Liam O Hare on the deep connections between Cambridge Analytica’s parent company Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL Group) and the Conservative Party and military establishment, ‘Board members include an array of Lords, Tory donors, ex-British army officers and defense contractors. This is scandal that cuts to the heart of the British establishment.’
The scandal around mass data harvesting by Cambridge Analytica took a new twist on Monday.
A Channel 4 news undercover investigation revealed that the company’s Eton-educated CEO Alexander Nix offered to use dirty tricks – including the use of bribery and sex workers – to entrap politicians and subvert elections.
Much of the media spotlight is now on Cambridge Analytica and their shadowy antics in elections worldwide, including that of Donald Trump.
However, Cambridge Analytica is a mere offshoot of Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL Group) – an organisation with its roots deeply embedded within the British political, military and royal establishment.
Indeed, as the Observer article which broke the scandal said “For all intents and purposes, SCL/Cambridge Analytica are one and the same.”
Like Cambridge Analytica, SCL group is behavioral research and strategic communication company.
In 2005, SCL went public with a glitzy exhibit at the DSEI conference, the UK’s largest showcase for military technology.
It’s ‘hard sell’ was a demonstration of how the UK government could use a sophisticated media campaign of mass deception to fool the British people into the thinking an accident at a chemical plant had occurred and threatened central London. Genuinely.
Board members include an array of Lords, Tory donors, ex-British army officers and defense contractors. This is scandal that cuts to the heart of the British establishment.
SCL Group says on its website that it provides “data, analytics and strategy to governments and military organizations worldwide.”
The organisation boasts that it has conducted “behavioral change programs” in over 60 countries and its clients have included the British Ministry of Defence, the US State Department and NATO.
A freedom of information request from August 2016, shows that the MOD has twice bought services from Strategic Communication Laboratories in recent years.
In 2010/11, the MOD paid £40,000 to SCL for the “provision of external training”. Meanwhile, in 2014/2015, it paid SCL £150,000 for the “procurement of target audience analysis”.
In addition, SCL also carries a secret clearance as a ‘list X’ contractor for the MOD. A List X site is a commercial site on British soil that is approved to hold UK government information marked as ‘confidential’ and above. Essentially, SCL got the green light to hold British government secrets on its premises.
Meanwhile, the US State Department has a contract for $500,000 with SLC. According to an official, this was to provide “research and analytical support in connection with our mission to counter terrorist propaganda and disinformation overseas.” This was not the only work that SCL has been contracted for with the US government, the source added.
In May 2015, SCL Defense, another subsidiary of the umbrella organisation, received $1 million (CAD) to support NATO operations in Eastern Europe targeting Russia.
The company delivered a three-month course in Riga which taught “advanced counter-propaganda techniques designed to help member states assess and counter Russia’s propaganda in Eastern Europe”.
The NATO website said the “revolutionary” training would “help Ukrainians better defend themselves against the Russian threat”.
What is clear is that all of SCL’s activities were inextricably linked to its Cambridge Analytica arm.
As recently as July 2017, the website for Cambridge Analytica said its methods has been approved by the “UK Ministry of Defence, the US State Department, Sandia and NATO” and carried their logos on its website.
Mark Turnbull, who joined Alexander Nix at the secretly filmed meetings, heads up SCL Elections as well as Cambridge Analytica Political Global.
His profile at the University of Exeter Strategy and Security Institute boasts of his record in achieving “campaign success via measurable behavioural change” in “over 100 campaigns in Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean”.
Turnbull previously spent 18 years at Bell Pottinger, heading up the Pentagon funded PR drive in occupied Iraq which included the production of fake al-Qaeda videos.
Turnbull’s involvement is just one sign of the sweeping links the company has with powerful Anglo-American political and military interests.
The firm is headed up by Nigel Oakes, another old Etonian, who, according to the website PowerBase has links to the British royals and was once rumoured to be an Mi5 spy.
In 1992, Oakes described his work in a trade journal as using the “same techniques as Aristotle and Hitler. … We appeal to people on an emotional level to get them to agree on a functional level.”
The President of SCL is Sir Geoffrey Pattie, a former Conservative MP and the Defence Minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government. Pattie also co-founded Terrington Management which lists BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin among its clients.
One of the company’s directors’ is wine millionaire and former British special forces officer in Borneo and Kenya, Roger Gabb, who in 2006 donated £500,000 to the Conservative party.
Gabb was also fined by the Electoral Commission for failing to include his name on an advert in a number of local newspapers arguing for a Leave vote in the Brexit referendum.
SCL’s links to the Conservative party continues through the company’s chairman and venture capitalist Julian Wheatland. He also happens to be chairman of Oxfordshire Conservatives Association.
The organisation has also been funded by Jonathan Marland who is the former Conservative Party Treasurer, a trade envoy under David Cameron, and a close friend of Tory election strategist Lynton Crosby.
Property tycoon and Conservative party donor Vincent Tchenguiz was also the single largest SCL shareholder for a decade.
Meanwhile, another director is Gavin McNicoll, founder of counter-terrorism Eden Intelligence firm who ran a G8 Plus meeting on Financial Intelligence Cooperation at the behest of the British government.
Previous board members include Sir James Allen Mitchell, the former Prime Minister of the previous British colony St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Mitchell has been a privy counselor on the Queen’s advisory board since 1985.
The British military and royal establishment links to SCL are further highlighted through another director Rear Admiral John Tolhurst, a former assistant director of naval warfare in the Ministry of Defence and aide de camp to the Queen.
The Queen’s third cousin, Lord Ivar Mountbatten, was also sitting on SCL’s advisory board but it’s unclear if he still holds that role.
The above examples barely scrape the surface of just how deep the ties go between the UK defence establishment and Strategic Communication Laboratories.
Indeed, it seems evident that the organisation is a product of murky alliances formed between venture capitalists and former British military and intelligence officers. Unsurprisingly, they also happen to be closely tied to the higher echelons of the Conservative party.
International deception and meddling is the name of the game for SCL. We finally have the most concrete evidence yet of shadowy actors using dirty tricks in order to rig elections. But these characters aren’t operating from Moscow intelligence bunkers.
Instead, they are British, Eton educated, headquartered in the city of London and have close ties to Her Majesty’s government.