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Trump’s Data Gurus Are Now Turning Their Attention To Your TV

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

Originally published in Fast Company on Nov 15 2017
(https://www.fastcompany.com/40477438/cambridge-analytica-has-your-tv-in-mind-and-an-unlikely-ally)

11.15.17 PLATFORM WARS
Trump’s Data Gurus Are Now Turning Their Attention To Your TV
Cambridge Analytica is eyeing targeted TV ads and mobile apps alongside some surprising allies.

BY ANN MARLOWE
Cambridge Analytica, the Anglo-American data and behavioral science firm that worked for Ted Cruz and Donald Trump–and that sparked an investigation in the U.K. and inquiries by U.S. lawmakers–has announced two initiatives in the past year that highlight some of the newer techniques in targeted advertising and the complex relationships that surround them.

Since last year’s presidential campaigns, the company has sought to expand further into targeted, or addressable, TV, an emerging type of data-driven ad technology that marketers and political campaigns can use to know not just what key audiences and voters like on TV and in other media, but also to determine what particular messages to show them and when.

In an interview last month at the Advertising Week conference in New York, Duke Perrucci, Cambridge’s chief revenue officer, described the potential of new digital TVs and set-top boxes, and a future when targeted ads take up your whole screen. “Because you know the people in that home, and because you buy commercially available data, you know a lot about those people—there’s tons of data out there—now you can send those targeted ads specifically to those homes, the same way you would to a Facebook profile or to an Instagram account,” he said.

While campaign dollars increasingly flow to internet ads–last year, spending on digital advertising eclipsed TV for the first time–television remains the ground zero of big ad campaigns, and the ad targeting and data capabilities in TV are starting to catch up to what’s used online. The idea is to allow candidates and brands to reach only those viewers who meet a desired demographic (e.g. potential buyer of motorcycle insurance). Rather than buying ads the old fashioned way during a certain program (a college football game, for instance) addressable TV allows advertisers to purchase an audience (like undecided Republicans).

CEO of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix [Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Concordia Summit]
Cambridge’s efforts in addressable TV began last year. In October 2016, during the final stretch of the presidential campaigns, the company announced a partnership with cross platform analytics company ComScore to merge Cambridge Analytica’s “behavioral psychology and data analytics platform” with ComScore TV data, yielding insight “into which programs, stations and dayparts deliver the highest densities of the targeted audiences that the company’s clients seek to influence,” according to a statement about the partnership.

Typically, Cambridge’s political work has drawn significant support from the conservative mega-donor Robert Mercer, and much of its work in U.S. elections has been for candidates Mercer supports. Steve Bannon, Breitbart News CEO and former advisor to President Trump, sat on Cambridge’s board of directors until late last year. But the TV data effort, as well as a mobile data tie-up in Mexico, have links with another lesser-known American billionaire family, one whose large campaign contributions tend to support Democrats.

ADVERTISING

Charlie Ergen, founder of the broadcast satellite company Dish and the satellite equipment maker EchoStar, is said to be the richest man in Colorado, with a reported net worth of $18.8 billion. He is also a registered Democrat who was once a bundler for long-time friend John McCain ahead of his presidential bid in 2008. In 2016, Ergen and his wife hosted Clinton for a fundraiser at their home, where the candidate collected at least $750,000.

Dish founder Charlie Ergen [Photo: Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images]
Last October, as part of the partnership with ComScore, viewer data from 52,000 households, including some Dish households, was set to eventually flow to Cambridge Analytica. ComScore taps Dish data thanks to ComScore’s acquisition of analytics company Rentrak, in January 2016. Dish has had close ties with Rentrak since 2008, and, after it acquired 7% of the company in 2012, it agreed to provide Rentrak with exclusive use of its set top box data.

“DISH is a major partner that helped us change the measurement landscape by allowing massive and passive television measurement across a national footprint,” comScore’s CEO, Serge Matta, said in a 2016 statement. A spokesperson for ComScore was unable to describe the outcome of the Cambridge Analytica partnership. Representatives for Cambridge Analytica and Dish declined to comment for this story.

In September, Cambridge’s new brand-focused unit, CA Commercial, announced its own ad targeting TV product, SelecTV, that it said it would roll out in the U.S. and U.K., followed by additional countries and markets in coming months. Available in more than half of all 119.6 million U.S. TV homes, and in every U.S. market, addressable TV “has finally reached a scale that has become very attractive to performance marketers,” Alexander Nix, Cambridge’s CEO, said in a statement.

Born out of a recent campaign to promote a new un-named cable TV show, the technology, Nix said, has led to a “huge tuning uplift” over traditional age and gender targeting, an effect that is “additionally amplified when homes are exposed to both desktop and mobile advertising.” It’s not known yet if or how Cambridge intends to use addressable TV data during upcoming political campaigns, for instance, during the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.

