert in these tools, explained in the film The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, that i360 dynamically tracks you on 1800 behaviors, or as Swedlund graphically puts it,
They know the last time you downloaded porn and whether you ordered Chinese food before you voted.
Swedlund adds his expert conclusion: “I think that’s creepy.”
The Koch operation and its competitor, DataTrust, use your credit card purchases, cable TV choices and other personal info — which is far more revealing about your inner life than the BS you put on your Facebook profile. Don’t trust DataTrust: This cyber-monster is operated by Karl Rove, “Bush’s Brain,” who is principally funded by Paul Singer, the far Right financier better known as The Vulture.
Way too much is made of the importance of Cambridge Analytica stealing data through a phony app. If you’ve ever filled out an online survey, Swedlund told me, they’ve got you — legally.
The second danger is to forget that the GOP has been using computer power to erase the voting rights of Black and Hispanic voters for years — by “caging,” “Crosscheck,” citizenship challenges based on last name (Garcia? Not American!!), the list goes on — a far more effective use of cyberpower than manipulating your behavior through Facebook ads.
Just last week, Kris Kobach, Secretary of State of Kansas and Trump’s chief voting law advisor, defended his method of hunting alleged “aliens” on voter rolls against a legal challenge by the ACLU. Kobach’s expert, Jessie Richman, uses a computer algorithm that can locate “foreign” names on voter rolls. He identified, for example, one “Carlos Murguia” as a potential alien voter. Murguia is a Kansas-born judge who presides in a nearby courtroom.
It would be a joke, except that Kobach’s “alien” hunt has blocked one in seven new (i.e. young) voters from registering in the state. If Kobach wins, it will, like his Crosscheck purge program and voter ID laws, almost certainly spread to other GOP controlled states. This could ultimately block one million new voters, exactly what Trump had in mind by pushing the alien-voter hysteria.
The Cambridge Analytica story was first reported by The Guardian and Observer in 2015. Did we listen? Did any US paper carry the story the British paper worked on for years? So, my first reaction reading this story was nostalgia — for the time when I was a reporter with The Guardian and Observer investigations team. We could spend a year digging deep into complex stories, working with crazy insiders. There, in 2000, I uncovered another cyber-crime: Using database matching to purge felons from Florida voter rolls. (None, in fact, were felons; most were Democrats.)
I moved back to America, but found I had to give up any hope of doing true, deep investigative reports for newspapers in my own country. US papers will sometimes re-report Guardian news, but American media almost never initiates deep investigation. And THAT, fear of digging out the truth, is a greater threat to America than Steve Bannon.
Before turning to journalism as an investigative reporter for The Guardian and BBC Television, Greg Palast was an investigator of fraud and racketeering for governments and labor unions worldwide. Known as the reporter who exposed how Katherine Harris and Jeb Bush purged thousands of Black voters from Florida rolls to steal the 2000 election for George Bush, Palast has written four New York Times bestsellers, including Armed Madhouse, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, now a major non-fiction movie.