The controversial UK campaign company was behind a covert contract designed to influence unwitting Sarawak voters into supporting BN, using secret ‘scientific’ and ‘behavioural’ methods that claimed to “innoculate” target communities against ideas promoted by the opposition, such as a higher petroleum royalty for the state……
“This paper describes a Social Intelligence project that was initially conceptualized and crystalised through a series of discussions and meetings by representatives from SGM’s Office and Transformation Office of GSC.”
[SCL/Cambridge Analytica position paper sent to Petronas October 2014]
As the scandal over the covert political consultancy and election agency Cambridge Analytica, also known as SCL (Strategic Communications Laboratories Ltd) engulfs clients across the globe, the Malaysian BN Government has issued a total denial that it ever engaged with the company:
“Contrary to media reports, neither Cambridge Analytica nor its parent company SCL Group has ever – now or in the past – been contracted, employed or paid in any way by Barisan Nasional, the Prime Minister’s Office or any part of the Government of Malaysia.
“However, the SCL Group country representative today confirmed to the Government that Cambridge Analytica’s advice on the 2013 general election was provided personally to (Datuk Seri) Mukhriz Mahathir, PPBM deputy president.” [The Star]
The denial has been interpreted as an attempt to distance BN fron SCL/Cambridge Analytica, whilst tarnishing the opposition leader Dr Mahathir by saying his son did employ the company.
Indeed, a former media advisor to Mukhriz Mahathir, who is now the SCL representative in KL, has waded in to confirm that company has indeed boasted that it assisted BN’s win during the Kedah state election, something Mukhriz denies knowledge of.
However, Sarawak Report has viewed considerable evidence, which shows that SCL has been involved far more extensively in Malaysia’s elections, working covertly behind the scenes to boost BN’s chances also in the Sarawak state elections of 2016. These include a $2 million (RM10) project proposal to be funded by Petronas, which specifically set out to covertly identify and influence target voters into supporting BN and rejecting PKR.
That campaign is in keeping with the company’s separate boasts, recorded by Channel 4 News, of having performed secretive operations in Malaysia to sway elections.
BN and Prime Minister Najib Razak, furthermore, has close ties with a key political player linked to the company, which is now at the centre of a worldwide row over its dirty tactics and secretive methods of pursuasion. British peer Lord Marland is one of the group of private shareholders, who are all closely linked to the right wing of the Conservative party.
Sarawak Report has studied the extensive documentation, including a series of pitches made to Petronas in 2014, detailing a $2 million project that was plainly directed at ensuring voters turned out for BN at the key up-coming Sarawak election.
The material not only reveals a worrying political bias on the part of Malaysia’s supposedly independent state petroleum company, effectively willing to offer financial support to BN’s election campaign, but it also provides disturbing evidence of a commercial background to blatant political advocacy that has been provided on behalf Prime Minister Najib Razak by prominent political figures in Britain since the outbreak of the scandal over 1MDB.
Lord Marland is generally recognised as Najib’s cheerleader in Whitehall and has been behind several image boosting, quasi-official events designed to bolster the disgraced Malaysian leader.
Earlier this week an undercover recording released by the UK’s Channel 4 News revealed SCL Director and Cambridge Analytica CEO, Alexander Nix boasting about his company’s dirty tactics, including entrapments by call girls and video’d ‘corruption stings’.
He and SCL’s political head, Paul Turnbull (ex-Bell Pottinger manager from South East Asia) also bragged they could secretly influence people’s emotional responses by using big data, now revealed as having been stolen from Facebook. During the recording Turnbull stated that SCL had employed these techniques in “Mexico and Malaysia”.
Alexander Nix has now been sacked and Britain’s Information Commissioner has applied to the courts for a warrant to search the company’s London Offices. It has left questions and accusations flying about which campaigns in Malaysia they were referring to.
The poster campaign in Kedah may be the answer provided by the Malaysian Government, however the thinly disguised proposal to Petronas seen by Sarawak Report was clearly an attempt to support BN at the state election in 2016 and smacks throughout of the covert operations boasted of by the SCL bosses, who claimed they often conduct campaigns under the guise of cover operations:
“Often if we are working we can set up fake IDs and websites – we can go is as students doing research projects .. we can be tourists, so many options. I’ve had lots of experience in this. We just used a separate organisation to do a very successful operation in an Eastern European country. No one knew they were there they just drift, they were just ghosted in, did the work, ghosted out” [Alexander Nix to Ch4 News]
According to the briefings provided to Petronas, the SCL campaign in Sarawak and Sabah was designed to gain information about people and their opinions without their knowledge and understanding, in order to identify voters who could be pursuaded to vote BN through the use of sophisticated psychological messaging. How this was of use to Petronas was inadequately explained:
Sarawak Report has obtained several documents, including a detailed proposal provided to Petronas in 2014, which clearly indicate that the state oil company was to be charged over $2 million (RM8 million) to undertake the secret operation. Techniques discussed included the targeting of key local opinion formers in swing constituencies in both Sarawak and Sabah to get them to encourage their supporters in favour of the ruling BN coalition.