Dish is now America’s second-largest satellite TV operator and fourth-largest pay TV provider, and it’s also at the forefront of the ongoing battle to monetize set top box data to reach voters—one that, between digital and TV and a mix of the two—is expected to grow even hotter next year. In September, the company launched a new targeted TV ad program in partnership with Volvo, which can deliver targeted ads simultaneously on Dish and on the company’s Sling TV over-the-top service.

Dish may have good reason to be casting about for innovative ways to bolster its TV business. While it earned $15 billion in revenue in 2016, its stock price has fallen more than 20% since July, and amid historic declines in TV viewership, it has seen a rapid drop-off in customers: during the third quarter, Dish lost another 129,000 pay TV subscribers, out of a nationwide base of around 13.7 million.

On a recent phone call with analysts, Ergen pointed to existing advertising as part of the problem. Traditional TV, he said, is “suffering declines in part because it’s not as good a product. It’s more expensive. Rates have gone up as viewership goes down. And the commercial load–you’re talking about 30% of the viewing minutes are commercials. That’s an unhealthy viewer experience,” Ergen said. “There’s things as an industry we can do to change that. If the industry starts thinking of creative ways to compete, that market can stabilize.”

[Photo: Flickr user Ambuj Saxena, Tim Mossholder/Pexels]
TARGETING TVS
The quest to target voters through TV is decades old and bipartisan. But practitioners say it was the Obama campaign in 2012 that signaled a breakthrough in using both social media and set-top box data in an effort to more precisely identify and persuade undecided voters. Rentrak, which is nonpartisan, collected the data and hired a third party to “anonymize” it so that the Obama team would only know that the information was coming from a set-top box of somebody on the persuadable list; personally identifying information would be stripped away.

In the 2016 election, however, the Clinton campaign chose to build their own TV buying and targeting strategy, not to use a more advanced version of the Obama approach. “It’s frustrating when you build something that is available to both sides, and the side you personally support doesn’t use it,” Carol Davidsen, Obama’s TV ad guru, and now a comScore executive, told AdAge in February. (It’s not clear if Cambridge used the comScore system during its work for the Trump campaign.)

US spending on addressable TV ads doubled in 2015 and is set to double again this year, but it’s still only a tiny piece of the ad pie: according to eMarketer, targeted TV ads will account for a mere $2.25 billion, or just under 3%, of all TV spending in 2018, and $3 billion in 2019. Among the efforts to grow those numbers is OpenAP, a system created by Viacom Inc., 21st Century Fox Inc. and Time Warner Inc.’s Turner that aims to standardize the targeting categories ad buyers can increasingly reach through TV. Google and Facebook are also investing in targeted television ads.

Addressable TV ad spending in the US is growing quickly, but will remain a small portion of total spending for the foreseeable future, according to eMarketer.
“TV is still the strongest media you’ve got to get your message out, but it’s got a lot to learn from digital,” Perrucci, who has been leading Cambridge’s foray into the commercial sector, said at Advertising Week. “Why not take everything we know about the audience and use that to drive much more targeted TV?”

But the combination of otherwise anonymous data on people’s TV viewing habits with social, demographic, psychographic, and other personal data is a growing privacy concern, argues Jonathan Albright, research director at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. Few voters even know their watching patterns are being watched, whether by Dish or another provider.

“If you know [a voter] watch[es] Fox News at 5 p.m. every day and you also know from that addressable TV data—if someone has DirectTV, TiVo, whatever–how much of Fox News they watch, if they watch all of it or not. That kind of resolution is incredible,” he said. Most people don’t realize “that you can place and you can target like that to TV viewers.”

Related: Bots Are Scraping Your Data For Cash Amid Murky Laws And Ethics

Many cable operators use opt-out rather than opt-in consent, virtually guaranteeing that many citizens are unaware of how their data is used. In June 2016, communications advocacy group Public Knowledge filed complaints with the FCC and FTC over the technology, and singled out AT&T, Cablevision, and Comcast as the worst offenders.

The group’s FCC complaint asserts that cable and satellite providers do not adequately obtain customer consent to use customer data, while the FTC complaint argues that the industry’s use of customer data without appropriate disclosures or opt-in consent amounts to an “unfair and deceptive” practice that’s in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

[Photos: Tim Mossholder/Pexels, Flickr user Christian Frausto Bernal]
A CAMBRIDGE-ERGEN CONNECTION IN MEXICO
TV isn’t the only domain where the Ergen family’s business intersects with the Trump data contractor. This summer, Cambridge announced that it would send content to Mexican phone subscribers in advance of their 2018 presidential election through an app that gives users ad-sponsored airtime or mobile internet.

