Over the last 24 hours, UK-based election analytics firm Cambridge Analytica has suspended its CEO Alexander Nix and the firm has been hit in a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Facebook users against both CA and Facebook accusing them of obtaining user data without permission.
And today, as lawmakers in both the US and UK demand formal investigations into the matter of CA possibly using data from 50 million Facebook users during its work for the Trump campaign in 2016, the Guardian has published another bombshell story alleging further nefarious activity by the firm.
In the story, the Guardian reported that CA had obtained emails stolen by Israeli hackers, and had ordered staff to analyze the stolen troves in search of kompromat that could be used against rivals to their clients. In both instances, the Guardian's sources said CA staff refused to handle the stolen material, and it's unclear if any information gleaned from the emails had ultimately been released.
The data analytics firm that worked on the Donald Trump election campaign was offered material from Israeli hackers who had accessed the private emails of two politicians who are now heads of state, witnesses have told the Guardian.
Multiple sources have described how senior directors of Cambridge Analytica – including its chief executive, Alexander Nix – gave staff instructions to handle material provided by computer hackers in election campaigns in Nigeria and St Kitts and Nevis
They claim there were two episodes in 2015 that alarmed members of staff and led them to refuse to handle the data, which they assumed would have been obtained illegally.
SCL Elections, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, denied taking possession of or using hacked or stolen personal information from such individuals for any purpose in either campaign.
That year, CA had been hired to work on the reelection campaign of Nigeria's then-president Goodluck Johnathan. The firm was also contracted by St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Timothy Harris, who was then the opposition leader.
The Guardian said it saw an email from Nix dated Jan. 26 2015 where he refers to the Israeli team.
CA was hired by a Nigerian billionaire to support Johnathan's reelection, and was paid an estimated £2 million to carry out a ferocious campaign against Muhammadu Buhari, whom he eventually lost out to. The Guardian says there's no proof to suggest Johnathan knew about the campaign.
When CA staffers working on the ground in Nigeria learned about the stolen emails, they panicked, and swiftly fled the country - because, as their fixers warned, they could be targeted by supporter of Buhari if they ever learned about the theft.
Staff working on the campaign say in early 2015 they met Israeli cybersecurity contractors in Cambridge Analytica’s offices in Mayfair, London. Employees say they were told the meeting was arranged by Brittany Kaiser, a senior director at the firm.
The Guardian and Observer has been told the Israelis brought a laptop from their office in Tel Aviv and handed employees a USB stick containing what they believed were hacked personal emails.
Sources said Nix, who was suspended on Tuesday, and other senior directors told staff to search for incriminating material that could be used to damage opposition candidates, including Buhari.
“It made everyone feel really uncomfortable,” said one source. “They wanted people to load it into their email programmes.”
People “freaked out”, another employee said. “They wanted to have nothing to do with it.”
One member of the campaign team told the Guardian and Observer that the material they believed had been hacked included Buhari’s medical records. “I’m 99% sure of that. Or if they didn’t have his medical records they at least had emails that referred to what was going on.”
When news of the London meeting filtered back to Cambridge Analytica staff working on the ground in Nigeria, it caused panic, the source said. Local security advisers told the firm’s team to leave the country immediately because if opposition supporters found out, they could turn on them.
"What is clear is that the security of their employees didn’t even seem to have occurred to them," said one former employee. "It was a very serious situation and they had to evacuate immediately."
A spokesperson for Cambridge's parent company, SCL Elections, denied the allegations, and said its employees in Nigeria left after their contract with their Nigerian billionaire client ended. In the UK, both the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner's Office are investigating Cambridge. Though, it's worth noting that their work on the Trump campaign was clearly legal according to the laws of both the US and the UK.
However, one can't help but wonder what we will learn next? Maybe Nix and company orchestrated the DNC leaks?