The interests of Petronas are conflated with those of BN throughout the wording of the 85 page proposal, but again the reason for this is clearly contrived, except that the opposition parties had been campaigning for a greater royalty to be paid to the local states, which is opposed by BN.
The SCL campaign to target voters in Sarawak was scheduled to at the start of 2015, according to the documents, showing a clear timing with the key Sarawak election in mind.
It is clear that although this campaign was financed by public money, it was plainly intended to influence voting patterns in favour of the ruling party. In line with SCL’s boast that it acts behind the scenes, it would appear that in this case Petronas was to provide the front and foot the bill:
SCL’s prospectus for the Malaysia took place before the company had completed its harvest of Facebook ‘big data’, which was primarily targeted at the US Presidential election of 2016. Yet the company already boasted of unique, cutting edge, ‘scientific’ election influencing techniques, which SCL claimed had been developed by psychologists working at its “Behavioural Laboratory” in London.
These techniques, according to the prospectus, could enable the company to “innoculate” voters against proposals put forward by the opposition parties – much in the way that vaccinations innoculate a population against a virus.
The pitch makes clear that the plan was to perform this “innoculation” secretly, without communities’ knowledge or consent, using information gathered about them at a micro, individual level, using data and surveys provided largely through Malaysian official sources.
How SCL planned to influence these opinion formers once they had been identified is not specified in the documentation, beyond vague references to advanced behavioural analysis based on cultural ties and emotional leanings. Traditionally, BN has identified and paid such people handsomely.
One method for achieving ‘innoculation’ against the opposition’s ideas was described using the analogy of a vaccination. SCL would plant a weak and easily disproved version of the opposition’s policies (for example an even bigger oil royalty demand) in order to be able to ridicule and criticise it so as to turn people’s minds against the idea in advance of the opposition campaigners actually proposing it.
A further major concern is the assumption displayed by SCL that they would have the full apparatus of state information and also Petronas’s facilities at their disposal. This included access to Special Branch information about their target groups, as well as census, ID card and other sensitive government data.
Petronas was moreover instructed to provide full financial support to a plainly expensive parallel operation anctipated by the company, which was to target the wider Malaysian media in order to cultivate journalists into providing friendly coverage. These blandishments were to be paid for by the oil company.
SCL also offered a full ‘online facility’ providing blogging services in favour of its combined clients – Petronas, the Government and BN.
The extent to which this sometimes somewhat fanciful campaign pitch was actually effective in altering voting patterns in communities, which have for decades been under the thumb of BN for far more tranditional reasons (payment of headmen, bribes, threats) is of course questionable.
Moreover, the cutting edge information gathering techniques boasted of by SCL seem divorced from the reality of the situation on the ground in Borneo, where there is little internet availability.
Indeed, Sarawak Report believes that the bulk of the proposal reeks of the company’s long-established ‘cowboy’ reputation elsewhere. For example, in 2000 SCL and its group CEO and founder Nigel Oakes, were exposed and drummed out of a similar election campaign in Indonesia, where they were hired by the then President, who was losing the campaign.
Once again the SCL campaign was covert, with the company posing as an independent journalism institute, whilst attempting to promote the ruling party. The report by the Asian Wall Street Journal at the time indicated that the heavily funded campaign was ineffective in achieving its targets and seemed more designed towards impressing its desperate clients than genuinely affecting voters. The President lost.
However, SCL takes direct credit for the success of the 2013 BN state election campaign in Kedah in its pitch to ‘Petronas’ the following year:
“[Jan-May 2013] Malaysia SCL Elections supported Barisan National in Kedah State with a Targeted messaging campaign highlighting their school improvements since 2008. BN won Kedah back from Pakatan Rakyat in the 13th General Election and walked away from a successful campaign with wins in 21 out of 36 state seats and 10 out of 15 parliamentary seats in the state”
A question Malaysians will be asking is whether these local election pitches have acted as fore-runners to a bigger contract with the looming General Election, despite the denials of the Malaysian Government, whose track record in telling the truth has been deeply flawed under Najib Razak. If not, what is SCL’s KL office employed in doing?