In Mexico, Cambridge Analytica signed an agreement with Pig.gi, an app in use there and in Colombia, in advance of next year’s presidential elections. Pig.gi offers users free airtime and/or email service on mobile phones in exchange for receiving sponsored content. It will allow Cambridge to collect information on and deliver advertising to the phones of 850,000 Mexicans; several political parties have expressed interest in the tie-up.

Among Pig.gi’s investors are Charlie Ergen’s son, Chris Ergen, who’s worked in international business development at Dish since 2014, as well as Variv Capital, which has a joint venture in Mexico with Dish, and Pig.gi’s founders, Colorado brothers Joel and Isaac Phillips, who are connected with Chris Ergen in several vaporous businesses.

Pig.gi, which is currently available for Android in Mexico and Colombia, says its users have seen advertising content half a billion times. “We’re thrilled to be partnering with the app so that their partners can get the right message to the right people at the right time,” Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix says on the company’s website.

Many Mexicans are “undecided and unmotivated,” Brittany Kaiser, Cambridge’s vice president of business development, told Bloomberg. “There’s a huge opportunity in this country to find the issues that are important for people and actually turn people out to vote.”

Meanwhile, Kaiser, who recently updated her Facebook page to say that she is living in Mexico City, lists Chris Ergen as one of her friends on Facebook. (After an emailed inquiry, the page is no longer publicly visible.) In February 2015, Kaiser was a moderator at a Washington meeting on “Digital Diplomacy” organized by the Digital Future Forum, a company started by Chris’s co-investors in Pig.gi, Joel and Isaac Phillips.

Cambridge is also staffing up across Mexico in advance of next year’s elections. As BuzzFeed reported, Arielle Dale Karro, head of operations in Mexico for Cambridge Analytica, posted a job listing in the Facebook group “Foreigners in Mexico City” on October 23, seeking staff for gubernatorial campaigns in seven of Mexico’s 31 states: Chiapas, Guanajuato, Morelos, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, and Veracruz. The company is also looking for someone to work in Mexico City. As of last week, however, Cambridge doesn’t appear in the National Registry of Suppliers of the National Electoral Institute (INE), which is a requirement for any firm that wants to be hired by a political party in Mexico.

The TV and mobile app projects aren’t the only convergence of Cambridge Analytica with the Ergen family. In 2010 Cambridge’s Swiss partner Nicolas Giannakopoulos became a co-shareholder in a company with Charlie Ergen. Giannakopoulos, who describes himself as “a private consultant in security and investigation,” says the company was meant to distribute Dish content on the internet outside the U.S. Ergen joined Giannakopoulos’s firm, CH-Communication SA, six days after its founding on July 22, 2010, and resigned nearly a year later.

That year, Giannakopoulos, a Swiss and Greek citizen was also working with SCL Group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica. (SCL has a complex capital structure depicted here.) Until recently, one of his stable of Swiss companies shared an address and phone number with SCL’s Geneva office; the address disappeared from SCL’s website after the Sarawak Report questioned his links to SCL’s work in Malaysia. Asked about his activities for SCL in Switzerland by Sarawak Report, Nicolas Giannakopoulos claims to being “their partner for a long time.” But, he said, “the truth is that I have not done anything yet!”

While Charlie Ergen hasn’t been affiliated with CH-Communication for six years, son Chase Ergen is connected with another Giannakopoulos firm, the Organized Crime Observatory. In a January 2015 announcement, OCO said that Chase Ergen was being appointed Special Envoy for Dominica and St Kitts-Nevis, where Ergen reportedly holds a passport. Neither Chase Ergen nor Giannakopoulos responded to emailed requests for comment.

In recent weeks, Cambridge has been thrust further into the political spotlight amid ongoing investigations about Russian interference in the 2016 elections. The company is now turning over to investigators documents related to its role in the 2016 campaigns, while the U.K. Information Commissioner is examining its role working for Leave.eu during a pro-Brexit campaign. Cambridge has issued contradictory statements about whether or not it used personality targeting ahead of the U.S. election and whether it worked for Leave.eu and in what capacity. And perhaps most intriguingly, it was reported last month that Cambridge’s CEO, Alexander Nix, contacted Julian Assange offering his help in releasing Hillary Clinton’s allegedly missing emails.

Cambridge’s current work and partnerships are more complicated and less seductive than a narrative of evil Republican billionaires or Russian agents funding demagogic appeals on social media. They are a reminder that the quest for data and the power that comes with it is increasingly independent of partisanship or ideological belief.

