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Cambridge Analytica whistleblower says firm worked for UK on Middle East projects

Christopher Wylie hints at links between SCL and Prevent, and says firm's work involved research on 'groups who could pose risk to British society'
Wylie: 'I know people who have worked on Prevent have also worked with SCL on projects' (AFP)

More details emerged on Tuesday of links between the British government and Cambridge Analytica as a former employee confirmed that the parent company of the data firm had conducted “research on Middle Eastern countries” for the Ministry of Defence.

Whistleblower Christopher Wylie, giving evidence to parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport committee, also hinted at links between the UK’s Prevent counter-extremism strategy and SCL, Cambridge’s Analytica’s parent company.

Referring to documents that he had submitted to the committee as part of its inquiry into fake news, Wylie said: “There is a quote from somebody who until very recently ran the Prevent programme… that doesn’t mean that [SCL] work on Prevent but I know that people who have worked on Prevent have also worked with SCL on projects. It is a question to maybe ask the Home Office.”

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Social media campaigns linked to Prevent have been run by the Home Office’s Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), often in conjunction with non-government media and PR companies.

Cambridge Analytica is under investigation in both the US and the UK over allegations that it harvested the data of 50 million Facebook users without authorisation, and reports that it sought to influence the results of the 2016 British referendum on European Union membership and the US presidential election.

Wylie also confirmed more details of SCL’s work for the Ministry of Defence.

“I know that SCL Group Defence has done work for the Ministry of Defence, also for DSTL [Defence Science and Technology Laboratory], the research agency for the UK,” said Wylie.

"The work that they have done for the UK government centred around research on Middle Eastern countries to understand attitudes and behaviours of groups who could pose a risk to British society."

On Friday, Middle East Eye revealed that the Ministry of Defence had held a contract for data analytics with SCL Insights which ran from December last year to February this year.

The timing of the work suggests that the £42,000 ($59,000) contract was signed after the Information Commissioner's Office, the UK's data watchdog, opened an investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes that has focused on Cambridge Analytica's work.

An investigation by MEE has also cast light on SCL’s links to “deradicalisation” counter-extremism campaigns run by the US and UK governments.

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Last week, a spokesperson for the State Department confirmed that SCL had a contract worth $500,000 with the State Department's Global Engagement Centre (GEC), whose duties have included waging a social media war against the Islamic State (IS) group.

“SCL has a proven track record of performance on previous Department of Defence and UK government contracts," the spokesperson told MEE.

The Ministry of Defence told MEE on Friday that it had signed four past contracts for data analytics with SCL and an SCL subsidiary since 2009.

They consisted of two contracts worth £125,000 (now $177,000) and £30,000 ($43,000) in 2009-10, a contract worth £150,000 ($212,000) signed in 2014-15, and the December 2017 contract with SCL Insight worth £42,000 ($60,000) which finished last month.

The Home Office told MEE on Friday that it did not have any current contracts with the SCL Group or linked companies and said: “The department made a one-off payment of £500 to the SCL Group in 2009 for a training course."

A Home Office spokesperson told MEE on Wednesday that neither Prevent nor RICU had any contracts with Cambridge Analytica or the SCL group.

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