WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent two letters requesting information from the State Department and SCL Group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, following the scandal over the company’s alleged misappropriation of the personal data of up to 87 million Facebook users, for the purpose of psychologically targeting them in political campaigns.
In a letter addressed to Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan and Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Heather Nauert, Menendez questions why SCL Group was awarded a sole source, non-competed contract in late November 2016, when Michael Flynn was serving as an advisor for the company and on President Trump’s transition team. Menendez requests that the State Department list all previous work SCL Group has done for the agency, and provide all relevant files regarding the most recent contract, including communications between the State Department, SCL Group, and officials from the Trump Transition Team or the White House.
“While SCL Group’s contract with the State Department expired in February, recent revelations about the company’s business practices warrant a thorough examination of how this contract was awarded, what work was performed, why it was awarded to SCL Group, and SCL Group’s status as a future potential contractor for the State Department,” wrote the Senator.
Menendez’s separate letter to SCL Group CEO Nigel Oakes raises several troubling ethical and legal allegations about SCL’s work abroad, and requests information to better understand the scope and nature of the embroiled company’s methodologies, business practices, and behavior over its long history of working on political campaigns in over 20 countries, including the United States. The letter requests a comprehensive list of every government contract awarded to any SCL entity, as well as descriptions of SCL’s work on political campaigns, elections, microtargeting, or efforts to influence public opinion in foreign countries.
“Ensuring free, fair, and transparent elections in democracies abroad is one of our nation’s top priorities in foreign assistance programs and diplomatic efforts, and an ongoing priority for the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations,” wrote the Senator. “If people do not trust their democratic process, then their faith in the institutions of government begins to erode, leading to economic uncertainty and political strife. Any potential effort to undermine faith in elections and the democratic process abroad is a concern for the United States and this Committee.”
As the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, which is reportedly under investigation by government regulators and law enforcement in the United Kingdom and the United States, the Senator’s letters also inquire about any products and services for the U.S. State Department that SCL, or any of its subsidiaries, has proposed, commented on, bid on, or worked on, including detailed descriptions of the work that Michael Flynn performed as an advisor for SCL.
Nigel J. Oakes
Chief Executive Officer and Director
1901 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20006
Dear Mr. Oakes:
I write seeking additional information regarding the work that your companies, SCL Group and its subsidiaries, including Cambridge Analytica (collectively, SCL), have performed abroad and in the United States. Recent reports paint a disturbing picture of some of SCL’s work, including efforts to test certain data practices with particular populations. According to one account, SCL has “experimented with data-driven microtargeting techniques in the Caribbean and Africa, where privacy rules are lax or nonexistent and politicians employing SCL have been happy to provide government-held data.”
That assertion seems to complement marketing material on SCL’s website which notes that “many government agencies have amassed large data relevant to their operations. However, many of these databases remain unexploited.” These statements are especially troubling in light of allegations that your company misappropriated the personal information of up to 87 million Facebook users to target them in political campaigns. What’s more, an SCL subsidiary recently ran a campaign in the United States, paid for by a foreign government, which included multiple Facebook ad buys.
SCL also appears to have engaged in work around the world that raises several potential ethical and legal questions, particularly regarding foreign elections. In Latvia, for example, SCL said it ran a campaign in 2006 which stoked tensions between Latvians and ethnic Russian residents. In Nigeria, it described its work in the 2007 general election as “organizing anti-poll rallies on the day of the election” and advising the ruling party on how to discourage opposition supporters from voting. In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the prime minister accused SCL of funneling foreign money into the opposing campaign.
SCL executives Alexander Nix and Mark Turnbull claimed that, in Eastern Europe, the company worked with private intelligence operatives to blackmail opponents in political campaigns. As Mr. Turnbull put it, “we’ve just used a different organization to run a very, very successful project in an Eastern European country, where they did a really – no one even knew they were there. They just drift, they were just ghosted in, did the work, ghosted out, and produced really, really good material.” Previous reports point to marketing material in which SCL claimed to be able to create an operations center that “can override all national radio and TV broadcasts in time of crisis,” apparently alluding to work that your company has done for a country in Asia. And one recent report alleges that SCL Group paid a contractor to offer a politician a $1.5 million bribe during a 2010 election in St. Kitts and Nevis.
Ensuring free, fair, and transparent elections in democracies abroad is one of our nation’s top priorities in foreign assistance programs and diplomatic efforts, and an ongoing priority for the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. If people do not trust their democratic process, then their faith in the institutions of government begins to erode, leading to economic uncertainty and political strife. Stable, democratic countries that equally represent their citizens promote stability and prosperity which directly contributes to United States’ national security interests. Any potential effort to undermine faith in elections and the democratic process abroad is a concern for the United States and this Committee.
To better understand the work of your companies around the world, and how they might affect U.S. interests abroad, please provide the Committee with the following information by April 16, 2018:
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have any questions regarding this request.
The Honorable John Sullivan
Acting Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C St, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Acting Undersecretary for Public Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C St, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Acting Secretary Sullivan and Acting Undersecretary Nauert:
I am seeking information regarding SCL Group and its subsidiaries (collectively, SCL), and their work with the State Department. As you may be aware, recent reports indicate that Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, SCL, illegitimately obtained and used the data of up to 87 million Facebook users without their permission, prompting inquiries into the company’s operations. Outside the United States, SCL allegedly paid a contractor to offer a politician a $1.4 million bribe during a 2010 election in St. Kitts and Nevis, and its elections work in several other foreign countries raises serious ethical and legal questions. Cambridge Analytica and SCL are reportedly now under investigation by multiple entities, including government regulators and law enforcement in the United Kingdom and the United States.
In the United States, the State Department greenlighted a contract in late November of last year (later signed in February 2017) to SCL for nearly a half million dollars to perform “target audience research.” The award was a sole source contract, not open for competition to any other companies. At the time the contract was approved, Michael Flynn, who was on President Trump’s transition team, was serving as an advisor for SCL, reportedly to help it expand its government contracting work.
While SCL’s contract with the State Department expired in February, recent revelations about the company’s business practices warrant a thorough examination of how this contract was awarded, what work was performed, why it was awarded to SCL, and SCL’s status as a future potential contractor for the State Department.
So that we can assess the circumstances that led to this contract award, please provide a detailed explanation of how and why SCL was chosen for this work and the nature of the work conducted. In addition, I request that you provide the following documents by April 16, 2018:
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have any questions or require clarification regarding this request.