11.15.17PLATFORM WARS
Trump’s Data Gurus Are Now Turning Their Attention To Your TV
Cambridge Analytica is eyeing targeted TV ads and mobile apps alongside some surprising allies.
Trump’s Data Gurus Are Now Turning Their Attention To Your TV
[Photos: Kisa-Murisa/iStock, Flickr user dailyinvention]
BY ANN MARLOWELONG READ
Cambridge Analytica, the Anglo-American data and behavioral science firm that worked for Ted Cruz and Donald Trump–and that sparked an investigation in the U.K. and inquiries by U.S. lawmakers–has announced two initiatives in the past year that highlight some of the newer techniques in targeted advertising and the complex relationships that surround them.

Since last year’s presidential campaigns, the company has sought to expand further into targeted, or addressable, TV, an emerging type of data-driven ad technology that marketers and political campaigns can use to know not just what key audiences and voters like on TV and in other media, but also to determine what particular messages to show them and when.

In an interview last month at the Advertising Week conference in New York, Duke Perrucci, Cambridge’s chief revenue officer, described the potential of new digital TVs and set-top boxes, and a future when targeted ads take up your whole screen. “Because you know the people in that home, and because you buy commercially available data, you know a lot about those people—there’s tons of data out there—now you can send those targeted ads specifically to those homes, the same way you would to a Facebook profile or to an Instagram account,” he said.

While campaign dollars increasingly flow to internet ads–last year, spending on digital advertising eclipsed TV for the first time–television remains the ground zero of big ad campaigns, and the ad targeting and data capabilities in TV are starting to catch up to what’s used online. The idea is to allow candidates and brands to reach only those viewers who meet a desired demographic (e.g. potential buyer of motorcycle insurance). Rather than buying ads the old fashioned way during a certain program (a college football game, for instance) addressable TV allows advertisers to purchase an audience (like undecided Republicans).

CEO of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix [Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Concordia Summit]
Cambridge’s efforts in addressable TV began last year. In October 2016, during the final stretch of the presidential campaigns, the company announced a partnership with cross platform analytics company ComScore to merge Cambridge Analytica’s “behavioral psychology and data analytics platform” with ComScore TV data, yielding insight “into which programs, stations and dayparts deliver the highest densities of the targeted audiences that the company’s clients seek to influence,” according to a statement about the partnership.

Typically, Cambridge’s political work has drawn significant support from the conservative mega-donor Robert Mercer, and much of its work in U.S. elections has been for candidates Mercer supports. Steve Bannon, Breitbart News CEO and former advisor to President Trump, sat on Cambridge’s board of directors until late last year. But the TV data effort, as well as a mobile data tie-up in Mexico, have links with another lesser-known American billionaire family, one whose large campaign contributions tend to support Democrats.

ADVERTISING

Charlie Ergen, founder of the broadcast satellite company Dish and the satellite equipment maker EchoStar, is said to be the richest man in Colorado, with a reported net worth of $18.8 billion. He is also a registered Democrat who was once a bundler for long-time friend John McCain ahead of his presidential bid in 2008. In 2016, Ergen and his wife hosted Clinton for a fundraiser at their home, where the candidate collected at least $750,000.

Dish founder Charlie Ergen [Photo: Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images]
Last October, as part of the partnership with ComScore, viewer data from 52,000 households, including some Dish households, was set to eventually flow to Cambridge Analytica. ComScore taps Dish data thanks to ComScore’s acquisition of analytics company Rentrak, in January 2016. Dish has had close ties with Rentrak since 2008, and, after it acquired 7% of the company in 2012, it agreed to provide Rentrak with exclusive use of its set top box data.

“DISH is a major partner that helped us change the measurement landscape by allowing massive and passive television measurement across a national footprint,” comScore’s CEO, Serge Matta, said in a 2016 statement. A spokesperson for ComScore was unable to describe the outcome of the Cambridge Analytica partnership. Representatives for Cambridge Analytica and Dish declined to comment for this story.

In September, Cambridge’s new brand-focused unit, CA Commercial, announced its own ad targeting TV product, SelecTV, that it said it would roll out in the U.S. and U.K., followed by additional countries and markets in coming months. Available in more than half of all 119.6 million U.S. TV homes, and in every U.S. market, addressable TV “has finally reached a scale that has become very attractive to performance marketers,” Alexander Nix, Cambridge’s CEO, said in a statement.

Born out of a recent campaign to promote a new un-named cable TV show, the technology, Nix said, has led to a “huge tuning uplift” over traditional age and gender targeting, an effect that is “additionally amplified when homes are exposed to both desktop and mobile advertising.” It’s not known yet if or how Cambridge intends to use addressable TV data during upcoming political campaigns, for instance, during the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.

Dish is now America’s second-largest satellite TV operator and fourth-largest pay TV provider, and it’s also at the forefront of the ongoing battle to monetize set top box data to reach voters—one that, between digital and TV and a mix of the two—is expected to grow even hotter next year. In September, the company launched a new targeted TV ad program in partnership with Volvo, which can deliver targeted ads simultaneously on Dish and on the company’s Sling TV over-the-top service.

