Monday, May 08, 2017

Must-read: the great British Brexit robbery

An article from the Observer is currently doing the rounds. The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked by Carole Cadwalladr explores Cambridge Analytica, the "data analytics" firm which helped out both the Trump and Brexit campaigns. Its a deeply disturbing article for what it exposes about this firm and the people who back it. For me, the most disturbing bit was this:

What’s been lost in the US coverage of this “data analytics” firm is the understanding of where the firm came from: deep within the military-industrial complex. A weird British corner of it populated, as the military establishment in Britain is, by old-school Tories. Geoffrey Pattie, a former parliamentary under-secretary of state for defence procurement and director of Marconi Defence Systems, used to be on the board, and Lord Marland, David Cameron’s pro-Brexit former trade envoy, a shareholder.

Steve Tatham was the head of psychological operations for British forces in Afghanistan. The
Observer has seen letters endorsing him from the UK Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and Nato.

SCL/Cambridge Analytica was not some startup created by a couple of guys with a Mac PowerBook. It’s effectively part of the British defence establishment. And, now, too, the American defence establishment. An ex-commanding officer of the US Marine Corps operations centre, Chris Naler, has recently joined Iota Global, a partner of the SCL group.

This is not just a story about social psychology and data analytics. It has to be understood in terms of a military contractor using military strategies on a civilian population. Us.

[Emphasis added]

The idea of the British defence establishment conspiring to subvert democracy, set government policy, and fix elections is absolutely scandalous. Its the sort of thing you expect to happen in shitty sham democracies like Russia and Turkey, not in an ostensible part of the democratic core like the UK. The UK Parliament needs to investigate this and find out exactly what SCL/Cambridge Analytica did and who was paying them. They also need to ensure that this sort of manipulation doesn't happen again.

But then I think of the sort of people at the top of the British government, and find myself ask: "why on earth would they want to do that"?