Whistleblower Christopher Wylie told Senate investigators that it would have been 'very easy' for Russia to gain access to data on millions of Americans harvested by Cambridge Analytica, the shady data firm hired by the Trump campaign.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie revealed that Russia may have accessed private Facebook data harvested from up to 87 million people, including more than 70 million Americans.
Wylie said he doesn't know for sure whether Russia got its hands on the massive dataset, which contains information harvested from Facebook by Cambridge Analytica researchers, but said it would have been "very easy" for Russian intelligence to access the data.
This information would have proved invaluable to Russia as they targeted U.S. voters with disinformation and propaganda aimed at helping Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In his testimony, Wylie explained that Cambridge Analytica was actively working on projects funded by the Russian government at the same time that it was working on the data-harvesting operation. Some of these projects involved working directly with Russian intelligence companies on "behavioral research" projects.
Furthermore, according to Wylie, Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix was in "close contact" with Lukoil, a Russian oil company known to be linked to Russian intelligence. In 2014, Nix gave Lukoil a whitepaper prepared by Wylie outlining Cambridge Analytica's work on data mining and voter targeting in the U.S.
The Russian intelligence-linked company reportedly took special interest in Cambridge Analytica's U.S. projects.
"This means that in addition to Facebook data being accessed in Russia, there are reasonable grounds to suspect that [Cambridge Analytica] may have been an intelligence target of Russian security services," Wylie said in written testimony.
He noted that "Russian security services may have been notified of the existence of [Cambridge Analytica's] Facebook data," and almost certainly would have taken great interest in seeing it.
Wylie also said that Cambridge Analytica "used Russian researchers to gather its data, [and] openly shared information on 'rumor campaigns' and 'attitudinal inoculation'" with entities linked to the FSB, a Russian intelligence agency.
Asked by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) if Cambridge Analytica's dataset with information on tens of millions of American Facebook users was shared with Lukoil or other Russian entities, Wylie said it was possible — and could have been done very easily.
"I can't say definitively, one way or the other, if these datasets did end up in Russia but what I can say is that it would have been very easy to facilitate that," Wylie told the Senate panel.
This data could have then been used by Russia to target American voters with disinformation during the 2016 presidential election.
It has been previously been reported that Russian-backed Facebook ads specifically targeted voters in Michigan and Wisconsin — two states that were key to Trump's electoral college victory.
On top of Cambridge Analytica's work for Russian intelligence-linked entities, Wylie said the data firm also recruited at least two people who were "closely associated" with WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. Those two people were reportedly recruited specifically because of their relationship to WikiLeaks, which the U.S. intelligence community considers to be a "hostile intelligence service."
At one point, Cambridge Analytica even reached out to Assange in an effort to obtain Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.
The revelation that Russia may have gained access to Americans' data through Cambridge Analytica is just the latest chapter in the unfolding scandal surrounding the shady data firm that the Trump campaign once touted for its role in helping Trump win the 2016 election.
The Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in June 2016. Jared Kushner, who was in charge of overseeing then-candidate Trump’s digital operations, brought the data firm into the campaign — a decision that was reportedly cheered on by former Trump campaign CEO and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, a former vice president of Cambridge Analytica.
In previous testimony, Wylie said Bannon oversaw the development of voter suppression tactics at Cambridge Analytica. He expanded on this testimony Wednesday, noting that Cambridge Analytica offered "voter disengagement" as one of its services.
Cambridge Analytica's dirty tricks finally caught up with them this year as the firm came under scrutiny in dual investigations in the U.S. and the U.K. Earlier this month, the company filed for bankruptcy and announced that it was shutting down.
But Cambridge Analytica's troubles aren't going anywhere. The New York Times reported this week that the Department of Justice and the FBI are now investigating the firm, focusing on its finances and cyber activities.
Given the close ties between Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign, an investigation of Cambridge Analytica is inherently also an investigation of the Trump campaign. And given what Wylie told Congress this week, the Trump campaign has good reason to worry about what investigators may find.
If Cambridge Analytica helped Russia target American voters, and if the Trump campaign knew about it, that would be clear evidence of the very activity Trump continues to deny: collusion.