Israeli hackers offered Cambridge Analytica, the data collection firm that worked on U.S. President Donald Trump's election campaign, material on two politicians who are heads of state, the Guardian reported Wednesday, citing witnesses.
According to the report, the hackers obtained the materials by hacking the private email accounts of the two politicians.
Executives at Cambridge Analytica – including CEO Alexander Nix – instructed the staff to use the materials provided by the hackers in election campaigns in Nigeria and St. Kitts and Nevis, citing multiple sources.
According to the report, in Cambridge Analytica employees met Israeli cybersecurity contractors at their London office. The Israelis reportedly gave them a USB stick containing what they said were hacked emails. The employees were told to search the data for incriminating material that could be used to damage the opponent of then-Nigeria President Jonathan Goodluck, who hired the firm. Goodluck lost the election to Opposition Leader Muhammadu Buhari.
People “freaked out,” one employee is quoted as saying. “They wanted to have nothing to do with it.”
The same Israeli crew met with Cambridge Analytica staffers in early 2015, offering private information on the St Kitts and Nevis politician Timothy Harris, now the prime minister, the report said.
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The sources said they suspected that the data was stolen and refused to handle it. “Nobody wanted to have anything to do with it,” one employee is quoted as saying.
The report said that SCL Elections, Cambridge Analytica's parent company, denied using hacked or stolen personal information.
Cambridge Analytica is under fire for harvesting the private information of millions of Facebook users in order to sway voters. The firm reportedly used various tricks to entrap the rivals of their clients.
On Tuesday, Britain's Channel 4 News published a video which secretly taped executives from the company admitting that they used British and Israeli spies, honey traps and fake news campaigns to help their clients.
“It sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these are things that don’t necessarily need to be true as long as they’re believed,” CEO Nix is recorded as saying in one exchange, describing the types of tricks employed by the firm.
"We use some British companies, we use some Israeli companies," Nix was quoted as saying by British media. "From Israel. Very effective in intelligence gathering."
The New York Times and The Observer of London reported over the weekend that Cambridge Analytica exploited information from over 50 million Facebook users as it was developing techniques to support 2016's election bid. The newspapers reported that the data breach was one of the largest in the history of Facebook.
Cambridge Analytica has ties to both former Trump chief counselor Steve Bannon and Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale.
Facebook suspended the company on Friday after finding that it had violated its data privacy policies, preventing it from buying ads or administering client pages.
Cambridge Analytica said it strongly denies the media claims, and that it deleted all Facebook data it obtained from a third-party app in 2014 after learning the information did not adhere to data protection rules.