A state department official confirmed its Global Engagement Center (GEC) branch has a $500,000 contract with Strategic Communications Laboratories, a British analytics firm and the parent company of Cambridge Analytica.
“SCL, in particular SCLDefence, has done work for other parts of the U.S. government in the past as well and is a major company in the field of research and analytics,” a State Department spokesperson told Defense One. “Global Engagement Center does have a contract with the Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) Group to provide research and analytical support in connection with our mission to counter terrorist propaganda and disinformation overseas.”
The GEC was established under the Obama administration in 2016 to counter propaganda and misinformation from terrorist organizations. The contract, submitted in January 2017, was reportedly given to the SCL to find people who might be susceptible to ISIS recruitment.
According to its website, the GEC has established anti-propaganda programs on various social media sites, satellite TV, radio, film, and print. Since Trump took office, the department was handed $120 million to prevent Russian and state election meddling following the 2016 presidential election. Under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was fired last week, the department didn’t spend any of the funds.
The status of the contract given to the SCL is listed as “fully executed” and states all funding was received, according to government contract website GovTribe.
The SCL has come under fire for collecting the personal information of 50 million Facebook users and giving it to Cambridge Analytica, its spinoff branch. The company harvested the data with the help of Cambridge professor Aleksandr Kogan and his company Global Science Research, which used a personality test app called thisisyourdigitallife to learn more about Facebook users. After receiving the data without permission, Cambridge Analytica created a powerful software that was designed to influence Facebook users’ votes.
Facebook responded to the potentially illegal sharing of data by banning Cambridge Analytica and the SCL Group from its platform. The beleaguered social giant is now considering legal action.
“We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons,” Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie told The Observer. “That was the basis that the entire company was built on.”
Wylie, who went public with the allegations last week, briefly addressed the contract in an interview with the Guardian.
“It’s insane,” he said. “The company has created psychological profiles of 230 million Americans. And now they want to work with the Pentagon? It’s like Nixon on steroids.”
We have reached out to the State Department and will update this article if we hear back.