Dish may have good reason to be casting about for innovative ways to bolster its TV business. While it earned $15 billion in revenue in 2016, its stock price has fallen more than 20% since July, and amid historic declines in TV viewership, it has seen a rapid drop-off in customers: during the third quarter, Dish lost another 129,000 pay TV subscribers, out of a nationwide base of around 13.7 million.

On a recent phone call with analysts, Ergen pointed to existing advertising as part of the problem. Traditional TV, he said, is “suffering declines in part because it’s not as good a product. It’s more expensive. Rates have gone up as viewership goes down. And the commercial load–you’re talking about 30% of the viewing minutes are commercials. That’s an unhealthy viewer experience,” Ergen said. “There’s things as an industry we can do to change that. If the industry starts thinking of creative ways to compete, that market can stabilize.”

[Photo: Flickr user Ambuj Saxena, Tim Mossholder/Pexels]
TARGETING TVS
The quest to target voters through TV is decades old and bipartisan. But practitioners say it was the Obama campaign in 2012 that signaled a breakthrough in using both social media and set-top box data in an effort to more precisely identify and persuade undecided voters. Rentrak, which is nonpartisan, collected the data and hired a third party to “anonymize” it so that the Obama team would only know that the information was coming from a set-top box of somebody on the persuadable list; personally identifying information would be stripped away.

In the 2016 election, however, the Clinton campaign chose to build their own TV buying and targeting strategy, not to use a more advanced version of the Obama approach. “It’s frustrating when you build something that is available to both sides, and the side you personally support doesn’t use it,” Carol Davidsen, Obama’s TV ad guru, and now a comScore executive, told AdAge in February. (It’s not clear if Cambridge used the comScore system during its work for the Trump campaign.)

US spending on addressable TV ads doubled in 2015 and is set to double again this year, but it’s still only a tiny piece of the ad pie: according to eMarketer, targeted TV ads will account for a mere $2.25 billion, or just under 3%, of all TV spending in 2018, and $3 billion in 2019. Among the efforts to grow those numbers is OpenAP, a system created by Viacom Inc., 21st Century Fox Inc. and Time Warner Inc.’s Turner that aims to standardize the targeting categories ad buyers can increasingly reach through TV. Google and Facebook are also investing in targeted television ads.

Addressable TV ad spending in the US is growing quickly, but will remain a small portion of total spending for the foreseeable future, according to eMarketer.
“TV is still the strongest media you’ve got to get your message out, but it’s got a lot to learn from digital,” Perrucci, who has been leading Cambridge’s foray into the commercial sector, said at Advertising Week. “Why not take everything we know about the audience and use that to drive much more targeted TV?”

But the combination of otherwise anonymous data on people’s TV viewing habits with social, demographic, psychographic, and other personal data is a growing privacy concern, argues Jonathan Albright, research director at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. Few voters even know their watching patterns are being watched, whether by Dish or another provider.

“If you know [a voter] watch[es] Fox News at 5 p.m. every day and you also know from that addressable TV data—if someone has DirectTV, TiVo, whatever–how much of Fox News they watch, if they watch all of it or not. That kind of resolution is incredible,” he said. Most people don’t realize “that you can place and you can target like that to TV viewers.”

Related: Bots Are Scraping Your Data For Cash Amid Murky Laws And Ethics

Many cable operators use opt-out rather than opt-in consent, virtually guaranteeing that many citizens are unaware of how their data is used. In June 2016, communications advocacy group Public Knowledge filed complaints with the FCC and FTC over the technology, and singled out AT&T, Cablevision, and Comcast as the worst offenders.

The group’s FCC complaint asserts that cable and satellite providers do not adequately obtain customer consent to use customer data, while the FTC complaint argues that the industry’s use of customer data without appropriate disclosures or opt-in consent amounts to an “unfair and deceptive” practice that’s in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

[Photos: Tim Mossholder/Pexels, Flickr user Christian Frausto Bernal]
A CAMBRIDGE-ERGEN CONNECTION IN MEXICO
TV isn’t the only domain where the Ergen family’s business intersects with the Trump data contractor. This summer, Cambridge announced that it would send content to Mexican phone subscribers in advance of their 2018 presidential election through an app that gives users ad-sponsored airtime or mobile internet.

In Mexico, Cambridge Analytica signed an agreement with Pig.gi, an app in use there and in Colombia, in advance of next year’s presidential elections. Pig.gi offers users free airtime and/or email service on mobile phones in exchange for receiving sponsored content. It will allow Cambridge to collect information on and deliver advertising to the phones of 850,000 Mexicans; several political parties have expressed interest in the tie-up.

