Although I’m sure that Carole Cadwalladr and her colleagues at the Guardian and Observer have plenty to keep them busy right now, all the claims and counter claims made about the involvement of Cambridge Analytica in the Brexit referendum seem to have missed one important link, one precursor in the field of harvesting personal data for purposes which one of those involved admitted could be for negative effects.
A particularly nasty collection of villainy gathers in the prison exercise yard
Back in March 2013, PR Week told “Campaigners target political parties with ambitious data plans … Data on the supporters of issues-based campaigns is being used to help amass a trove of information available ahead of the next general election”. Do go on. “Details from campaigns run by groups as diverse as Amnesty, the HS2 Action Alliance and pro-smoking group Forest are being used to build up the databank, available to political parties in 2015”. HS2AA was a stridently anti-HS2 group.
As Zelo Street told at the time, “The main man is software architect and developer Andrew Whitehurst. But of greater interest than the W are those making up the ESS, first of whom is Matthew ‘Gromit’ Elliott of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA). He is listed as a ‘Co-founder’”. Elliott was one of the main men in the Vote Leave campaign.
There was more. “Also lending an initial to that acronym is Jag Singh, an alleged entrepreneur of no fixed principle, who co-founded MessageSpace, and who in his potted bio claims to have worked on the US Presidential campaigns of Wes Clark, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton. And bringing up the rear of this less than totally wonderful line-up of ‘Co-founders’ is the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines of Guido Fawkes notoriety”.
Staines and his rabble at the Fawkes blog have been among the most strident practitioners of angry denunciation in response to Ms Cadwalladr’s exposés. They have dismissed her work as “a conspiracy theory by a tin foil hatted journalist”. The ranting emanating from the Fawkes massive has given the impression of someone protesting just a little too much. And Staines’ claims for WESS bear repetition.
After the Spectator cited WESS’ database, telling of “The mighty Metis machine that could save Cameron’s bacon in 2015”, Staines gave this example: “Unfashionable view I know, but screening recruits, so-called ‘blacklisting’ of Marxist union militants, safeguards jobs and firms”. Put directly, the intention was not to enthuse voters, but to put them off. Exactly the kind of accusation now levelled at Cambridge Analytica.
Moreover, what was being harvested by WESS - “Other sources being fed into Metis include aggregated census records, social media profile data and online political advertising response data” - looks not unlike the kinds of data used by CA. Some still wonder why Staines and his rabble devote so much energy to either rubbishing Ms Cadwalladr, or saying “look over there at what the Guardian is harvesting”.
Whenever the Fawkes mob starts drawing attention to itself, that is a dead giveaway. The Great Guido shouting a little too loudly is the kind of tell-tale denoting a little too much knowledge of the subject at hand. And there are just too many connections here.
What happened to WESS and its Metis database? No pressure, chaps.