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Mon 30 November 2020
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Former MP and member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee Ian Lucas explains fresh revelations about the now-defunct data firm’s links to AIQ – the main recipient of Vote Leave’s campaign budget during the 2016 Referendum

Documents revealed for the first time by former Cambridge Analytica employee Brittany Kaiser have shown new links between the now notorious data company and the Canadian data business AggregateIQ (AIQ), used by Vote Leave, the officially designated leave campaign organisation, as well as by other leave campaigns, during the 2016 EU Referendum.

Vote Leave’s campaign director, Dominic Cummings, now the Prime Minister’s right-hand-man, thought AIQ was very important. For it was AIQ’s job to organise the delivery of mainly Facebook adverts in the “final crucial five days”, to quote Cummings, of the referendum campaign.

This was considered so crucial, in fact, that Vote Leave channelled some of its own funding – totalling £675,315.18 – to another organisation, BeLeave, to make sure that the adverts were deployed. This was found by the elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, to be collusion, breaking spending limits and breaching electoral law. 

AIQ and Vote Leave have both wanted to put distance between themselves and Cambridge Analytica. But the new documents from Kaiser blow a hole in that strategy.


Contradicting Evidence

AIQ’s chief operating officer, Jeff Silvester, did not want the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee – of which I was then a member – to know of the closeness of AIQ’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica when he gave evidence to its disinformation and fake news inquiry in May 2018.

In its written evidence to the committee, the company said: “We have never worked for, contracted with, nor have any corporate ties, legal or otherwise to Cambridge Analytica or any individuals associated with them.” 

Silvester wanted to emphasise this when he gave evidence too. When I asked him to confirm that AIQ never contracted with Cambridge Analytica, he said: “Correct.”

But Kaiser’s Cambridge Analytica documents – deposited on an open source internet site last week – include a document which directly contradicts Silvester’s evidence. It is a draft contract dated 16 September 2015 headed ‘AggregateIQ in Partnership with Cambridge Analytica’ and presents the two businesses, together, in the contract as one contracting party, ready to work on the US Presidential Election primaries.

At the very least, this is direct evidence of a partnership agreement between AIQ and Cambridge Analytica – denied explicitly before the DCMS Committee by Silvester – and displays the closeness of their relationship.

This is significant because it is a further link between Vote Leave, which employed AIQ in the Brexit campaign, and Cambridge Analytica, now disgraced with its chief executive Alexander Nix being disqualified from holding company directorships in the UK for seven years because of his conduct.

Senior Vote Leave players now lead the Government: Prime Minister Boris Johnson was a member of its campaign committee, while the Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove was the co-convenor of the campaign committee. And, of course, its former campaign director Dominic Cummings is now their most senior advisor.

We already know from Silvester’s evidence to the DCMS Committee that Vote Leave was first introduced to AIQ by Mark Gettleson – a Vote Leave employee who had previously worked for Cambridge Analytica, and its parent company SCL, in which Nix was intimately involved for many years. Silvester told the Committee that he met Gettleson “three or four times” after 2014.

We also know that SCL was, for a number of years before 2015, AIQ’s main – sometimes only – client and worked with SCL to develop its Ripon software, subsequently used in the 2016 US Presidential campaign by Cambridge Analytica.

Like Silvester, Vote Leave, and its main players Johnson, Gove and Cummings, have been very anxious to put distance between themselves and Cambridge Analytica.

Cummings has suggested that Vote Leave would not have used Cambridge Analytica because of its bad relationship with its rival leave campaign, Leave.EU, led by Arron Banks and Nigel Farage. However, it now appears that AIQ and Cambridge Analytica were in partnership from the Autumn of 2015 – whether Cummings knew it or not – and that, during the following year, each worked, apparently separately, for the two separate leave campaigns.

Did the Cambridge Analytica/AIQ partnership relationship continue up to and beyond the EU Referendum campaign in the UK?

In the period following the referendum, Cambridge Analytica shifted its focus to America and was employed by Donald Trump to launch online campaigns in much the same way as AIQ had campaigned online in the EU Referendum. 


Power of Silence

The nexus between Cambridge Analytica and AIQ very much appears to be there.

In view of the disclosure of additional written evidence by Brittany Kaiser, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) must reconsider immediately its conclusion in a letter to the DCMS Committee earlier this month that “SCL/CA were not involved in the EU referendum in the UK”. Through the AIQ/Cambridge Analytica partnership, Cambridge Analytica was.

It is not at all clear what investigations the ICO carried out in reaching its conclusions and it is very disappointing that no full report on its inquires has been published, as was promised to the DCMS Committee. The Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is appearing before the Committee shortly and has many questions to answer.

Of course, in that, she is not alone.

Unlike her, Cummings has refused, at any stage, to appear before the DCMS Committee and did not answer questions in its inquiry into disinformation and fake news. He was found in contempt of Parliament in so refusing. He could provide clarification but refuses to do so.

Johnson is just as anxious to make sure this does not happen. One of his early decisions as Prime Minister was to refuse the DCMS Committee’s request to order Cummings to give evidence after appointing him as his chief advisor.

Gove, who also used AIQ’s services for his abortive 2016 Conservative Party leadership campaign, has repeatedly refused to answer questions on when he knew of Vote Leave’s unlawful actions in the 2016 Referendum.

All three were prominent Vote Leave activists and Vote Leave used a business, AIQ, which was in partnership with Cambridge Analytica, a business with a destroyed reputation. The Cambridge Analytica trail leads to 10 Downing Street and this Vote Leave Government is still determined not to shed any light on it.

Ian Lucas was Labour MP for Wrexham from 2001 to 2019, and was a member of Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee from 2017 to 2019


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