Magazine article The Spectator

Cambridge Analytica and 'Mr Passports'

Magazine article The Spectator

Cambridge Analytica and 'Mr Passports'

Article excerpt

Cambridge Analytica and 'Mr Passports'

The Cambridge Analytica story is full of hot air. Everybody delights in talking about how scary Facebook is, and lots of people believe the Donald Trump and Brexit campaigns somehow hoodwinked whole electorates -- because, well, how else could they have won? We hear about creepy and sophisticated-sounding techniques such as 'micro-targeting' and 'psychographics'. But there is a far bigger story, which goes beyond the antics of Cambridge Analytica or its parent company, Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL Group), and other such businesses. It's about how organisations from the developed world exploit small countries to advance dubious interests and make masses of money.

Take passport-selling. It may sound illicit, but in fact 'citizenship-by-investment' is a lawful global industry worth about $2 billion. Advanced countries do it too, in various ways: Britain offers 'Tier 1' residency visas in exchange for £2 million, for instance, and residents in turn can apply for citizenship. Representatives from the industry often say that their trade is a legitimate resource for high-net-worth individuals, and who doesn't love high-net-worth individuals? But such enterprises will always attract unsavoury characters: the sort of people in the market for a second, third or even fourth passport who aren't always welcome everywhere.

The king of this industry -- or 'Mr Passports' -- is Dr Christian Kalin, the chairman of Henley & Partners. Kalin presents himself as a progressive visionary. Suave and articulate, he gives speeches about moving the world beyond simplistic notions of nationhood. To his critics, he's an upmarket Arthur Daley flogging passports to dodgy rich people while trying to interfere in elections for the benefit of mysterious investors. The Spectator has seen documents that offer startling insights into his world -- and his activities.

About ten years ago Kalin struck up a relationship with the now notorious Alexander Nix of Cambridge Analytica: not a 'formal working relationship', his company says, 'we did, however, exchange some information and ideas with a view to better understanding the political landscape in the Caribbean.' SCL worked on a successful campaign to win the 2010 general election in St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean, where a 'citizenship-by-investment' programme, pioneered in 2006 by Henley & Partners, had brought millions to the region. There SCL practised the dirty tricks -- or 'counter ops' -- that Nix was caught bragging about to undercover reporters in last week's Channel 4 exposé.

Nix was not exaggerating. One of the dirty tricks was a sting operation in St Kitts and Nevis. SCL filmed the opposition leader, Lindsay Grant, being offered a bribe by an under-cover operative posing as a real-estate investor. Grant didn't exactly help himself by accepting the bribe and even suggesting which offshore bank accounts the money could be paid into.

The same year, SCL and Kalin worked together on an another election campaign, this time in St Vincent and the Grenadines. (SCL tells clients they don't lose. Not true: they lost this one.) There, they worked with Arnhim Eustace, leader of the opposition. SCL billed Eustace's New Democratic Party (NDP) more than $4 million, including $100,000 for 'counter operations'.

In emails seen by The Spectator, Kalin describes to Eustace what 'we could do with you once you are in government'. He even goes on to suggest what the candidate might say in his campaign. 'You might wish to discuss this with your strategists,' he tells Eustace, 'and think about what you may wish to include in your propaganda (having used this word, the below points are not propaganda but is very much a reality if you let us do it). …

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