Archive for the ‘anti-kleptocracy’ Category

How Cambridge Analytica Fueled a Shady Passport Trade

Monday, May 27th, 2019

Originally published in Fast Company, July 1 2018: https://www.fastcompany.com/40571052/how-cambridge-analytica-fueled-a-shady-global-passport-bonanza
In 2010, as elections neared in Saint Kitts and Nevis, a grainy hidden-camera video was uploaded to YouTube. In the anonymously produced clip, voters across the small Eastern Caribbean island nation saw prime minister candidate Lindsey Grant in a hotel room, listening as a British-accented property developer promises him a $1.5 million payment in exchange for a bargain price on a plot of government land.

“What we’re after is making sure you get into power,” says the developer, whose face and voice are obscured. In return, “you will help us. . . how does that sound?”

Grant, a Harvard Law School-educated lawyer running on an anti-corruption platform, appears reluctant, but eventually pushes the bribe higher, to $1.7 million. The video cuts to white text on black: “He sold his country and the people’s land just to win power.”

The video went viral in Saint Kitts, and the incumbent prime minister, Denzil Douglas, was soon re-elected for a fourth term. Douglas denied any knowledge of the sting operation, but across the Caribbean, speculation swirled that it was the work of a clandestine London-based political consultancy: SCL Group.

The now-defunct Anglo-American firm has gained notoriety for its harvesting of Facebook profiles and shady campaign tactics, but the storm of controversy has been building for decades. Before its younger sibling, Cambridge Analytica, worked for Donald Trump, SCL Group claimed to have built a portfolio of political work in three dozen countries, deploying its “behavioral change” tactics in sometimes shaky democracies.

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In the Eastern Caribbean, where SCL quietly operated in at least six countries, some of its work had an indirect objective: Assisting a lucrative trade in passports. The sales are legal, and lucrative, with the world’s rich thought to spend over $2 billion on “citizenship by investment,” or CBI. But reporting and interviews with industry insiders show how a nexus of buyers, officials, citizenship agents, and consultants has helped enable criminals and ignited political wildfires that continue to rage even now.

In at least five Caribbean nations, the company’s campaigns were backed by Christian H. Kalin, the chief executive of Henley and Partners, a London-based firm that markets and sells second passports, and helped support politicians thought to be sympathetic to Henley’s interests. With a friendly politician in office, according to people familiar with the arrangement, Henley could then become that country’s primary passport merchant, giving it the right to earn lucrative commissions on every sale.

Where SCL worked on campaigns, in some cases with support from Christian Kalin. View a world map of its elections work. [Map: Wikipedia / Infogram / Fast Company]
“It was a particular way of achieving his strategic objective, which was to supply money and supply campaign provision to put in to power the government that would be conducive to both him and his clients,” Sven Hughes, who worked on the campaigns as SCL’s head of elections from 2009 to 2010, told Fast Company. To win elections, he said, SCL’s then-CEO Alexander Nix regularly turned to questionable techniques, including the hidden-camera video.
Well before the 2010 campaign in Saint Kitts, Henley and Partners worked with Denzil Douglas’s government to turn the country into a citizenship Mecca. For the bargain price of $150,000, approved applicants who donate to the island’s sustainable growth fund can now obtain a passport that, as of 2009, allows visa-free travel to over 100 countries, including the U.K. and the 26-nation European Schengen zone. In Dominica, a similar passport can now be had for $100,000. For those interested in investing in real estate, the passport fees are even lower.

Funds from the passports are now a major source of revenue and investment for these countries, filling holes left by weakening exports and the impacts of hurricanes and climate change: By 2014, passports had become Saint Kitts’s biggest export, with the revenue thought to account for 25% of GDP. Neighboring islands and over 30 countries around the world have set up similar CBI programs, and the U.S. has a related investment scheme, the EB-5 visa. (The use of the EB-5 by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s company is now under federal investigation.)

But Saint Kitts and Dominica offer two of the world’s cheapest, largest, and oldest CBI programs. And, unlike some rich countries that require aspiring citizens to actually reside there, Dominica, which is just 290 square miles, and Saint Kitts, which is only 105 square miles, do not.

Many of the passport holders are from countries with unpopular passports who may otherwise have trouble obtaining travel visas—think Iran, China, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan. The firms say their well-heeled clients are seeking protection against unpredictable situations at home amid an era of terrorism fears and economic instability.

