Exclusive: Hacking Democracy – Cambridge Analytica Turns to Pakistan

The large foreign data firm Cambridge Analytica (CA) has turned to Pakistan as its services were hired by ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to rescue his political career and to make sure PML-N win in upcoming general election. CA firm was hired during the Panama scandal case, as part of the campaign to smear the judiciary. However, after disqualification from public office by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif also instructed CA to help promote his PML-N party throughout the current election cycle.

Cambridge Analytica is a data-driven campaigner firm. According to its website, the firm says it “uses data to change audience behaviour”. The political section of this firm’s website claims, “We find your voters and move them to action. CA Political has redefined the relationship between data and campaigns. By knowing your electorate better, you can achieve greater influence while lowering overall costs. There are no longer any experts except Cambridge Analytica.”

This firm was also hired by the Donald Trump for his presidential campaign. The Make America Great Again slogan was said to be invented by this firm and played a key role in the victory of Trump as CA claims to have 5,000 data points on over 230 million American voters. With these points, CA built up a custom target audience, and then used this crucial information to engage, persuade, and motivate voters to act in favor of Trump.

Some whistle blowers pointed out that this firm also played an essential role in the Brexit event. The Kenyan newspaper The Star also reported that President Uhuru Kenyatta hired this firm to win a second term of his presidency in 2017. After Trump and Kenya, this firm turned to Pakistan at the behest of Nawaz Sharif, who was disqualified from public office by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.  He is also facing trial in Pakistan’s courts on corruption charges.

The ongoing well organized data-driven campaign against Pakistan’s judiciary has hinted that this firm has introduced a new online targeting campaign by controlling/manipulating social and main stream media in Pakistan. Nawaz’s party is still in ruling the country, so through huge government advertisements, they are controlling mainstream media.

Meddling Media

Biased news reporting against the judiciary has hinted that under the procurement of Nawaz, CA has taken control over Pakistani news rooms. The trend of fake news in Pakistan was accelerated by this big data firm through biased reporting.  They are trying to manipulate data and the people who come into contact with this data for their own purposes. Pakistani electronic media is still immature and it always toes the line of big western corporate mainstream media. There is no doubt that the Jang/Geo group is a trendsetter in Pakistan’s media while the owner of this group, Mir Shakeel Ur Rahman is considered to be the godfather of Pakistani media. He maintains a strict grip on journalist associations and unions. He also controls Pakistan’s Broadcaster Association (PBA) through his son.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has given him a contempt court notice on the spreading of fake news regarding judiciary. After court proceedings, during press talks, he responded to my question by saying that ‘manipulation is my business and I will never give up this business’. Now it has become an evident fact that MSR takes foreign funding to manipulate Pakistan’s in-house affairs with its propaganda media machines.  Patriotic circles and even some segments within Pakistan’s army are accusing him of promoting a western agenda inside Pakistan. Pakistan’s largest IT Company Axact attempted to counter this foreign funding agenda by introducing an alternative patriotic narrative on the BOL and PAK media outlets. But unfortunately, MSR attempted to prevent the pro-Pakistani voice of BOL TV by using its influence on state machinery. BOL’s revolution inside Pakistani media industry has become the victim of western fake news as MSR propagated false narratives against the Chief Executive of BOL, Shoaib Sheikh. As a result Sheikh went to jail based on a fake case registered under the influence of ‘the media godfather’.

More concerning is the fact that MSR, despite his open admission to run a smear campaign against judiciary and cases against his misdemeanor towards the honorable institutions,  is out in the open defiantly proceeding with this government funded propaganda while his cases are either closing down without any consequences or  getting sidetracked swiftly ; whereas Bol’s Shoaib Shaikh, whose channel has been a proponent of Judiciary, has been denied a protective bail– a first in 70 years, & has been locked up with provision of justice to him delayed. This bizarre parallel has become a trigger for trepidation amongst people from all walks of life including the judges and lawyers themselves along with journalists, bureaucrats, intellectuals as well as common men; as to why there has been such discrimination & seemingly contrasting treatment in the matter of both of these media houses.

