WASHINGTON — The Justice Division and the F.B.I. are investigating Cambridge Analytica, the now-defunct political knowledge agency, and have sought to query former workers and banks that dealt with its enterprise, in line with an American official and different folks aware of the inquiry.
Prosecutors have questioned potential witnesses in current weeks, telling them that there’s an open investigation into Cambridge Analytica — which labored on President Trump’s election and different Republican campaigns in 2016 — and “related U.S. individuals.” However the prosecutors supplied few different particulars, and the inquiry seems to be in its early levels, with investigators looking for an outline of the corporate and its enterprise practices.
The investigation compounds the woes of a agency that has come underneath intense scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators in america and Britain since The New York Instances and Observer in London reported in March that it had harvested personal knowledge from greater than 50 million Fb profiles, and that it could have violated American election legal guidelines. This month, Cambridge Analytica introduced that it will shut down and declare chapter, saying that unfavourable press and cascading federal and state investigations had pushed away clients and made it unimaginable for the agency to stay in enterprise.
Cambridge Analytica, the Justice Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to remark.
The corporate, whose principal proprietor is the rich Republican donor Robert Mercer, provided instruments that it claimed may determine the personalities of American voters and affect their conduct. Its so-called psychographic modeling methods, which had been constructed partly with the info harvested from Fb, underpinned Cambridge’s work for the Trump marketing campaign in 2016.
However the agency discovered itself on the heart of a trans-Atlantic furor after the Instances and Observer articles appeared. It was then dealt one other blow when a British News channel broadcast undercover video wherein Alexander Nix, the corporate’s suspended chief government, instructed that the corporate had used seduction and bribery to entrap politicians and affect international elections.
The federal investigation in america seems to concentrate on the corporate’s monetary dealings — investigators have reached out to the corporate’s banks, as an example — and the way it acquired and used private knowledge pulled from Fb and different sources, in line with the American official, who was briefed on the inquiry, and different folks aware of it.
As well as, the investigators have contacted Fb, mentioned the official, who spoke on the situation of anonymity to debate the investigation. The official wouldn’t present another particulars, and Fb declined to remark.
In an indication of the inquiry’s scope, one of many prosecutors concerned is the assistant chief of the Justice Division’s securities and monetary fraud division, Brian Kidd. The hassle is being assisted by not less than one agent who investigates cybercrime for the F.B.I., these folks mentioned.
Mr. Kidd traveled to London this month with one other Justice Division prosecutor and an F.B.I. agent to interview Christopher Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica worker who has emerged as one of many agency’s fiercest critics.
“I can verify that I’ve been contacted by the F.B.I. and the Division of Justice, and answered preliminary questions,” Mr. Wylie mentioned in a short interview. “We plan to satisfy once more to supply substantive solutions to the investigators.”
It was not clear whether or not the investigation is tied to the inquiry being led by Robert S. Mueller III, the particular counsel, who’s inspecting whether or not Mr. Trump or any of his associates aided Russia’s effort to intrude within the presidential election. Prosecutors from Mr. Mueller’s group questioned not less than two Cambridge executives final December in Washington, in line with one firm official.
The worker, who requested to stay nameless to explain confidential inside issues, added that the inquiry gave the impression to be perfunctory. There have been no different concrete indicators from Mr. Mueller’s group that Cambridge is a spotlight of their efforts.
The Justice Division’s investigation is operating parallel to a separate investigation by the Nationwide Crime Company of Britain. There, investigators are inspecting a spread of allegations, together with whether or not Cambridge Analytica workers sought to bribe international officers, destroyed proof, hacked computer systems and violated Britain’s Information Safety Act.
Mr. Wylie mentioned he had been cooperating with the Nationwide Crime Company. He has additionally supplied testimony and inside Cambridge Analytica paperwork to Parliament.
“There may be a global investigation being coordinated by the Nationwide Crime Company in Britain, and I intend to be as useful and cooperative as I can,” he mentioned.
Cambridge Analytica has denied utilizing Fb knowledge on the 2016 marketing campaign. An inside audit commissioned by Cambridge described Mr. Nix’s statements within the video as an exaggeration.
Cambridge Analytica grew out of the SCL Group, a well-established British firm that specialised in psychological analysis for protection and intelligence companies but additionally labored on election campaigns, mainly in creating international locations.
In 2014, SCL executives persuaded Mr. Mercer to bankroll a brand new United States-based agency, Cambridge Analytica, that may break into the rising political knowledge market with a promising new product: psychological profiles of tens of millions of American voters. The brand new firm was overseen by Mr. Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, after which adviser, Stephen Okay. Bannon, each of whom went on to get pleasure from influential positions in Mr. Trump’s circle earlier than the president’s break with Mr. Bannon this yr.
Additionally in 2014, a contractor for the brand new agency used quiz apps and different applications to assemble personal profile info from as many as 87 million Fb customers, knowledge former Cambridge workers mentioned supplied the essential foundation for the brand new firm’s voter profiles. The Instances additionally reported in March that the corporate had despatched personnel from Canada and Europe to work on varied campaigns within the 2014 midterm elections and in 2016 campaigns, elevating questions on Cambridge’s compliance with federal election regulation, which limits the involvement of noncitizens in election campaigns.
Over the previous yr, Cambridge’s efforts to interrupt into industrial knowledge and advertising and marketing work had suffered from the corporate’s affiliation with Mr. Trump, in line with former workers. And within the months earlier than shutting down, Mr. Nix, the Mercer household and SCL’s house owners had thought-about new ventures collectively.
One new agency, a British holding firm referred to as Emerdata, was fashioned partly to herald new traders, in line with a former worker. Emerdata’s administrators, in line with public information, got here to incorporate Johnson Ko Chun Shun, a Hong Kong financier and enterprise associate of Erik Prince, founding father of the personal safety agency previously generally known as Blackwater.
Mr. Ko and Mr. Prince have hyperlinks to the Chinese language authorities: Citic, a state-owned Chinese language monetary conglomerate that for many years has employed the little kids of the Communist Get together’s elite households, is a serious investor in Frontier Companies Group, Mr. Ko and Mr. Prince’s Africa-focused logistics firm.