Cambridge Analytica, the data firm at the center of a scandal about misused Facebook information, sent dozens of foreign nationals to work on U.S. elections in 2014, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.
Three of the firm’s former employees, including whistleblower Christopher Wylie, said the company was mostly staffed with non-U.S. citizens as it worked across several states to help elect Republicans. The campaign ― dubbed “Project Ripon” ― continued even after an attorney warned the firm to obey U.S. election laws, which mandate foreigners cannot “directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process” in a political campaign.
Despite the warning, at least 20 non-Americans were sent to advise congressional and legislative campaigns in 2014, and helped to decide who to target with political messages, the Post reported. Such voters were dubbed “hidden Republicans.”
Wylie, who helped found Cambridge Analytica and worked at the firm until 2014, sparked a firestorm earlier this month when he revealed that the company had misused the private information of more than 50 million Facebook users. He told the Post that the use of foreigners on the ground often led to legal discussions about U.S. election laws between Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix and then-vice president Steve Bannon.
“Its dirty little secret was that there was no one American involved in it, that it was a de facto foreign agent, working on an American election,” Wylie told the Post.
Earlier this week he told NBC News that “it was not just me.”
“Like 20 other people were. We had Canadians, British, Eastern Europeans, Lithuanians, Germans, Romanians, Greeks,” Wylie said. “We weren’t just working on messaging. We were instructing campaigns on which messages go where and to who.”
The use of foreign nationals in U.S. elections was first detailed in a memo Wylie supplied to media outlets earlier this month. In the document, a lawyer for the data firm warned Nix that he would need to refrain from “substantive management” due to his citizenship and that Cambridge Analytica would need to find U.S. citizens or green card holders to make any larger decisions.
Two other employees at the firm, speaking anonymously, told the Post that they worried about violating U.S. law and echoed that such concerns were regularly discussed in 2014.
“We knew that everything was not above board, but we weren’t too concerned about it,” one of the employees said. “It was the Wild West. That’s certainly how they carried on in 2014.”
Cambridge Analytica has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and the acting chief executive has said the company “in no way resemble[s] the politically-motivated and unethical company that some have sought to portray.”