Former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix Testifies Before Parliament

During a nearly four-hour grilling before Parliament Wednesday, Alexander Nix, former CEO of the now defunct data firm Cambridge Analytica, faced the ghosts of his past.

In the green-carpeted room where the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee interrogated Nix for the second time this year, the audience included Christopher Wylie, the former Cambridge Analytica employee who blew the whistle on the surreptitious harvesting of up to 87 million Facebook users’ data; Carole Cadwalladr, the Guardian reporter who broke the story; Shahmir Sanni, another whistleblower who alleges that the Brexit VoteLeave campaign flouted campaign finance laws during the referendum; and David Carroll, an American academic who has filed a legal suit against Cambridge Analytica, seeking access to his personal data file.

But of all of the individuals who have challenged Nix over the last three months, the one whose words have gotten him in the most trouble may well be Nix himself. In February, just a month before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke open in earnest, Nix testified before this very committee about Cambridge Analytica’s work. Months later, following steady revelations about the company’s misdeeds, the committee decided that Nix’s initial answers were at best incomplete, and at worst, intentionally misleading.

The questioning started contentiously, as committee chairman Damian Collins declined to let Nix deliver an opening statement that he said would clarify misconceptions about his prior testimony. When Nix told the eight members gathered that he had to “insist” on giving the statement, Collins swiftly shut him down. “I’m sorry, sir,” Collins said. “It’s not your place to insist.”

Throughout his testimony, Nix worked to frame himself as the target of an unfounded international smear campaign coordinated by an ex-employee with an axe to grind (Wylie), a British journalist who wanted to undo the Brexit referendum (Cadwalladr), and an American public that’s already divided over President Donald Trump’s election, which Cambridge Analytica helped enable.

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“I’m sorry if the members of this committee are unhappy with the outcome of the referendum. I’m sorry if the members of the committee are unhappy with Donald Trump being President of the United States,” he said. “But you can’t simply put forward your prejudices onto me and make sweeping assumptions about our involvement with a particular campaign simply because that’s what you want to believe.”

The members laughed in response.

“You have attempted to paint yourself as the victim,” Brendan O’Hara, a member of the Scottish National Party, told Nix during the hearing. “By no stretch of the imagination can you be seen as the victim.”

Nix’s inquisitors repeatedly asked him to address his past statements, including his assertion in February of this year that none of Cambridge Analytica’s data came from Global Science Research, the third-party firm that Nix has since admitted collected Facebook data on Cambridge Analytica’s behalf. Nix chalked up the assertion to a misunderstanding, saying that he believed the committee was asking him whether Cambridge Analytica was still using that data. “Clearly I accept some of my answers could have been clearer, but I assure you, I did not intend to mislead you,” he said. (In a 2015 interview with WIRED, Nix also stated that Cambridge Analytica did not use Facebook data or harvest it through a third party app, as reported in a story in The Guardian that year.)

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