This article titled “Cambridge Analytica: links to Moscow oil firm and St Petersburg university
” was written by Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison, for The Observer on Saturday 17th March 2018 21.59 UTC
Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University academic who orchestrated the harvesting of Facebook data, had previously unreported ties to a Russian university, including a teaching position and grants for research into the social media network, the Observer has discovered. Cambridge Analytica, the data firm he worked with – which funded the project to turn tens of millions of Facebook profiles into a unique political weapon – also attracted interest from a key Russian firm with links to the Kremlin.
Energy firm Lukoil, which is now on the US sanctions list and has been used as a vehicle of government influence, saw a presentation on the firm’s work in 2014. It began with a focus on voter suppression in Nigeria, and Cambridge Analytica also discussed “micro-targeting” individuals on social media during elections.
The revelations come at a time of intense US scrutiny of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, with 13 Russians criminally charged last month with interfering to help Donald Trump.
In Britain, concerns about Russian propaganda have been mounting, with the prime minister, Theresa May, recently attacking Russia for spreading fake news, accusing Moscow of attempts to “weaponise information” and influence polls.
Lukoil, Russia’s second-largest oil company, discussed with Cambridge Analytica the data company’s powerful social media marketing system, which was already being deployed for Republican Ted Cruz in the US presidential primaries and was later used to back Brexit and Trump.
Alexander Nix, chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, emailed colleagues after initial contacts to say that Lukoil wanted a clearer explanation of “how our services are going to apply to the petroleum business”.
“They understand behavioural micro-targeting in the context of elections (as per your excellent document/white paper) but they are failing to make the connection between voters and their consumers,” he wrote in an email seen by the Observer.
A slide presentation prepared for the Lukoil pitch focuses first on election disruption strategies used by Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL, in Nigeria. They are presented under the heading “Election: Inoculation”, a military term used in “psychological operations” and disinformation campaigns. Other SCL documents show that the material shared with Lukoil included posters and videos apparently aimed at alarming or demoralising voters, including warnings of violence and fraud.
Discussion of services offered by Cambridge Analytica was apparently going right to the top of Lukoil, even though its retail operations in America are a very minor corner of the oil and gas giant’s empire. Asking for a detailed presentation of Cambridge Analyticas’s work in July 2014, Nix told his colleague the document would be “shared with the CEO of the business”.
The chief executive of Lukoil, Vagit Alekperov, is a former Soviet oil minister who has said the strategic aims of Lukoil are closely aligned with those of Russia. “I have only one task connected with politics, to help the country and the company. I’m not close to Mr Putin, but I treat him with great respect,” he told the New York Times.
Cambridge Analytica said an affiliate company had talked to Lukoil Turkey about a loyalty card scheme and proposed a pilot study with a small number of petrol stations there, but the project had not gone ahead. “[The talks] were about potential commercial work in Turkey and did not involve any discussion of political work,” a spokesman said. “Cambridge Analytica and its affiliate companies have not worked in Russia and have not worked for a Russian company or organisation.”
Last month Nix told MPs: “We have never worked with a Russian organisation in Russia or any other company. We do no have any relationship with Russia or Russian individuals.”
That appears to contradict the company documents seen by the Observer, that list Russia as one of the countries where Cambridge Analytica and affiliate companies have clients.
Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who has come forward to talk to the Observer, said it was never entirely clear what the Russian firm hoped to get from the operation.
“Alexander Nix’s presentation didn’t make any sense to me,” said Wylie, who left Cambridge Analytica soon after the initial meetings. “If this was a commercial deal, why were they so interested in our political targeting?”
Lukoil did not respond to requests for comments.
Kogan, a lecturer who worked with Cambridge Analytica on building up the database of US voters then at the heart of the company’s plans, said he had not had any connection to the Lukoil pitch.
But while he was helping turn Facebook profiles into a political tool he was also an associate professor at St Petersburg State University, taking Russian government grants to fund other research into social media. “Stress, health, and psychological wellbeing in social networks: cross-cultural investigation” was the title of one piece of research. Online posts showed Kogan lecturing in Russian. One talk was called: “New methods of communication as an effective political instrument”.