Given the connections linked to SCL Sarawak Report believes there is an entirely separate concern over the hiring of SCL with Malaysia’s public money, which is that the objective could be construed as currying favour with the company’s clique of politically connected shareholders and directors.
Influence buying using Malaysia’s public money has been a signature activity of Najib’s Government over recent months as the Prime Minister has sought to mitigate the effects of his exposure as a major kleptocrat over 1MDB. Sarawak Report has exposed how the Malaysian Prime Minister has attempted to pass multi million dollar contracts to lobbyists in the United States, such as Obama’s fundraiser, Frank White (awarded a 1MDB solar power contract) and more recently Trump’s fundraiser, Elliot Broidy (awarded an ‘intelligence gathering contract’)?
One of the shareholders of SCL, Lord Jonathan Marland, has certainly played the role of a key advocate of Najib Razak with the current Conservative government for which he was previously a Minister and then Trade Envoy. His fellow shareholders at SCL are also all politically active and well connected to the right wing of the Conservative Party.
Marland has kept an ongoing close relationship with the BN Government of Malaysia, despite the 1MDB scandal. He has defended Najib Razak as “innocent until proven guilty” over 1MDB, despite evidence produced by the US Department showing how a billion dollars from the development fund went into Najib’s personal bank account in KL.
In July 2014, just before the issue of SCL’s Petronas pitch, Lord Marland resigned as then Prime Minister David Cameron’s Trade Envoy and set up a limited company confusingly named the Commonwealth Investment and Enterprise Council. Although the name might imply some kind of official Commonwealth status, it is in fact merely a small business entity.
Marland’s Wikipeida entry states he was then ‘made Chairman’ of the Council, whereas in fact, as the Director and 50% shareholder of the £2.00 company, he plainly accorded himself the title of Chairman.
The website of the Commonwealth Investment and Enterprise Council (CWIEC) is surprisingly uninformative about its limited company status in the ‘About Us’ section, preferring to concentrate on the apparent relationship with the Commonwealth Secretariat, which has provided the company with ‘small’ office space at its headquarters in Malborough House.
Indeed, the CWIEC appears to have acquired what it describes as “a mandate” to organise trade events for the Commonwealth Secretariat and says it is a not for profit company dedicated to boosting trade and enterprise within the Commonwealth. Notably, it was the CWIEC that organsied the face-saving Britain/Malaysia trade event for Najib at Malborough House in June 2016, shortly after the Department of Justice published its court filing over 1MDB that showed a billion dollars of borrowed cash had gone from the fund into Najib’s bank accounts.
That trade conference took place just two days after Cameron’s ‘Anti-Corruption Conference’ in London, which was in exactly the same location at Malborough House.
Questioned by Channel 4 News outside the controversial event, Lord Marland implied there could be no proof that Najib had taken the money, until his own appointed Attorney General launched a prosecution (thus ignoring the fact that Najib had just fired the previous AG, who had attempted to do just that).
Although the conference was described as non-official by UK government spokesmen, who claimed no ministers would attend, in the event Hugo Swire, then a Foreign Office Minister, none the less attended it. Swire at the time told the Wall Street Journal “I am not setting myself up as a judge and jury” on Najib, thus registering an apparent Government line towards the 1MDB affair.
Instead, Lord Marland described the conference as “a huge love-in” to attendees and took the opportunity to thank Najib for Malaysia’s investment in the Battersea Power Station in the following terms: “When our country was at its knees you came and invested”. The Battersea Power Station project, for which Marland takes personal credit, has since spiralled in costs to make it London’s most expensive ever development.
Last December, Lord Marland again visited Malaysia to “visit key business leaders and senior Government representatives” and to promote another upcoming trade meeting in London due next month.
During the visit to KL Marland was described as a ‘great supporter of Malaysia’ by his hosts, the CWEIC’s KL chief, Tony Collingridge, but there was no mention of SCL’s commercial activities or election consultancies promoting BN:
“A highlight of Lord Marland’s visit was his meetings with Malaysian Minister of Finance II, Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani and the Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. Both were delighted to meet with us and be briefed on CWEIC’s activities in advance of CHOGM 2018. They expressed support for the goals of the CWEIC in Malaysia and more widely, and spoke encouragingly about our plans for the Commonwealth Business Forum.
We were also pleased to be able to meet with the Secretary-General of the Malaysian Ministry of International Trade & Industry (MITI) and his team, to discuss their strategic partnership with the CWEIC.
