Mike Flynn and Cambridge Analytica: Propaganda in 2017 and how we got here

By | | comments |
More revelations about Flynn's contacts with Russia all time (Image via

Disgraced former Trump security advisor Mike Flynn was also deeply involved with shadowy British technology firm Cambridge Analytica, writes Mel McCartney.

[Read Part One in this series: 'Is Cambridge Analytica the Liberal Party's 2019 Trump card?']

RECENTLY, I WROTE about Cambridge Analytica (CA) and its big data marketing tactics in the election of Donald Trump. I’ve since discovered that there is a lot more to this story than just that and so here we will be presenting a series of articles on that topic. More specifically, we will be uncovering what has led to the onset of fake news, alt-facts, disinformation and propaganda — not only in the media, but also in social media. Who are the major players and who stands to gain as a result? I will explore all of this and more in detailed research IA will be presenting in the very near future.

Michael Flynn is a retired American Army lieutenant general and was the first National Security Council advisor to be appointed by President Donald Trump. He was fired less than a month later, on 13 February this year, under a cloud of suspicion relating to what he said on a phone call at the White House to Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak. Mr Flynn told U.S. Vice President Mike Pence that the call merely consisted of small talk and holiday pleasantries. The White House, upon analysing the transcript of the wiretapped conversation, found that he had also had a discussion about sanctions imposed on Russia for interfering in the 2016 election on Mr Trump’s behalf.

The Pentagon was also investigating whether Mr Flynn had received payments from the Russian Government for a trip that he took to Moscow in 2015. The occasion was the tenth birthday celebration of the Russian Today (RT) television network, which is controlled by the Kremlin. United States intelligence agencies have been warning since 2012 that RT is a propaganda arm of the Russian government. Payments like this, without the consent of Congress, could violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which forbids former military officers from receiving money from a foreign government without U.S. consent. The FBI was also examining Mr Flynn’s White House phone calls. This was due to concerns that, in his attempts to hide what was said in the call, the Russians could blackmail him by threatening to expose him if he refused.

Mr Pence was angry at Mr Flynn as he had defended him in a number of television appearances about the phone call and he wasn’t impressed with him blaming it on his bad memory. Mr Pence was dubious about the bad memory excuse because of a similar experience late last year when, this time, he was defending Mr Flynn’s son on television. He denied that Michael Flynn Jnr, was behind the conspiracy theories, such as Pizzagate about Hillary Clinton on social media. He also denied that Mr Flynn Jnr been given a security clearance. In fact, he had been given security clearance, even though Mr Flynn told Mr Pence’s team he didn’t have one.

On March 16th this year, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (the House Oversight Committee) reported back to President Donald Trump, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and FBI Director James Comey. They uncovered documents showing that RT paid Mr Flynn more than US$45,000 for his participation in the birthday celebrations, as well as US$11,250 from a Russian charter cargo airline and US$11,250 from a Russia-based cyber-security corporation. They also uncovered a retroactive filing by Mr Flynn on 7 March with the Department of Justice. It disclosed that he served as an agent of a foreign government while advising President elect, Donald Trump. The filing also reported that US$530,000 was paid to Mr Flynn for pro-Erdogan lobbying work in Turkey between the months of August and November in 2016.

It is of note that on 8 November 2016, Mr Flynn wrote an op-ed claiming that the Obama administration and the U.S. media wasn’t being supportive enough of Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Wrote Flynn:

‘It is fair to say that most Americans don’t know exactly what to make of our ally Turkey these days, as it endures a prolonged political crisis that challenges its long-term stability. The U.S. media is doing a bang-up job of reporting the Erdoğan government’s crackdown on dissidents, it’s not putting it into perspective. We must begin with understanding that Turkey is vital to U.S. interests.’

Mr Flynn’s lawyers say they notified the transition team about his lobbying in Turkey, but the President and the Vice President say that they knew nothing about it. The House Oversight Committee requested information about whether he’d fully disclosed his communications and payments from foreign sources as part of his security clearance for his return to government. They also requested the Defense Department to take steps to recover all foreign funds accepted in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. On 30 March, Mr Flynn told investigators he was willing to be interviewed about the allegations, but only if he received immunity from prosecution.    

In 2010, as the top U.S. intelligence officer in Afghanistan, Mr Flynn wrote a report about intelligence acting more like journalists.

Flynn lamented that U.S. intelligence in Afghanistan spent too much time on attacking the Taliban and not enough on figuring out Afghanistan’s cultural and social landscapes:

‘Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade.’

And that they overlook data such as polling data, patrol debriefs, minutes from local shuras, and economic statistics that helps them connect the dots:

‘This vast and underappreciated body of information, almost all of which is unclassified, admittedly offers few clues about where to find insurgents, but it does provide elements of even greater strategic importance – a map for leveraging popular support and marginalizing the insurgency itself.'

This sounds very much like the Strategic Communication Laboratories Group (SCL), which specialises in behavioural research and data that drives behavioural change. SCL is the parent company to CA. Five years earlier, SCL was reported to be the first private company to provide psychological warfare services, known as "psyops" in the military, at a global arms fair in London. It believed that armies were prepared to pay for their services from a private provider and that it could shorten conflicts.

The U.S. Army definition for Psychological Operations or PsyOps is:

'Psychological operations are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behaviour of foreign governments, organisations, groups or individuals.'  

Bolstered by the success of CA during the 2016 U.S. election, SCL has lobbied the U.S. national security services in the Pentagon about how its technology could be used to deter terrorism and to help assess attitudes about immigrants. SCL’s lobbying has been driven by a former aide to Mr Flynn and Mr Flynn is a former adviser for SCL.

SCL recently won a defense contract with the U.S. State Department “Global Engagement Services” to work on “target audience analysis” (TAA) of young men in other countries who may be thinking of joining ISIS.

The founder of SCL, Nigel Oakes, also founded the Behavioural Dynamics Institute (BDI).

BDI is the research arm of SCL and its stated goal is

‘... to assemble and assimilate the full extent of creative and scientific knowledge on group behaviour and the dynamics of change, and package it into a unified and workable methodological approach to conducting successful and measurable behaviour campaigns.’

BDI has a nine page white paper dedicated to TAA, stating it:

‘If you just want to understand a population, hire an anthropologist. But if you want to change people’s attitudes and behaviours, TAA is essential.’  

Marketing has long been used by corporations to influence people’s buying behaviour, but what does it mean if government’s use psy-ops to change people’s behaviour?  

In the next piece in this series, we will delve into the case of Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and the role that he played in Trump's election.

You can read more from Melanie McCartney on her blog or you can follow her on Twitter @CartwheelPrint.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

Monthly Donation


Single Donation


Good data. Subscribe to IA today.

Recent articles by Melanie McCartney
Taxpayer-funded surveillance: The Liberal Party database and i360 combine

i360 captures data from the Feedback database, operated by Parakeelia, which is ...  
Surveillance, shadow profiling and political omniscience

Melanie McCartney delves into the murky world of big data surveillance methods and ...  
Mike Flynn and Cambridge Analytica: Propaganda in 2017 and how we got here

Disgraced former Trump security advisor Mike Flynn was also deeply involved with ...  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support Fearless Journalism

If you got something from this article, please consider making a one-off donation to support fearless journalism.

Single Donation


Support IAIndependent Australia

Subscribe to IA and investigate Australia today.

Close Subscribe Donate