Cambridge University said academics are allowed to take on outside work but are expected to inform their head of institution, a rule Kogan had complied with. “We understand that Dr Kogan informed his head of department of discussions with St Petersburg University regarding a collaboration; it was understood that this work and any associated grants would be in a private capacity,” a spokesman said.
Apart from that, Kogan appears to have largely kept the work private. Colleagues said they had not heard about the post in St Petersburg. “I am very surprised by that. No one knew,” one academic who asked not to be named told the Observer. Russia is not mentioned in a 10-page CV Kogan posted on a university website in 2015. The CV lists undergraduate prizes and grants of a few thousand dollars and links to dozens of media interviews.
One Cambridge Analytica employee mentioned Kogan’s Russian work in an email to Nix in March 2014 discussing a pitch to a Caribbean nation for a security contract, including “criminal psychographic profiling via intercepts”.
“We may want to either loop in or find out a bit more about the interesting work Alex Kogan has been doing for the Russians and see how/if it applies,” the colleague wrote.
Kogan told the Observer: “Nothing I did on the Russian project was at all related to Cambridge Analytica in any way. No data or models.” His recollection was that the Russia project had started a year after his collaboration with Cambridge Analytica ended.
He said the St Petersburg position emerged by chance on a social visit. A native Russian speaker, Kogan was born in Moldova and brought up in Moscow until he was seven, when his family emigrated to the US, where he later obtained citizenship.
However, he stayed in touch with family friends in Russia and visited regularly. On one trip, he said, he “dropped an email” to the psychology department at St Petersburg.
“We met, had a nice chat, and decided let’s try to collaborate – give me more reason to visit there,” he told the Observer in an email.
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Legendary singer Aretha Franklin dies at age 76
Legendary singer Aretha Franklin has died.
The 76-year-old Queen of Soul was said to be “surrounded” by her closest friends and family in recent days, after battling extensive health problems in recent years.
The legendary singer was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, and delivered her most recent performance at the Elton John AIDS Foundation party in New York last November.
This is a Breaking News Story.
1954 – Sings her first solo at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.
1956 – Along with her two sisters, performs backup on her father’s gospel recording for Gotham Records.
1960 – Leaves Detroit for New York, signs with Columbia Records and releases first album, “The Great Aretha Franklin.”
1967 – Leaves Columbia Records after an unsuccessful attempt at developing a jazz style; signs with Atlantic Records; wins Grammy Award Best R&B Recording for “Respect.”
1967-1974 – Wins a total of ten Grammy Awards.
January 20, 1977 – Performs “God Bless America” at the inauguration gala of President Jimmy Carter.
1980 – Appears in the movie “The Blues Brothers” and performs the song “Think”; leaves Atlantic Records for Arista Records.
1981 – Wins Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for “Hold On I’m Comin’.”
1985 – Wins Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for “Freeway Of Love.”
January 3, 1987 – Is the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
1987 – Wins two Grammy Awards for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for “Aretha” and Best R&B Performance by a Duo, with George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).”
1988 – Wins Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance, Female for “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.”
1991 – Receives the Grammy Legend Award.
January 20, 1993 – Performs “I Dreamed a Dream” at the inauguration ball of President Bill Clinton.
1994 – Receives the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She is the youngest recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor at that time.
1997 – Performs an aria from Puccini’s La Boheme at the wedding of Vice-President Al Gore’s daughter, Karenna.
February 6, 1998 – Reprises her roll of Mrs. Murphy from “The Blues Brothers” in the sequel “The Blues Brothers 2000.”
February 25, 1998 – Substitutes for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti at the Grammy Awards performing “Nessun Dorma” by Puccini, unrehearsed.
September 1, 1999 – Publishes an autobiography “Aretha: From These Roots,” where she discusses her private and personal life for the first time.
September 22, 1999 – Is named a winner of the National Medal of Arts by the National Endowment for the Arts.