Among Pig.gi’s investors are Charlie Ergen’s son, Chris Ergen, who’s worked in international business development at Dish since 2014, as well as Variv Capital, which has a joint venture in Mexico with Dish, and Pig.gi’s founders, Colorado brothers Joel and Isaac Phillips, who are connected with Chris Ergen in several vaporous businesses.

Pig.gi, which is currently available for Android in Mexico and Colombia, says its users have seen advertising content half a billion times. “We’re thrilled to be partnering with the app so that their partners can get the right message to the right people at the right time,” Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix says on the company’s website.

Many Mexicans are “undecided and unmotivated,” Brittany Kaiser, Cambridge’s vice president of business development, told Bloomberg. “There’s a huge opportunity in this country to find the issues that are important for people and actually turn people out to vote.”

Meanwhile, Kaiser, who recently updated her Facebook page to say that she is living in Mexico City, lists Chris Ergen as one of her friends on Facebook. (After an emailed inquiry, the page is no longer publicly visible.) In February 2015, Kaiser was a moderator at a Washington meeting on “Digital Diplomacy” organized by the Digital Future Forum, a company started by Chris’s co-investors in Pig.gi, Joel and Isaac Phillips.

Cambridge is also staffing up across Mexico in advance of next year’s elections. As BuzzFeed reported, Arielle Dale Karro, head of operations in Mexico for Cambridge Analytica, posted a job listing in the Facebook group “Foreigners in Mexico City” on October 23, seeking staff for gubernatorial campaigns in seven of Mexico’s 31 states: Chiapas, Guanajuato, Morelos, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, and Veracruz. The company is also looking for someone to work in Mexico City. As of last week, however, Cambridge doesn’t appear in the National Registry of Suppliers of the National Electoral Institute (INE), which is a requirement for any firm that wants to be hired by a political party in Mexico.

The TV and mobile app projects aren’t the only convergence of Cambridge Analytica with the Ergen family. In 2010 Cambridge’s Swiss partner Nicolas Giannakopoulos became a co-shareholder in a company with Charlie Ergen. Giannakopoulos, who describes himself as “a private consultant in security and investigation,” says the company was meant to distribute Dish content on the internet outside the U.S. Ergen joined Giannakopoulos’s firm, CH-Communication SA, six days after its founding on July 22, 2010, and resigned nearly a year later.

That year, Giannakopoulos, a Swiss and Greek citizen was also working with SCL Group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica. (SCL has a complex capital structure depicted here.) Until recently, one of his stable of Swiss companies shared an address and phone number with SCL’s Geneva office; the address disappeared from SCL’s website after the Sarawak Report questioned his links to SCL’s work in Malaysia. Asked about his activities for SCL in Switzerland by Sarawak Report, Nicolas Giannakopoulos claims to being “their partner for a long time.” But, he said, “the truth is that I have not done anything yet!”

While Charlie Ergen hasn’t been affiliated with CH-Communication for six years, son Chase Ergen is connected with another Giannakopoulos firm, the Organized Crime Observatory. In a January 2015 announcement, OCO said that Chase Ergen was being appointed Special Envoy for Dominica and St Kitts-Nevis, where Ergen reportedly holds a passport. Neither Chase Ergen nor Giannakopoulos responded to emailed requests for comment.

In recent weeks, Cambridge has been thrust further into the political spotlight amid ongoing investigations about Russian interference in the 2016 elections. The company is now turning over to investigators documents related to its role in the 2016 campaigns, while the U.K. Information Commissioner is examining its role working for Leave.eu during a pro-Brexit campaign. Cambridge has issued contradictory statements about whether or not it used personality targeting ahead of the U.S. election and whether it worked for Leave.eu and in what capacity. And perhaps most intriguingly, it was reported last month that Cambridge’s CEO, Alexander Nix, contacted Julian Assange offering his help in releasing Hillary Clinton’s allegedly missing emails.

Cambridge’s current work and partnerships are more complicated and less seductive than a narrative of evil Republican billionaires or Russian agents funding demagogic appeals on social media. They are a reminder that the quest for data and the power that comes with it is increasingly independent of partisanship or ideological belief.

Ann Marlowe, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, is a writer and financial investigator in New York. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnMarlowe. The author wishes to thank journalist Wendy Siegelman for her research and insights. Alex Pasternack also contributed reporting.

Terror and Slow Justice: Dragging Libya to court for a deadly 1989 hijacking.

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

originally published in The Weekly Standard, Sept 4 2017

Few Americans noticed, but this past June, Muammar Qaddafi’s longtime spy chief Abdullah Senussi was apparently released from prison in Tripoli, where he had been sentenced to death in July 2015 for decades of officially sanctioned murders of his fellow Libyans. If Senussi was not released—everything is murky in Libya—he was at least seen at a festive meal at a Tripoli hotel.

