It’s been a rough couple of days for Cambridge Analytica.
After it turned out that the firm that had done consulting work for the Trump campaign was harvesting information on 50 million Facebook users without their permission, an undercover TV report revealed that it’s also been trying its hand at some more … old-school political maneuverings. Cambridge Analytica executives are filmed offering illegal political intimidation services to its prospective clients, suggesting bribery and blackmail involving Ukrainian sex workers.
A reporter for the UK TV station Channel 4 posed as a Sri Lankan fixer hoping to enlist Cambridge Analytica’s services for a client aiming to win a local election. Over several months, the reporter filmed his interactions with the company, whose representatives, including CEO Alexander Nix, explained how the company functioned.
“We’re used to operating through different vehicles, in the shadows, and I look forward to building a very long-term and secretive relationship with you,” Nix told the reporter.
He disclosed the company’s methods for undermining opponents, including “sending some girls around to the candidate’s house” (he added that Ukrainian women “are very beautiful, I find that works very well”), or staging a bribe, recording it, and posting it on the internet.
The company’s executives are filmed presenting the results of their operations in Kenya, where they say they worked to get current president Uhuru Kenyatta elected, handling the entirety of the campaign.
The extent of Cambridge Analytica’s work in spreading disinformation during elections across the world is unclear, but Mark Turnbull, the company’s managing director, gives a disconcerting account to Channel 4 of supposed manipulation online:
“We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again … like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda’, because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda’, the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’”
The company denied any wrongdoing—bribery is, of course illegal in both the US and the UK—saying that it “routinely undertake[s] conversations with prospective clients to try to tease out any unethical or illegal intentions.”
“In playing along with this line of conversation, and partly to spare our ‘client’ from embarrassment, we entertained a series of ludicrous hypothetical scenarios,” Nix said in a release. “I must emphatically state that Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called ‘honeytraps’, and nor does it use untrue material for any purpose.”