Saint Kitts and Nevis [Photo: Flickr user Boss Tweed]
But the investment programs have also proved popular with a Who’s Who of fugitives and fraudsters. Convicted felons Paul Bilzerian and Roger Ver gave up their U.S. citizenship and now use Saint Kitts passports. Ross Ulbricht, the founder of the illicit marketplace Silk Road, now appealing a life sentence handed down by a U.S. court, was attempting to obtain Dominica citizenship when he was arrested.
Overseas tax evasion is estimated to cost the U.S. as much as $100 billion annually, but Washington’s concerns are larger than taxes. It was a series of “Iranian nationals” seeking to evade global sanctions whom the U.S. Treasury cited in 2014 when it added Saint Kitts’s passports to a watch list, warning financial institutions of their role in “illicit financial activity.”

Alexander Nix [Photo: Sam Barnes/Web Summit via Sportsfile]
The following year, in testimony to the U.S Senate armed services committee, John Kelly, then Marine Corps general and current White House chief of staff, said the passport programs “could be exploited by criminals, terrorists, or other nefarious actors.” Kalin, a wiry Swiss economic citizenship impresario known as “the passport king,” admitted in an interview with 60 Minutes last year that the Saint Kitts program, which his firm helped design and relaunch in 2006, “tended for some time to attract quite a few people that I would never let into the country.”
Like data about the passports—it’s not publicly known how many are out there and who holds them—the precise role of firms like Henley and SCL has also remained mostly in the shadows, the subject of allegations of dirty tricks, kickbacks, and hidden commissions that have circulated across the Caribbean for years. Then in March, as allegations by former SCL employee Christopher Wylie and Channel 4’s reporting documented a litany of misdeeds by the company, details of the Kalin-SCL relationship first began to emerge in a report in The Spectator.

In an interview with Fast Company, Hughes, the former SCL elections head, said that Kalin was “heavily involved” in the campaigns. As part of the partnership, the Henley CEO would supply financing from unknown investors, provide talking points for candidates, and discuss with them various development projects they could expect once in power. “That might be the building of an airport, that might be building a deep seaport, that might be real estate,” said Hughes. It isn’t clear if any such projects materialized.

During all of the campaigns, according to the former SCL employee, Alexander Nix deployed the same kind of underhanded tactics that the future Cambridge Analytica CEO would later brag about to an undercover reporter for Channel 4 News. Hughes, who said he refused to be involved in Nix’s techniques, decided to leave the company after the CEO’s methods began to imperil the safety of his on-the-ground foreign campaign staff. “I said to him, ‘You’re going to get someone killed.’”

In response to questions from Fast Company, Henley and Partners emailed a statement saying that neither the firm nor Kalin “has ever provided funding for any election campaign, and there has never been any form of connection between the granting of any government mandate we have received and any election.” However, as part of its citizenship-by-investment business, Henley “naturally sometimes also interacts with political leaders of opposition parties that are interested in the topic of investment migration for the purpose of their economic-policy agendas.”

Henley’s relationship with SCL, the firm said, was not a “formal working relationship.” Rather, shortly before the 2010 election in Saint Kitts, Nix was introduced to Kalin by the government of the time, “as he was to many other firms and consultants working with the government on economic, political, or social issues in the Caribbean.”

Nix would become Cambridge Analytica’s CEO when the firm was founded in 2012, with backing from the U.S. hedge fund billionaire and Trump donor Robert Mercer. The company, which declared bankruptcy in May, is now under investigation by British and American authorities.

Under questioning from British lawmakers last month, Nix acknowledged that he and Kalin had a “relationship” during SCL’s campaigning in the Caribbean, and that “he may well have made contributions towards the election campaigns.” Pressed on the nature of their relationship, Nix said that Kalin didn’t work on the campaigns, but “certainly had an interest in the outcome of the elections.”

Nix also told lawmakers that the claims he made in the Channel 4 video about deploying bribes and stings during elections were fabricated and “foolish.” Rather, it was he who had been the victim of an “entrapment sting” by the television network, he said. Representatives for SCL did not respond to a request for comment.

Timothy Harris, the prime minister of Saint Kitts, said his government would await the outcome of the British investigation before commenting on SCL’s and Kalin’s work in Saint Kitts. “The electorate needs to know who and what they are voting for and should not be manipulated through the use of clever analytics,” Harris said in an emailed statement to Fast Company.