Justice has been a long time coming to Senussi, one of six Libyans convicted in a French court in 1999 for the murder of 170 people on UTA Flight 772, the “forgotten flight” of the title of Stuart Newberger’s book. The DC-10 had left Brazzaville, Congo, on September 19, 1989, and reached its first stop, N’Djamena, Chad. It took off from N’Djamena for its final stop, Paris, but 45 minutes after takeoff a bomb exploded and the plane broke into four sections that plunged from the sky, some of the passengers likely still conscious when they smashed into the Niger desert.

Newberger, a lawyer who represented the seven Americans killed on Flight 772, writes that it is unlikely Senussi will leave Libya alive. But his own narration of decades of terror by Qaddafi and others, and decades of appeasing international responses, should make us wonder. One condition of the release of the American hostages from Iran in 1981 was that they could not sue Iran. Many laws have been passed since to assist victims of terror in seeking redress in civil lawsuits in the United States, but as Newberger’s UTA 772 case shows, legal judgments can always be overtaken by political events. The results are rarely fair to the victims of terrorism and their loved ones.

Newberger is most engrossing in describing the work supervised by France’s Jean-Louis Bruguière, an 11th-generation investigating magistrate, which he calls with some justice “one of the greatest detective stories of all time.” The plane’s debris—and the passengers’ remains—were scattered over a 50-by-5-mile area of remote desert in an era before GPS, mobile phones, Google Earth, and many other contemporary tools. Remarkably, within four weeks the remains of a suitcase were found; it tested positive for plastic-explosive residue.

Bruguière leveraged France’s good connections in Congo, where it turned out the bomb entered the UTA plane in a suitcase carried by a Congolese, Apollinaire Mangatany. His small group of revolutionaries aimed to overthrow Mobutu, the dictator of neighboring Zaire, and they accepted assistance from Libya’s Brazzaville embassy. In revenge for France’s support of Chad in the recently ended Libya-Chad war, Mangatany’s Libyan handlers supplied him with a suitcase containing explosives, telling him it was intended to blow up the French plane when it sat on the runway in N’Djamena. Mangatany may not have been killed in the explosion: His remains, along with those of over 60 of the other passengers, were never identified, and it’s possible he got off the plane in Chad and disappeared.

By June 1990, physical evidence surfaced indicating Libya’s involvement. Newberger details the patient police work that tied a tiny piece of green plastic circuit board found at the crash site to the German middleman who sold 100 Taiwanese-made timers to one of Abdullah Senussi’s subordinates in the Libyan Mukhabarat (intelligence service). The Germans apparently had thought they were providing timers for battery-operated runway lights on remote desert airstrips in Libya.

In October 1991, Bruguière issued international arrest warrants for four Libyans—including Senussi. But none was extradited: Libya doesn’t allow its citizens to be tried for crimes outside the country, and Libya’s lawyers pointed out at the time that France doesn’t either. Eventually Bruguière charged Senussi and five other Libyans with destroying UTA 772; they were convicted in absentia in 1999.

Meanwhile, in November 1991 a Scottish prosecutor had indicted Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, apparent Libyan Mukhabarat agents, for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988, which resulted in the deaths of 259 passengers and crew, as well as another 11 people on the ground. The majority of victims aboard that flight were American and the crash site was easy to reach, so it received much more media attention than UTA 772. Yet even for Pan Am 103 it would take until 2003 for a compensation deal to come together, and it was not finalized until 2008.

Newberger entered the story in April 2002 when he was contacted by Douglas Matthews, the billionaire owner of the DC-10 leased to UTA. Matthews wanted to bring a civil suit against Libya for the destruction of his $40 million aircraft, and his lawyer knew of Newberger.

Newberger had become famous in 2000 for winning $40 million in compensatory damages for newsman Terry Anderson, held hostage for seven years by Iran. This lawsuit was only made possible by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 and by 1996 amendments to the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. These measures, enacted in response to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, allowed for the waiving of sovereign immunity to bring lawsuits against states that sponsored terrorism, and allowed commercial assets of these countries to be seized in the United States. It took the passage of still another law for Anderson to collect his judgment from $400 million in Iranian government funds frozen in the United States.

The UTA 772 suit was filed in 2003 and took its name, Pugh v. Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, from Robert L. Pugh, a diplomat who survived the U.S. embassy attack in Beirut in 1983 and was ambassador to Chad in 1989. His wife Bonnie had been one of the seven Americans killed on UTA 772. It took until 2008, with Libya delaying every step of the way, but Pugh resulted in a massive judgment of around $6 billion in favor of the American plaintiffs. Here is where Newberger and the families involved in his case find out that “politics was more powerful than law”—because (spoiler alert) a political agreement ended up having a large effect on the settlement. The relatives who participated in the Pugh suit were each eligible to receive $10 million, just a tenth of what they would have received under the court judgment against Libya, had it been allowed to stand.