Disqualified Nawaz gave his media publicity contract to MSR as it was opposition parties that blamed MSR for meddling in the previous general election of 2013. Now, as a media partner of Nawaz’s political party PML (N), MSR is aiding foreign big data firm CA to build anti-State narrative in their Dubai based office. All government advertisements, which are the backbone of the Pakistani media industry are distributing through MSR and its subsidiary PBA to promote the anti-state narrative crafted by CA. Therefore, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has taken suo moto action against the government advertisements for both electronic and print media outlets.

Meddling in the Election

Despite the anti-judiciary campaign, CA and its local partner Jang and Geo are attempting to level the political ground for the victory of Nawaz political party PML (N) in upcoming general election. MSR’s Media group already played a key role in the previous victory of Nawaz’s party. MSR is behind the scene of every political success of Nawaz but now the involvement of a foreign firm has caused the sounding of alarm bells among pro-Pakistani circles. Many believe that it is an attempt to weaken Pakistani democratic structure.

In fact, the modernizations of this 21st century brought us the concept of hybrid war against a targeted state audience without having to use physical forces. Modern technologies, media and big data software have become the tools of this hybrid war. Meddling in elections and hacking democracies by igniting data-driven campaigns and using software to further these goals, have become common phenomena of this century.  Nawaz’s hired firm pioneers expertise in the meddling elections and hacking democracies. This has included the American presidential election, Brexit voting and Kenyan presidential election. All of these are symptomatic of this modern phenomenon.

Democracy in Pakistan was already the victim of dictatorship and now this new attempt of data driven campaigns against Pakistani voters will bring more chaos and instability to Pakistan, as Pakistan’s state institutions are now under hybrid threats from this foreign firm. This firm has been given the task to change the behavior of Pakistani people against judiciary and state intuitions, as they are disseminating false information saying that judiciary has become a de-facto political party against Nawaz and his party. The daughter of Nawaz clearly said in public gatherings that the upcoming election will be contested in masses against judiciary’s verdicts regarding the accountability of Nawaz’s corruption.

Data Harvesting

Unfortunately, despite the disqualification of Nawaz, his party still rules over Pakistan and the Prime Minster Shahid Khaqqan Abbasi publically said that disqualified Nawaz is still his Prime Minister. In fact, Nawaz is still running the government of Pakistan and he has collected data of all Pakistani citizens and handed over this data mining foreign firm. The data of all Pakistani students which was collected by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan was given to CA, while data collected from National Database Registration Authority and Election Commission of Pakistan regarding the voters and constituencies are also given to this firm in his Dubai working office.

CA has already collected data of Pakistani social media users and is using it to target Pakistan’s judiciary online.  Bluntly speaking, Nawaz is attempting to save his political career by pushing Pakistan towards a danger zone.  Foreign firm can use this provided and collected data to destabilize Pakistan. Suppose if in future India, the traditional rival of Pakistan hires this firm, then what will be happen? Pakistan’s opposition leader and former President Asif Ali Zardari has already exposed Nawaz’s plot of “Greater Punjab”. As he said, “Nawaz Sharif wanted businesses of his own and his friends to thrive on both sides of the (Pak-India) border. “(India’s Prime Minister Narendra) Modi doesn’t come on my invitation. We have good relations with India’s Gandhi family but we don’t invite them over,” he said.

“Why people (from India) come here on their invitation? Their clothes are coming here and their products are coming here. We need to ask why,” he said while replying to a question pertaining to why there is an impression that Nawaz Sharif has a soft spot for India.

Zardari’s warning is very solemn and Pakistani authorities have to look into this matter very seriously. Being a patriotic Pakistani, I was shocked that CA attempt to hack Pakistani democracy. Therefore it was my legal obligation to be a whistle blower about this serious issue.  Hence why, after breaking the story, I approached to Pakistan’s future leader Bilawal Bhutto and questioned him about Nawaz’s hiring of this data-mining firm. He responded to my question by saying that he has heard about it and this is serious accusation. If Nawaz did it, then it is against the sovereignty and integrity of the state. No one can be allowed to provide data of Pakistani citizens to foreign firms. It is a crime against state. State Institutions have to act properly to prevent this foreign firm so that Integrity of Pakistani Judiciary and Its voters should be saved.

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.

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