Harris encountered SCL’s work in 2015, when he was running for office against Denzil Douglas on a pledge to reform the country’s passport program: Nix, according to a report in the Guardian, turned to a team of Israeli hackers to obtain the candidate’s private emails and medical records.

Harris won that election, and amid global scrutiny of the country’s citizenship investor program, Henley and Partners was dismissed as the country’s main passport seller. In 2014, Henley also lost its position as the primary agent for Dominica’s passports, after SCL’s second attempt to unseat incumbent Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit failed.

Cambridge Analytica’s website boasts of its 2010 victory in Saint Kitts and Nevis. View full size here [Screenshot: Cambridge Analytica]
Despite its boasts of having never lost an election, SCL often lost in the Caribbean. The elections firm worked on unsuccessful political campaigns in Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, and Antigua and Barbuda, where it was accused of spreading deliberately false stories. An unsuccessful campaign for the then-governing party in Trinidad in 2013 has drawn the scrutiny of the country’s attorney general.
Ahead of 2010 elections in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves complained that SCL had illegally brought in foreigners on tourist visas to work as political consultants, an accusation echoed in the recent firestorm over Cambridge Analytica’s work for Donald Trump. The fourth-term prime minister—who is alone among the region’s heads of state in resisting citizenship-by-investment programs—also accused foreign actors of spreading a barrage of false stories about him during the campaign.

According to an SCL presentation seen by the Times of London, the firm had launched a “targeted digital attack” against Gonsalves. “Within three weeks every single reference to him on the first two pages of Google . . . referred to the candidate’s horrific track record of corruption, coercion, rape allegations, and victimization,” SCL said in the documents. SCL’s $4 million bill for its work in Saint Vincent that year, according to one series of emails, included $100,000 for “counter operations.”

It was after that campaign that Hughes cut ties with SCL. Nix’s shady, under-the-radar tactics, he said, often left him and SCL’s team of on-the-ground campaign workers in danger. “He’d come in, do one of these leaks, and then fly out and leave the rest of us to pick up the pieces, which left us in a very compromised and sometimes dangerous position.”

Hughes, who is now the CEO of his own London-based communications consultancy, Verbalisation, now sees other dangers in the campaigns he helped run. “Is it acceptable to secretly guide elections with secret money and secret guidance in small countries and overturn the democratic process? Whether or not that’s criminal action or whether or not that’s unethical action, it certainly needs to be investigated.”

“BE READY FOR A BIG BILL”
Concerns about the passport programs aren’t confined to the Caribbean. When reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bombing in Malta in October, she’d been investigating her country’s own controversial passport sales, and examining links between the government of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Henley and Partners. (The firm has been Malta’s exclusive passport agent since it helped launch its CBI program in 2013.) “The damage caused to Malta by the sale of citizenship is unquantifiable,” Caruana Galizia wrote on her blog about the country’s so-called golden visas. “Malta is not St. Kitts & Nevis. It is interlocked with the rest of the EU.”

At the time of her murder, which remains under investigation, Caruana Galizia was facing dozens of defamation lawsuits, including from Henley as well as the cofounder of Malta’s Pilatus Bank, Ali Sadr Hasheminejad. The son of one of Iran’s richest men, Hasheminejad has been linked to money laundering and other corrupt activities with officials in the prime minister’s inner circle. He was also one of Henley’s most prominent customers: the firm helped him secure a Saint Kitts passport in 2009. (When federal agents arrested him in March at a Washington, D.C. airport on charges of evading U.S. sanctions against Iran, he was carrying four passports.) A spokesperson for Henley said that the firm had no relationship with Hasheminejad, and that it had rejected a proposal of his to collaborate on Malta’s passport program.

Since Henley lost its position as the primary agent for marketing Dominica and Saint Kitts passports, another London-based citizenship firm called CS Global Partners has risen in its place. Founded and led by a former attorney at Henley and Partners, CS Global is said to have been financed in part by a British-Indian investor named Dev Bath. Bath, who served as a director at the firm for over a year, remains a consultant to the company. His LinkedIn profile doesn’t mention CS Global, and describes him only by his title, “Special Representative of St. Kitts and Nevis,” which furnishes him with a diplomatic passport to the country.

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Bath has also hired Lanny J. Davis, the longtime D.C. lobbyist and former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, to help promote Saint Kitts and Dominica passports. In one 2013 advertorial extolling the benefits of investor citizenship, Davis quotes his client, who “became a resident of Saint Kitts many years ago and has become a well-known global business leader.”