Newberger’s book is at its best—clear and fast-paced—when discussing the details of policework. The book would have benefited, however, from an editor who could have steered the author away from some formulaic descriptions and clichés. Also, it would have been compelling to hear the voices of the Pugh plaintiffs that Newberger represented, were they willing be interviewed and quoted. And, given the complicated nature of the story Newberger is telling, the absence of a timeline is keenly felt.

In the years since the Pugh case was decided, the struggle to use our legal system to bring terrorists and their supporters to justice has continued. A law passed in 2016—the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which was enacted in the only override of a presidential veto in the Obama years—allows federal courts to exercise jurisdiction over foreign states charged with supporting terrorism, regardless of whether the state is designated a sponsor of terrorism. This change in the law made it possible, earlier this year, for many of the families of the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia in civil court. This is a welcome development, but if there is any lesson to be found in Newberger’s book, it is that expectations should be tempered, since justice can be very slow in coming.

Stop Donald Trump from Colonizing Your Brain

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Originally published on Tabletmag.com on May 21 2017: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/234667/stop-trump-colonizing-your-brain

Like a Libyan dictator of old, the leader is everywhere, including inside your head
By Ann Marlowe
May 21, 2017 • 10:00 PM

I keep trying to finish this essay, but every six three hours or so there’s a major new Trump scandal to react to.

It reminds me of a remark in the German filmmaker Wim Wenders’ 1976 movie Kings of the Road. A German character says that Americans have “colonized our subconscious.” He means the music, the movies, the blue jeans that formed hipster identity in 1970s Germany.

Trump has colonized our subconscious—in fact, he was succeeding at that even during the campaign. (Too many were ready to embrace a psychopath who had no internal censor because a decade of stultifying political correctness had led to a craving for something that felt like truth-telling, even if it wasn’t.) And now a fevered fixation on Trump, Trump, Trump is playing into his hands.

Usually, you have to be a dictator to accomplish this. What’s happening here reminds me of visiting Libya in the first heady days of its freedom from Gadhafi.

I spent about six weeks in eastern Libya in spring 2011, when a million people woke from a 42-year-long nightmare and dipped their toes into ordinary life again. The most emblematic story I heard in Benghazi was told to me by someone who, even more than today’s citizen activists, dropped everything to do what she thought was right. She was a dental professor who, on Feb. 17, 2011, walked out of the classroom where she was grading exam papers and didn’t go back for seven months. It was more important to help make a new society.

This brilliant woman, Iman Bugaighis, eventually did go back to teaching. She also spoke repeatedly of the need to root out the “little Gadhafi in our heads.” Without doing that, she said, there would be no real democracy in Libya. (Today, there’s too much democracy in Libya. But that’s another story.)

From what Iman and many other Libyans told me, Gadhafi’s regime was omnipresent. The TV, the radio, the posters in the street, and the photos in government offices: Gadhafi, Gadhafi, Gadhafi. You were never able to get him out of your head.

Another Libyan spoke of the regime’s “organized confusion,” a deliberate effort to govern by impulse so that no one could think straight and organize to resist. The regime did crazy things to make sure you paid attention. One day, the school curriculum might be totally changed, or the military academy moved hundreds of miles, or English and French books banned, or any madness you can imagine.

Once your life revolves around hating someone, you’re finished as a thinker, artist, human
Starting to sound familiar? In totalitarian societies, the need to focus obsessively on the regime helps grow a little Leader inside one’s head. Even in opposition, there’s no escape. And once your life revolves around hating someone, you’re finished as a thinker, artist, human.

Since Trump’s election, friends of mine who had no prior interest in politics, people who never even voted most of the time, have been marching, Tweeting obsessively, talking about getting involved with “the resistance.” Some are arty people who are far to the left, others are rentiers, bon vivants. Before the election, some were spending money and enjoying life. Others were involved with Mandarin art activities, pursuits that no longer seem urgent.

Meanwhile, I’ve met other people from a wide range of professions who have been doing anti-Trump research, often very good research, as citizen journalists. Twitter is full of their work, even though it’s the shrill simplifiers who get most of the attention.

It’s like what happened to many Americans after Sept. 11. Some joined the military or got a degree in Middle Eastern studies. More eccentrically, I learned Farsi and went to write about Afghanistan.

Is this drastic change in interests healthy? Yes and no. Yes to the point where it corrects an unhealthy ignorance of political matters and isolated self-absorption. But no, when you stop producing or consuming culture or art. No, when you can’t get Trump out of your head.

I force myself to stop checking Twitter and read a book instead, preferably one written a long time ago and in a foreign language. Go to a museum now and then. An opening. Moderation. Balance. Pick a piece of the work and do it, steadily and surely. I think of an almost 2,000-year-old rabbinical edict: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.”