Revelations that data-consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used ill-gotten personal information from Facebook for the Trump campaign masks the more scandalous reality that the company is firmly ensconced in the U.S. military-industrial complex. As The New York Review of Books notes, Cambridge Analytica is one of the “boutique companies specializing in data analysis and online influence that contract with government agencies.”
So, it should come as no surprise then that the scandal has been linked to Erik Prince, co-founder of Blackwater and the Energizer Bunny of the world of private military and security contractors (PMSC). Having left the country years ago in a well-publicized huff for more comfortable, and less democratic, environments like the United Arab Emirates, Prince has once again popped back up to pitch his wares.
Prince has had more than his share of scandals since he started in Blackwater in 1997. But the ongoing revelations regarding Cambridge Analytica may prove his greatest challenge yet. The number of links between Prince and propaganda and psychological operations is getting harder and harder to pass off as mere coincidence.
As has been widely reported, British corporate records show that Alexander Nix, the suspended chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, is also director of a company called Emerdata Ltd., which executives at Cambridge Analytica incorporated in August 2017. Two more layers of ownership higher, the parent company SCL Group is extremely well connected to the British government.
Emerdata directors include Johnson Ko Chun Shun, who was appointed in January. Ko is also deputy chairman of the Hong Kong-based Frontier Services Group, a company that describes itself as an “Africa-focused security, aviation and logistics company.” The chairman of Frontier Services Group is Prince. Also on the board, according to Bloomberg, is a woman named Cheng Peng, whose address is the same as Luk Fook Financial Services, the parent company of the firm that helped Frontier place new shares last year.
Other directors of Emerdata include Rebekah and Jennifer Mercer, daughters of the U.S. hedge fund chief and billionaire Robert Mercer, who funded Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica, which grew out of SCL Group, was founded in 2014 with a $15 million investment from Mercer, whose daughter Rebekah sits on the firm’s board of directors. Steve Bannon was also a co-founder. Back when he was still a White House adviser, Bannon pushed Prince’s plan to privatize U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. Robert Mercer was also the primary funder of the Make America #1 PAC, to which Prince and his mother contributed $200,000. That political action committee in turn paid Cambridge Analytica over $1.5 million in 2016.
The new U.S. National Security Adviser, John Bolton, is also linked to Cambridge Analytica. Bolton’s Super PAC has paid Cambridge Analytica more than $1.1 million since 2014 for “research” and “survey research.” Last year, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, John Bolton boasted that his Super PAC’s implementation of “advanced psychographic data” would help elect filibuster-proof majorities in 2018.
Erik Prince works well with autocratic leaders, dictators, occupying militaries, and dodgy regimes. Put another way, he is an über-libertarian. It is as if the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute hooked up after meeting at a Friedrich Hayek lecture and out popped Erik Frankenprince. According to Robert Young Pelton, a perceptive observer of his work:
Prince’s father got very committed to supporting religious and conservative causes after his first heart attack. Religion and business are transnational forces with money and propaganda as the weapon to shape opinion legislation and elect candidates.
When their candidate is not in power they use information operations, influence, lobbying and money to attack the left. Ironically creating a Soviet style environment in which “dirty tricks”, propaganda and insider deceit are put into play. Since they all study the Soviets they emulate their tricks. Prince’s history with Dana Rohrabacher, Jack Wheeler, Paul Behrends, Jack Abramoff and Olly North are worth reading just for the mirror imaging of Soviet duplicity to create right wing movements worldwide. His autobiography was originally written by a professor of Soviet propaganda.
Prince’s actions in the past several years confirm that he has long been interested in shaping public opinion. He is a savvy self-promoter. For instance, he allowed business partner Adam Ciralsky to publish an article in late 2009 in Vanity Fair about Prince’s work for the CIA in which he outed himself as a CIA asset, then cited the article in his book as proof.
Just in the past year, Prince pitched private security contractors as the low-budget way to fight the war in Afghanistan, an idea he published on The New York Times op-ed page. Then he reportedly pitched a global assassination and intel network to circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies. After such proposals, supporting white-collar data nerds to slice and dice the American electorate’s voting preferences must seem like a cakewalk. And, after all, companies like Cambridge Analytica are just as important to regime change as hired guns. As a New Yorker article noted, “the ethical difference between outright electoral corruption and psychographics is largely a matter of degree. Both are shortcuts that warp the process into something small and dirty.”
Prince and Disinformation
In the past Prince accused Huma Abedin of being a terrorist in the employ of the Muslim Brotherhood and claimed he had insider knowledge of why former FBI Director James Comey reopened the investigation into the issue of Clinton’s email server just 11 days before the 2016 election. As this 2017 article notes, Prince “went public as part of a calculated propaganda campaign in a November 4 Breitbart News interview, making a host of wild and demonstrably false allegations in connection with the Weiner/Clinton revelations.”
Prince tells Breitbart that he has learned what is in the newly discovered emails from well-placed sources in the NYPD, and claims that it includes evidence of “money laundering” and of a Clinton “sex island” with “under-age sex slaves” that is “so disgusting…”
None of these assertions held up, but for the next four days they would spread like wildfire on fake news sites and stoke the renewed cries of “lock her up.”
Prince’s accusations were so over the top that if he’d been a dog people would think he had rabies.
In 2016, he made numerous appearances on the Breitbart’s SiriusXM radio show, praising Trump. Robert Mercer was a major investor in Breitbart News, back when Steve Bannon was running it. Rebekah Mercer is also on the board of the Moving Picture Institute, the non-profit that produced Erik Prince’s film about his Somali adventure.
Last year, Prince suspected that George Soros was trying to orchestrate an effort to sabotage the Trump administration through a so-called “Purple Revolution.” This campaign of resistance was purported to have begun in the moments right after the election, spurred along—supposedly—by Hillary Clinton and her husband.
Erik Prince didn’t invent big data or behavioral-science-based Facebook apps. But given his willingness to spout big lies and support influence-shaping operations, he has shown a clear interest in circumventing the democratic process. If he can’t directly influence a government with his mercenary forces, he will gladly do so indirectly, with his new disinformation mercenaries. Perhaps it’s time to give Prince a new name: Private Rabid Influence Contractor King (PRICK).