Last year, Davis’s lobbying work on behalf of Saint Kitts raised eyebrows in Parliament, particularly around the question of who paid him and his law firm more than $96,000. His services—lobbying U.S. and Canadian authorities to lift their restrictions on the country’s passports—”comes at no cost to our government,” Prime Minister Harris told the National Assembly in 2015. Indeed, as public filings indicate, Davis’s fees were paid by CS Global.

Prime Minister Timothy Harris [Photo: Flickr user Saint Kitts and Nevis Photo Stream]
In an email to Fast Company, Davis said he had ceased representing Bath and Saint Kitts over a year ago. “Dev Bath and CS Global perform a valuable service,” he added. Bath declined to comment for this story.
In recent months, one of Bath’s longtime business partners has thrust the country into a fresh storm of bribery allegations. Peter Singh Virdee, a property magnate also of British-Indian descent, had sought to secure solar energy contracts in the Caribbean as part of a renewable energy venture. In one 2016 phone call, disclosed in a British court in May, Virdee described to an associate the need to entertain the prime minister of Saint Kitts and his entourage in London that evening, “so be ready for a big bill.” In another conversation, Virdee, who also holds an Antiguan passport, said that Saint Kitts’s prime minister had asked for a watch and a pair of shoes.

In a preliminary judgment, the U.K.’s National Crime Agency stated that “the claimants were ready and willing to pay bribes, and had given at least one gift to a Caribbean politician.” Virdee, who was arrested in January 2017 at Heathrow Airport on separate charges of a plot to evade millions dollars in carbon credit taxes, has denied any wrongdoing.

Bath and CS Global have not been linked to the allegations surrounding Virdee. But when asked about Virdee’s association with Bath and Saint Kitts, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s office said that “a historical business relationship that involves CS Global and the country’s CBI program” is now “under review.”

Amid the allegations, Prime Minister Harris denied any impropriety, and in May called for an investigation into the government of his predecessor Denzil Douglas. Douglas, now leader of the opposition, called for Harris to resign. “As a small Caribbean nation, we are fast losing our reputation,” he said in a recent address, “and the lifeblood of this country is being sucked from it as corruption runs amok, and there seems to be a return of the image of Devil’s Island.”

Douglas–who himself has admitted to once meeting Virdee in the presence of Henley & Partners–is currently embroiled in his own passport scandal: It was recently revealed that he also holds a diplomatic passport from Dominica. The second passport is now being examined by Saint Kitts’s High Court.

A WIN-WIN—OR A RACE TO THE BOTTOM
The governments of the Caribbean and the passport firms insist they have stepped up their reviews of applicants and closed loopholes. (In one notorious instance, Saint Kitts had to recall 5,000 passports, because for years the documents did not include the owner’s place of birth.) Continuing reforms, the Prime Minister’s office said in an email, showed that “we are moving in the right direction.” The new vetting process for prospective Saint Kitts citizens, a CS Global spokesperson said, “is among the most strict in the world.” In May the European Union removed the country from an economic black list, citing the government’s commitment to reforming its passport program. (As of March, Dominica remains on a so-called gray list.)

Still, some worry that recent discounts for some passports and a growing applicant pool will drive CBI programs to cut corners. David Jessop, former head president of the London-based nonprofit Caribbean Council, wrote last November that growing competition among the citizenship-by-investment programs risked “becoming a dangerous race to the bottom.” He cited “the sometimes-questionable comments and defensive public relations exercises undertaken by some agents selling CBI programs” and “the questions that remain about the due diligence processes some governments pursue.”

Last year, as part of efforts to raise money to rebuild infrastructure heavily damaged by Hurricane Maria, some Caribbean nations began to drastically cut their passport fees. In Dominica, Antigua, Barbuda, and Grenada, an investor passport can now be obtained through a $100,000 donation to a national fund. And investors seeking to obtain citizenship from Dominica, Saint Kitts, Antigua, or Grenada also have a new option: For an investment of at least $200,000 into a government-approved real estate project, a customer can obtain a passport for about $50,000, half the typical price.

(Paolo Zampolli, a businessman who holds an honorary ambassadorship to the U.N. from Dominica–and who takes credit for introducing Donald Trump to Melania Knauss in 1998–has also claimed some credit for kickstarting this newer passport option: He introduced Dominica’s ambassador to the U.S. to the head of Dubai-based Range Developments, a property firm that now markets the real estate investment program in Dominica and Saint Kitts.)

