Parliamentarians in London to question former St Kitts-Nevis PM on disinformation and ‘fake news’

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By Caribbean News Now contributor

LONDON, England — Parliamentarians from around the world are to question Dr Denzil Douglas, former prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis, at the inaugural hearing on Tuesday of an international grand committee on disinformation and ‘fake news’.

Some 22 members of the committee from seven international parliaments, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Latvia, Singapore and members of the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMSC) will hold an evidence session at the House of Commons in London.

The parliamentarians also wrote to Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, inviting him to appear. Facebook refused twice saying he was “not able to be in London” and “not able to accept the invitation.” The Committee offered the opportunity for him to give evidence over video link, which was also refused.

Facebook has offered Richard Allan, vice president of policy solutions, which the Committee has accepted. The Committee said it still believes that Zuckerberg is the appropriate person to answer important questions about data privacy, safety, security and sharing.

A recent New York Times investigation raises further questions about how recent data breaches were allegedly dealt with within Facebook, and when the senior leadership team became aware of the breaches and the spread of Russian disinformation.

Opposition Leader Dr Denzil Douglas

Douglas is the longest-serving prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis, and has been the leader of the opposition since 2015. He will talk about his experiences of working with Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) and citizenship consultants Henley & Partners (the company that has held the exclusive passport rights for St Kitts and Nevis since before 2009).

An interim report on disinformation and ‘fake news’ published by the DCMSC urged the British government to ensure that the National Crime Agency thoroughly investigates the alleged undermining of democracies in many countries, including a number in the Caribbean, by Cambridge Analytica, SCL and Henley.

“We received disturbing evidence, some of which we have published, some of which we have not, of activities undertaken by the SCL-linked companies in various political campaigns dating from around 2010, including the use of hacking, of disinformation, and of voter suppression.

“We also heard of the links between SCL and Christian Kalin of Henley and Partners and their involvement in election campaigns, in which Mr Kalin already ran or subsequently launched citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programmes, involving the selling of countries’ passports to investors.

“We do not have the remit or the capacity to investigate these claims ourselves, but we urge the government to ensure that the National Crime Agency thoroughly investigates these allegations.

“We were told that behind much of SCL Elections’ campaigning work was the hidden hand of Christian Kalin, chairman of Henley and Partners, who arranged for investors to supply the funding to pay for campaigns, and then organised SCL to write their manifesto and oversee the whole campaign process. In exchange, Alexander Nix told us, Henley and Partners would gain exclusive passport rights for that country, under a citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programme,” the report said.

The CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, and Kalin are described as having a ‘Faustian pact’ and, with the exclusive passport rights, came a government that would be conducive to Kalin and his clients.

Nix told the committee that, at times, SCL would undertake eight, nine or ten elections a year, “and we are not limited by geography, so this really could be from the Caribbean to Asia to Africa to Europe or everywhere”.

When asked about his involvement in the elections with Kalin, including in St Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and a constitutional referendum in St Vincent and the Grenadines, he responded: “I was familiar with Christian Kalin because he had worked in some of the Caribbean islands. I know he used to run a citizen-by-investment programme, certainly in St Kitts and possibly Dominica. I do not know about the other countries.”

Nix told the committee that Kalin “may well have made contributions towards the election campaigns, but you would have to talk to him about that. […] [M]y understanding is that he may well have financed some of the elections or given contributions towards some of the elections”.

The report explored some specific examples of misinformation, disinformation, and malign manipulation that the SCL Group and associated companies undertook in certain countries.

In St Kitts and Nevis, SCL worked on a campaign to win the 2010 general election and, according to Freddy Gray of The Spectator:

“SCL practised the dirty trick – or ‘counter ops’ – that Nix was caught bragging about to undercover reporters in [… the] Channel 4 expose. 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 undercover 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.”

According to evidence received by the committee, this sting operation was arranged entirely by SCL, with the undercover operative – a temporary SCL employee – being paid around £10,000 (US$13,000) by Nix, for the work that they had carried out.

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