Overall it was a hugely worthwhile visit for both myself as Malaysia Director and Lord Marland, who is a great supporter of Malaysia. There is a great deal of follow-up to be done as the CWEIC is clear that Malaysia holds a key role in the region and will be integral to economic growth in south-east Asia. [Tony Collingridge, Director Malaysia, CWEIC]
The newly appointed Director of the ‘Commonwealth Investment and Enterprise Council’ is none other than Hugo Swire MP, who took up the job after losing Foreign Office post in a government re-shuffle in late 2016. Swire has now been registered as a controlling individual of this limited company as of July 27th last year. The good relationship with the pseudo-official company has therefore provided valuable political support for Najib in the UK.
Sarawak Report therefore questions the apparent conflict between Marland’s not for profit activities, organising trade links with Commonwealth Countries and high profile events attended by government leaders, and the various secretive SCL election campaigns being conducted to keep those leaders in power like Malaysia.
We suggest that it is inappropriate that SCL/Cambridge Analytica, a company of which Marland is a shareholder, should be covertly pitching for multi-million dollar re-election contracts funded by Malaysian public money for the ruling party without the matter being declared. And we suggest that it throws new light on Lord Marland’s enthusiastic ‘friendship’ and support for the BN government, particularly when advocating Najib in the UK.
The UK government has raised eyebrows over its failure to publicly condemn 1MDB and straight after Najib visited Trump last September he flew on to visit Theresa May. We ask if lobbying was involved in promoting this reputation boosting visit, used by Najib to inform the Malaysian public that he is acceptable to world leaders despite 1MDB. If so, who was involved and were they paid?
SCL has also been linked to another controversial re-election campaign in support of the present Maltese government, whose alleged corruption has become a focus of international attention following the car bomb murder of a campaigning journalist, who had criticised that alleged corruption.
The Maltese Government has been also been promoted as a close partner of the CWIEC’s various not for profit activities to promote inter-Commonwealth Trade, again reflecting a somewhat under-declared relationship, whereby Lord Marland’s client at SCL has been caught up in image boosting activities linked to the Commonwealth Secretariat and the promotion of Britain’s new trade initiatives in the Commonwealth post-Brexit.
Lord Marland was a public campaigner in favour of Brexit and a donor to that campaign. Cambridge Analytica/ SCL was also hired by Nigel Farage to promote Brexit in the run up to the suprise referendum win, which has been substantially credited to the company’s successful use of new media big data targeting, which is now known to have been based on stolen Facebook material.
At the June 2016 Malaysia Trade Conference in London Marland told the Wall Street Journal that he didn’t want to “interfere” in Malaysian internal affairs by commenting on 1MDB.
On the other hand, over the course of the preceding months he appeared to have been quite comfortable with the concept of covertly interfering in Malaysian affairs by supporting BN’s re-election strategies in Sarawak through his private company SCL and indeed to take credit for BN’s re-election in Kedah in 2008.
Sarawak Report therefore asks whether SCL/Cambridge Analytica have any other campaigns currently underway in Malaysia that the public might be interested to know about?
In particular, are SCL’s big data techniques being used to influence Malaysia’s Facebook and other voters at the upcoming general election. If not, what is occupying the staff at the KL office at the present point of time?
What Sarawak Report is aware of is that in late 2016 SCL’s Geneva operative, one Nicolas Giannakopoulos, invited the Editor of this blog and several Malaysian opposition politicians to a ‘seminar’ supposedly officially hosted by the University of Geneva. In fact, as Sarawak Report exposed, the event was paid for by Giannakopoulos’s private businesses, which included his agency for SCL.
Sarawak Report and the opposition members of parliament found themselves pumped for information by Giannakopoulos about the progress of the 1MDB investigation and relationships between opposition groups. The event was also attended by documentary film makers, whose project Sarawak Report also exposed had been infiltrated by Najib’s intelligence gatherers.
Sarawak Report suggests that certain online new media campaigns, such as the present ‘Undi Rosak’ campaign, which has been viralled in Malaysia in order to encourage young people not to vote, display the classic hallmarks of a Cambridge Analytica operation designed to covertly influence the electorate.
As all election campaign consultants working for BN will know, the youth vote is the key danger for the ruling coalition and that to keep the younger generation out of the voting booths is a top target in this election campaign.
We suggest online users ought not be fooled by the targeted messaging that seeks to encourage Malaysians to give up their basic duty to vote and their one opportunity to get rid of a criminal regime.