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Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix suspended amid hidden-camera expose

by Adam Edelman /  / Updated 
Image: Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica arrives at the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London
Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica arrives at the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London on March 20, 2018.Henry Nicholls / Reuters

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Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, the political data firm that has been the focus of a series of investigative reports by NBC News' U.K. partner, ITN Channel 4 News, has been suspended, the company announced Tuesday.

"In the view of the board, Mr. Nix's recent comments secretly recorded by ITN Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation," Cambridge Analytica said in a statement. The company also said it had launched an independent investigation into Nix.

Nix's suspension came amid a multipart hidden-camera expose by ITN Channel 4.

Long a company of interest in the Trump-Russia investigation, the firm came under fresh scrutiny this past weekend after the company's former director of data research, Christopher Wylie, revealed how the firm had mined data from at least 50 million Facebook users.

Meanwhile, Nix, in a series of interviews with ITN Channel 4 reporters who had posed as potential clients interested in affecting the Sri Lankan elections, revealed deceptive methods employed by the company, including bribes, blackmail and misinformation campaigns. The findings were first broadcast by the network on Monday.

In a new segment released Tuesday by ITN Channel 4, Nix ripped members of the House Intelligence Committee, who, as part of their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, interviewed him in 2017.

"I went to speak to them and the Republicans asked three questions. Five minutes, done. The Democrats asked two hours of questions," Nix told ITN Channel 4 News.

"They're politicians, they're not technical. They don't understand how it works," he said. "They don't understand because the candidate never, is never involved. He's told what to do by the campaign team."

Nix said he felt the Democrats on the committee were motivated by "sour grapes," on account of having lost the election.

He also described how the firm used "proxy organizations" to get its messages out without being revealed as the source.

"Sometimes you can use proxy organizations who are already there. You feed them," Nix said. "They are civil society organizations. ... Charities or activist groups, and we use them — feed them the material and they do the work. … We just put information into the bloodstream to the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to watch it take shape. And so this stuff infiltrates the online community and expands but with no branding — so it's unattributable, untrackable."

Nix also said his company did "all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting" for the Trump campaign. "We ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy."

He added that his company employed a secret email system where messages actually self-destruct.

"No one knows we have it, and secondly we set our … emails with a self-destruct timer. … So you send them and after they've been read, two hours later, they disappear," he said. "There's no evidence, there's no paper trail, there's nothing."

Publicly, the company advertises its ability to build "psychographic" profiles that can microtarget social media political advertising to people based on traits like "extroversion" or "neuroticism." The firm received a $15 million investment from wealthy Republican donor Robert Mercer, who also funded the conservative website Breitbart while Steve Bannon — who later became chief executive of Trump's presidential campaign — was at the helm.

In a statement to NBC News Tuesday, Cambridge Analytica said it had been "completely transparent about our simultaneous work on both political campaigns and political action committees (including publicly declaring our work on both with FEC filings)" and maintained it was "committed to supporting and assisting the House Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian interference in the election in any way that we can."

"C.A. is not under investigation, and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the company," the company said. "They deny any involvement in the alleged Russian attempts and say such an allegation is entirely false."

Meanwhile, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told NBC News that Nix's portrayal of his GOP colleagues on the panel was “all too accurate.”

"We have serious questions about how accurate Mr. Nix was in his testimony. But you know, my colleagues had a habit of asking three questions: Did you conspire, did you collude, did you coordinate with Russians? And if the answer was no, they were pretty much done," Schiff said in an interview.

Schiff said Democrats' requests to bring Nix back before the panel, and to seek testimony from other Cambridge executives, were rejected by Republicans. But he noted that a Cambridge whistleblower has agreed to be interviewed by Democrats as they continue their investigation without GOP input.

"And if his testimony is what it has been reported, then it's deeply at odds with Mr. Nix’s testimony. And we’re going to need to get to the bottom of it," Schiff said. "It certainly appears that Mr. Nix and Cambridge Analytica misused the private data of tens of millions of Americans."

The chairman of the House Intelligence committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., declined to answer NBC News' question about the new Channel 4 report.

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