Scholars in the News

Fox Fellow Clint Watts Cited by Snopes on Russia’s Use of Data Analytics


Writing for the Daily Beast, Clint Watts, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation counterterrorism agent and fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who has been key in delineating Russia’s active measures in the digital world, noted that regardless of whether Cambridge Analytica had any interactions with Russian influence agents in the 2016 election, they at least had overlapping goals (as in Brexit; the Kremlin has an interest in breaking apart the European Union). He wrote:

“Some will claim that Russia might be seeking voter rolls to determine how to influence certain segments of the electorate in favor of Trump, but American social-media accounts openly provide far richer data on voters’ preferences and vulnerabilities for influence. Just ask Jared Kushner, his data-analytics wunderkinds, and their partner, Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica’s primary backers, Robert and daughter Rebeka Mercer, simultaneously headed a pro-Trump PAC dubbed Make America Number 1, which was headed by White House counsel Kellyanne Conway. The PAC doled out $20 million in 2016 — and more to Cambridge Analytica than for any other expenditure. Trump White House Senior Adviser Steve Bannon sat on Cambridge Analytica’s board while running operations at Breitbart before becoming Trump’s campaign CEO.

Russia didn’t need to scout voter rolls to influence them for Trump on Facebook; Cambridge Analytica performed that targeting on its own, delivering stories based on hacked materials to Trump voters — doing the Kremlin’s work for them.”

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