Scott’s Head, Dominica [Photo: Konstantin Krismer/Wikimedia Commons]
In Saint Kitts, the application process now typically takes three to four months, but an accelerated process also allows clients a guaranteed outcome—including issuance of the passport— in 60 days or fewer. In October, after other impacted islands lowered their prices, Saint Kitts also set up its own Hurricane Relief Fund and reduced the price of citizenship through its real estate investment option, from the standard of rate of $150,000 to just $75,000 for a family of four.
The new fund has brought in record numbers of applicants: Over a five-month period, according to rough statistics released by the prime minister, the island of 50,000 people attracted 1,200 investor passport applications. In April, the head of Dominica’s CIU program said that the country had seen between 1,500 and 2,000 applications over the course of the last year.

The Saint Kitts fund was “a win-win for applicant and country,” Micha Emmett, CS Global Partners CEO, said in a press release. But Douglas, the former prime minister, blasted it as “a blatantly opportunistic move”: Since Saint Kitts had emerged relatively unscathed from Hurricane Maria, the fund had effectively undercut recovery efforts on other islands, he argued.

Opposition parties in both countries continue to raise questions about the programs, including about how much revenue they have earned and where that money is. As of 2014, Saint Kitts’ Sugar Industry Diversification Fund, to which most aspiring citizens had donated, had reached $1.5 billion in Eastern Caribbean dollars, or about U.S. $550 million. However, according to an estimate by Dwyer Astaphan, former minister of national security and tourism, the total donations to the fund should have amounted to a number closer to around $611 million. The discrepancy is due to the passport agents’ override commissions, he alleges, estimating that passport consultants have pocketed some $61 million.

The programs and accounts of the sugar industry fund remain under an independent review, a spokesperson for Harris said it in a statement. “Final numbers have not yet been determined, and as such, any suggestion of a discrepancy is at best, premature.”

In Dominica, opposition leaders have also cited a gross discrepancy between the passport revenues publicly reported to the Treasury—around $9 million between 2014 and 2015—and likely estimated revenues of $30 million that year. Representatives for Dominica’s passport program did not respond to requests for comment, but a spokesperson for CS Global said that all funds received under the program are “regularly outlined and reviewed by Parliament for distribution in the national budget.”

Dominica and Saint Kitts also do not disclose comprehensive data about their normal or diplomatic passport holders. For instance, Dominica’s January 2017 Official Gazette listed the 2011 passport recipients: 288, compared with a total island population of around 80,000. In February 2017, as revelations emerged that the government had sold diplomatic passports to alleged criminals, public frustration over the passport sales boiled over into violence. After demonstrations in the capital Roseau deteriorated into vandalism, police in riot gear used tear gas against the crowd.

In the wake of the protests, a number of people were arrested, including an opposition Member of Parliament, an opposition Senator, and two other opposition politicians. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit accused “irresponsible politicians” with the opposition of conducting a “concerted and orchestrated campaign against the citizenship by investment program.” Skerrit also promised reforms to the way the country reviews prospective citizens, and expressed regret, he said, “at the unfortunate turn of events with respect to a few persons holding diplomatic passports becoming persons of interest to foreign countries and external security organizations.”

Cleaning up the Eastern Caribbean passport mess likely requires larger sociopolitical changes that are unlikely to occur soon. One measure, however, might be close to a quick fix: laws against non-citizens paying for or participating in election activities. Of course, this would still not prevent holders of investor passports from participating. But it might help preclude quickie carpetbagging of the type practiced by firms like Cambridge Analytica.

Meanwhile, both islands’ passport programs continue to flourish, thanks to tight relationships with industry partners. In April, Dominica appointed Nuri Katz as its ambassador to the Russian Federation, whom a government press release identifies as “a founding member of a number of businesses in Canada, Russia, and Ukraine.” (Katz holds a number of passports.) The government’s announcement about his appointment, however, does not mention his occupation, which suggests a conflict of interest: Katz is also president of Apex Capital, another prominent passport firm. The company is currently offering several real estate investment options in Saint Kitts and Dominica.

Ann Marlowe, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, is a writer and financial investigator in New York. Follow her at @annmarlowe.

With additional reporting by Alex Pasternack (@pasternack).

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.

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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.