Eromosele Abiodun with agency reports
The whistle-blower at the heart of the Facebook data scandal engineered by embattled data analysis firm, Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie, has named the Israeli firm that hacked into President Muhammadu Buhariâ€™s private medical and financial records via his emails, in a bid to scare voters and sway the 2015 election in favour of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Wylie, while giving evidence Tuesday before the British Commons Culture Select Committee, which is investigating fake news, revealed that Cambridge Analytica used the services of an Israeli private intelligence firm, Black Cube, to undermine the Nigerian elections in 2015 by spreading propaganda to demoralise voters.
He claimed that SCL Elections, Cambridge Analyticaâ€™s parent company, had been involved in a project in Nigeria in 2015, which involved hacking the private information of Buhari, who was running for president.
He also claimed Aggregate I.Q (AIQ), a digital advertising, web and software development company based in Canada, had distributed compromising material â€“ known as kompromat â€“ and videos designed to intimidate Buhariâ€™s supporters.
According to him, â€œThe company utilised the services of an Israeli private intelligence firm, that firm is Black Cube. That has not been reported, although Channel 4 has undercover footage that they havenâ€™t been able to put in the public domain of Alexander Nicks talking about the relationship with Black Cube.
â€œBlack Cube, on the Nigerian, project was engaged to hack the now president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, to get access to his private medical records and his private emails.
â€œAggregate I.Q (AIQ) worked on that project. AIQ was handed material in Nigeria from Cambridge Analytica to distribute online. Thatâ€™s distribution of kompromat and of incredibly threatening and violent video content, which Iâ€™ve passed on to the committee.
â€œThe video that AIQ distributed in Nigeria with the sole intent of intimidating voters included content where people were being dismembered, where people were having their throats cut and bled to death in a ditch.
â€œThey were being burned alive, there was incredibly anti-Islamic and threatening message portraying Muslims as violent. This is againâ€¦(interjects self). So youâ€™ve got Aggregate I.Q which received 40 per cent of the vote leave funding (referring to the UK referendum on Brexit) also working on projects that involved hacked material, compromised and distributing violent videos of people being bled to death to intimidate voters and this is the company that played an incredibly pivotal role in politics here (UK).
â€œAnd so, something that I will strongly recommend to the committee is that they actually not only push the authority here but give them the support that they need in order to actually investigate this company and what they were doing in Brexit.â€
But in a statement issued after the hearing, Black Cube said it has always operated within the law, reported UKâ€™s Daily Mail newspaper.
Black Cube said: â€œWhilst we are flattered that we are seemingly being connected with every international incident that occurs, we will state that Chris Wylieâ€™s testimony is a flagrant lie.
â€œWe categorically declare that neither Black Cube, nor any of its affiliates and subsidiaries, have ever worked for, or engaged with, SCL, Cambridge Analytica, or any of their affiliates and subsidiaries.
â€œBlack Cube has never operated in Nigeria nor has it worked on any project connected to Nigeria, and none of its employees has ever set foot in Nigeria.
â€œBlack Cube will investigate this claim on a pro bono basis, and will reveal the truth and the motive behind Wylie’s defamatory lie.â€
They also threatened to sue Wylie.
The British press had reported last week that Cambridge Analytica was hired by an unnamed Nigerian oil billionaire to work on the re-election campaign of then president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and was paid an estimated Â£2 million ($2.8 million) to orchestrate a â€œferocious campaignâ€ against Buhari, then leading opposition candidate at the time.
Buhari went on to secure a historic election win in 2015. Before that, however, Cambridge Analytica reportedly attempted to furtively use hacked personal emails of Buhari, which were provided by Israeli hackers.
Cambridge Analytica staff working on the Nigerian elections reportedly met the Israeli hackers at the firmâ€™s London offices after which Alexander Nicks, the recently suspended Cambridge Analytica CEO, allegedly asked staff to search the hacked emails for damaging information to be used against Buhari.
But â€œalarmedâ€ staff members refused to do so believing that the data was possibly obtained illegally.
For its part, SCL Elections confirmed that it was hired â€œto provide advertising and marketing servicesâ€ for the Jonathan campaign but denied receiving or using hacked information during the campaign.
In the build-up to the elections, the Jonathan campaign notably focused on social media and public messaging questioning Buhariâ€™s educational qualifications and also, contentiously, his health status, setting off intense rumours and speculation.
Wylie, at the hearing Tuesday, also disclosed that his predecessor died in a Kenyan hotel room and may have been poisoned while working for President Uhuru Kenyatta in his 2013 election campaign.
He said Dan Muresan was working for Kenyattaâ€™s election campaign when he was found dead in 2012 amid reports that a deal he was working on went â€œsourâ€.
Giving evidence to members of parliament (MPs) on the Commons committee, Wylie told how rumours that Muresan had been killed circulated around the controversial data firm.
Wylie alleged that he heard talk that the Kenyan police had been bribed not to enter the hotel room for 24 hours in a bid to cover up the possible murder.
According to the Daily Mail, rumours that the death could have been murder will fuel concerns about Cambridge Analytica and the shady world it operated in.
He said: â€œCambridge Analytica was working with Kenyan politicians, but because in a lot of African countries if a deal goes wrong you pay for it.
â€œDan was my predecessor… what I heard was that he was working on some kind of deal of some sort â€“ Iâ€™m not sure what.
â€œThe deal went sour. People suspected he was poisoned in his hotel room. I also heard that the police had got bribed not to enter the hotel room for 24 hours.â€
He added: â€œThat is what I was told â€“ I was not there, so I (cannot) speak to the veracity of it.â€
Wylie said that when he joined Cambridge Analytica in 2012, he did not know the name of his predecessor or what happened to him.
But he asked his colleagues after he could not find a file he was hunting for. It was then that he heard the rumours about the death, the British MPs were told.
Muresan was the son of former Romanian agriculture minister, Ioan Avram Muresan, who is now in prison on corruption charges.
His mysterious death made the news in his home country.
According to a report of his death, which ran in 2012 in the Bucharest Herald, the 32-year-old had studied at the LSE in London and had coordinated election campaigns in Europe, Africa and the U.S.
Romaniaâ€™s foreign ministry told the Bucharest Herald at the time: â€œThe Romanian citizen was working with a British telecommunications company, based in Kenya for a while.
â€œHe had not yet registered his presence on Kenyan territory with the Romanian diplomatic mission.â€