2003 – Wins Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for “Wonderful.”
March 2004 – Is hospitalized and released for allergic reaction to antibiotics.
2004 – Starts her own record label, Aretha’s Records.
2005 – Wins Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for “A House Is Not A Home.”
November 5, 2005 – Is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.
2006 – After Franklin points out that no Motown talent was appearing in the Detroit Super Bowl halftime show, the NFL asks her to sing the national anthem along with Aaron Neville prior to the game.
2007 – Wins Grammy Award for Best Gospel Performance for “Never Gonna Break My Faith,” shared with Mary J. Blige.
February 10, 2008 – Is Grammy’s 2008 MusiCares Person of the Year.
February 14, 2008 – Receives the NAACP Vanguard Award at the annual Image Awards ceremony.
January 20, 2009 – Performs “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
February 2010 – A Snickers commercial starring Franklin and Liza Minnelli airs for the first time.
July 27, 2010 – Appears on stage with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on piano, in Philadelphia, to raise money for charity. Rice is a classical pianist. They perform individually and together, classical, pop and patriotic selections.
August 1, 2010 – Falls in her home, breaking two ribs. The incident forces her to cancel concert appearances for August.
February 25, 2011 – During an interview with Wendy Williams, Franklin reveals a loss of 85 lbs. The ailment that resulted in surgery in December remains undisclosed and a topic of conversation she dismisses with the comment, “I’ve left that behind, I’m feeling wonderful.”
May 3, 2011 – Releases new album, “Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love.”
October 8, 2014 – Achieves a milestone in music history by becoming the first female to earn her 100th hit on Billboard’s Hot R&B song chart with “Rolling in the Deep (The Aretha Version).”
October 21, 2014 – Releases a new album, “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics.”
March 5, 2015 – Performs live on the Motown themed episode of American Idol in Detroit.
February 7, 2017 – Franklin announces she will retire from performing in concert after the release of one more album. “I am retiring this year, she told a local television station in Detroit. “I will be recording, but this will be my last year in concert.”
Car crashes into security barriers outside Houses Of Parliament
Kremlin “pleased” with Helsinki summit, US and Western intelligence assesses
Russian officials were “pleased” with the Helsinki summit between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, US and Western intelligence agencies have found, according to two intelligence sources with knowledge of the assessments.
The assessments, based on a broad range of intelligence, indicate that the Kremlin believes the July 16 summit delivered a better outcome than it had expected, but that Moscow is perplexed that Trump is not delivering more Russia-friendly policies in its aftermath.
The intelligence sources say the Russians were particularly satisfied with the press conference the two leaders gave in Helsinki after Trump and Putin met for about two hours without staff and accompanied only by translators. In the 45-minute press conference, Trump discredited US intelligence and American policies more broadly, saying “the United States has been foolish” about ties with Russia, a country that has engaged in ongoing attacks on US democracy.
A spokesperson for the Office of Director of National Intelligence declined to comment, and the White House did not respond to request for comment.
The administration’s decision last week to impose sanctions on Russia for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter left Russian officials puzzled that the President is not delivering more favorable policies.
Trump has repeatedly called for warmer relations with Moscow, but the Kremlin is neglecting to factor in the considerable role that Congress and others play in US policy-making, a Western intelligence official said.
Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov’s comments last week reflected the deflated Russian hopes for improved ties with Washington or at least less punitive US policies.
“President Putin said in Helsinki that Russia still has hopes for the creation of a constructive relationship with Washington…We are sorry that often we are not met with cooperation on this account,” Peskov said Aug. 9 in a regular press call with reporters.
Peskov’s comments contrasted sharply with the evaluation Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov offered immediately after the summit, when he said that the talks had been “better than super.”
Trump’s performance in Helsinki sparked unusually public criticism, even from within his own party.
The administration’s decision to impose the sanctions followed a July 26 letter from GOP Congressman Ed Royce, the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, urging the White House to comply with a law requiring the US to levy sanctions against countries that violate the 1991 Chemical and Biological Weapons and Warfare Elimination Act.
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