Whistleblower: Cambridge Analytica used Israeli firm to hack Nigerian president

In testimony to UK parliament, ex-Cambridge Analyica employee Christopher Wylie alleges data obtained by Black Cube was used in anti-Muslim campaign videos

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Canadian data analytics expert and whistle-blower, Christopher Wylie poses for photographs outside a press conference in London on March 26, 2018.  (AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN)
Canadian data analytics expert and whistle-blower, Christopher Wylie poses for photographs outside a press conference in London on March 26, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN)

The whistleblower at the heart of the Facebook privacy scandal told the British parliament Tuesday that an Israeli intelligence gathering firm was involved in a hacking scheme targeting the president of Nigeria.

The company, Tel Aviv-based Black Cube, quickly denied the allegations and called them a “flagrant lie.”

Christopher Wylie has alleged that Cambridge Analytica harvested details of 50 million Facebook users and used the material in US President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign by micro-targeting users with campaign material.

On Tuesday, Wylie, the company’s former research director, testified before a House of Commons committee investigating the misuse of Facebook user data, revealing some of the other the shadowy activities the company was linked to.

“The company utilized the services of an Israeli private intelligence firm, Black Cube,” Wylie told lawmakers according to reports in British media.

He said the Tel Aviv-based company was hired to “hack the now-president [Muhammadu] Buhari to get access to his medical records and private emails.”

In this photo released by the Nigeria State House, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari looks on during a broadcast to the Nation at the Presidential palace in Abuja, Nigeria, August 21, 2017. (Bayo Omoboriowo/Nigeria State House via AP)

According to Wiley, Cambridge Analytica also contracted its subsidiary company, AggregateIQ, to use the data obtained by Black Cube to spread anti-Muslim videos on Facebook in an effort to damage Buhari’s presidential campaign.

Buhari, who is Muslim, had run unsuccessfully for president three times previously, but was elected president in 2015 despite the alleged smear campaign against him.

Wiley indicated that Cambridge Analytica sought to influence elections in other developing countries on a regular basis, with little to no concern for local or international law.

“They could care less as to whether or not their work is compliant because they like to win,” he said.

But election rigging was not particularly profitable, so, Wiley said, Cambridge Analytica made its real money by introducing top government officials to African businessmen in what he dubbed a “privatized colonizing operation.”

Black Cube, an intelligence gathering firm that has previously been linked to a number of other controversial clients, including Harvey Weinstein, denied any connection to Cambridge Analytica or involvement in the scheme in Nigeria.

In a statement to The Times of Israel, Black Cube insisted that it has “always operated within the boundaries of the law in every jurisdiction it operates,” and called Wylie’s testimony a “flagrant lie.”

The firm went on to deny it had any links to Cambridge Analytica or any of its subsidiaries, and has never worked in Nigeria. The statement added that Black Cube was “flattered that we are seemingly being connected with every international incident that occurs,” and vowed to investigate Wylie’s claims further.

The offices of Cambridge Analytica (CA) in central London, March 20, 2018. (Kirsty O’Connor/PA via AP)

In late 2017, news reports revealed that Black Cube was hired by Weinstein to dissuade the women he allegedly sexually assaulted from exposing his decades of abuse. In 2016, two Black Cube employees were convicted in Romania for spying on the country’s top anti-corruption official.

Cambridge Analytica also swiftly denied any links to the Israeli firm, saying in a statement Tuesday that it “has never worked with or been in contact with Black Cube in any capacity.”

Brexit connection

During his testimony, Wiley also said that the official campaign backing Britain’s exit from the European Union had access to data that was inappropriately collected from millions of Facebook users.

Wylie told committee members that he “absolutely” believed that AggregateIQ had drawn on Cambridge Analytica’s databases for its work on the EU referendum.

“You can’t have targeting software that doesn’t access the database. Cambridge Analytica would have a database and AIQ would access that database, otherwise the software wouldn’t work,” he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the European Union gave Facebook two weeks to answer questions raised by the scandal, and demanded to know what steps the social media giant planned to take to prevent a similar scandal in the future.

After Wiley’s testimony , British lawmakers joined the EU in calling on Facebook CEO Mark Zukerberg to personally explain the data breach.

Damian Collins, the chairman of the House of Commons digital, culture and media committee, said the seriousness of the allegations meant it was “appropriate” for Zuckerberg to offer an explanation himself, whether in person or via video-link.

Agencies contributed to this report

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