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UK broadcaster exposes practices of Cambridge Analytica; Facebook under fire over data controversy; Tales of life, loss and hope in wartime Syria

Aired March 20, 2018 - 15:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, the fire under Facebook is heating up over the data of 50 million users that was harvested for

political gains. This, as undercover footage shows the firm at the center of it all allegedly bragging about bribery and honeytrap. And at this

hour, Cambridge Analytica, the firm at the center of all of this, has suspended its CEO.

I speak to Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. And to one of Mark Zuckerberg's former mentors,

Roger McNamee.

Plus, seven years and counting as the Syria War rages into its eighth year. The award-winning journalist Rania Abouzeid joins me with her new book

about the ordinary people still caught up in it.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

Explosive undercover footage aired by Britain's "Channel 4 News" revealing what it is reporting as nefarious tactics used by a firm tied to the

victories of both President Donald Trump and Brexit in 2016.

The company is Cambridge Analytica, a London-based data analytics firm. And British officials are seeking a warrant to get into its offices here,

to inspect its servers and its systems.

This, after an undercover reporter from "Channel 4 News" posed as a possible client to obtain secret footage of Cambridge Analytica executives.

In this video, you hear CEO Alexander Nix, though the firm has just now said that it had suspended him. The reports suggest that he and his firm

were prepared to consider using bribes and entrapment to sway voters in an election campaign.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what we want to know is what is the expertise of the deep digging that you can do to make sure that the people know the true

identity and secrets of these people?

ALEXANDER NIX, FORMER CEO OF CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA: Oh, we do a lot more than that. I mean, deep digging is interesting, but, you know, equally

effective can be just to go and speak to the incumbents and to offer them a deal that's too good to be true, and make sure that that's video recorded.

You know, these sorts of tactics are very effective instantly having video evidence of corruption, putting it on the Internet, these sorts of things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the operative you will use for this is who?

NIX: Well, someone known to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. So, it is somebody - you won't use a Sri Lankan person, no? Because then there's issue, I believe.

NIX: No. No, no, we'll have a wealthy developer come in. Somebody posing as a wealthy developer.


NIX: Yes. They will offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land, for instance. We'll have the

whole thing recorded on cameras. We'll blank out the face of our guy and we're going to post it on the Internet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So on Facebook or YouTube or something like this?

NIX: Send some girls around to the candidate's house. We have lots of history with things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For example, you're saying when you're using the girls to introduce to the local fellow and you're using the girls for this, like

the seduction, they're not local girls, not Sri Lankan girls?

NIX: I wouldn't have thought so. No, we'll bring some British. I mean, that was just an idea. Just saying we could bring some Ukrainians in on

holiday with us, you know. You know what I'm saying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. They are very beautiful, Ukrainian girls.

NIX: They are very beautiful. I find that works very well.


AMANPOUR: So, that was the CEO Alexander Nix in that clip. And as I say, in the last few minutes, the company has announced that it has suspended


But before that, Cambridge Analytica sent CNN a statement rejecting all the allegations in the "Channel 4" reporting. It said that the report is

edited and scripted to grossly misrepresent the nature of the conversations that took place and they say that their executives entertained a series of

ludicrous hypothetical scenarios.

But that is not the only scandal swirling around the firm. The whistleblower who lifted the lid on all of this says that Cambridge

Analytica misused the data of 50 million Americans collected from Facebook.

The firm denies using Facebook data in the 2016 US election. And Facebook rules at the time actually allowed the collection, but Facebook said that

it didn't know the data would be used for anything but an academic study.

Lawmakers around the world now say that Facebook CEO and other executives need to explain themselves clearly once and for. British MPs have formally

requested that CEO Mark Zuckerberg give evidence at an ongoing parliamentary committee inquiry into fake news

[15:05:11] And Facebook now says that it will brief multiple congressional committees in the US this week.

Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, joined me earlier to talk about all of this from Washington.

Congressman Schiff, welcome to the program. So, I want to know what you precisely are asking of Facebook, Cambridge Analytica right now. Are you

calling on Mark Zuckerberg or the head of Cambridge Analytica to come and testify before your committee?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes. I think that we ought to have the testimony not only of the Facebook CEO, but I think the

CEOs of other major social media platforms that the Russians exploited during the campaign.

We heard from the general counsel at an open hearing earlier last year. We've learned a lot since then. And I think there are a great many more

questions that need to be answered.

In particular, concerning Facebook, these allegations about Cambridge Analytica are deeply distressing that the private data of 50 million

Americans may have been misappropriated and used in an effort to manipulate them during the election.

We have invited the whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, to come before our committee. He has accepted that invitation. So, even though the

Republicans have shut down their efforts, we're continuing because these questions simply need answers.

AMANPOUR: Are you saying, congressman, before I play you a soundbite of what Christopher Wylie told CNN last night that if you were to have these

testimonies that it would just be the Democrats or with the whole committee bipartisan be operating?

SCHIFF: Well, we invited Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower, to come and testify before our committee. We will invite the Republicans. I don't

know whether they will participate.

They're continuing to investigate the State Department, the Justice Department, the FBI. It's not as if they've lost their appetite for

investigation. They just don't seem to be particularly interested in investigating what Russia did, what the Trump campaign did or answering

really what we were charged to investigate, but they will be invited.

In terms of these CEOs, I really think that has to be done at a full committee basis. We hope that the Republicans would join in requesting

that testimony, but it ought to be frankly an oversight issue, not just for the intelligence committee.

AMANPOUR: Congressman, with this incredible cascade of news about Cambridge Analytica, the election, Facebook and the like, I just want to

play you a sound bite, part of an interview that Christopher Wylie, the former employee, said to CNN last night, and particular because, obviously,

we're talking in the context of Robert Mercer, who is a big Republican conservative donor, Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica all sort of around

the same issue. This is what Christopher Wylie told us about it last night.


CHRISTOPHER WYLIE, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA WHISTLEBLOWER: The company got funded in the spring of 2014 and he wanted to be able to have a functioning

program in time for the mid-term. So, we had sort of a Steve Bannon and a billionaire breathing down our necks, trying to go where is the data, where

the algorithms, where is our information weapon.


AMANPOUR: So, that's pretty explicit, but I want to particularly ask you because American law, election law prohibits foreigners from directing,

dictating, controlling or directly or indirectly participating in the running of an American political campaign. Do you believe that was

violated in this case from the knowledge you have right now?

WYLIE: Well, it's really possible. And I think we owe it to American people to find out. Look, Steve Bannon obviously was in very early in

terms of the formation and work - political work of Cambridge Analytica.

And the timing in which they got this Facebook data is essential to determine. Did they bring on this researcher who had this relationship

with St. Petersburg University - did they bring him on for the purpose of getting this Facebook data in a way and with the speed they couldn't do it


What did the campaign know about this? What was the campaign's knowledge or involvement in this? Did any of this violate US laws?

These are certainly, I think, very important questions that we need answered. We had testimony from Alexander Nix before our committee, but at

the Republican insistence, and even though he was frequenting the United States, they wouldn't allow for in-person testimony, they did it by video

conference at a time when we had votes and most members couldn't participate.

That was wholly inadequate, but even then it appears that Alexander Nix's testimony may have been demonstrably untrue vis-a-vis the Facebook data.

We need to find out. It's certainly inconsistent with what we're seeing from this whistleblower.

AMANPOUR: I want to know whether you think what Facebook has said in regard to all of this, is a helpful matter or shoots themselves in the

foot. Let me just quote to you a Facebook statement.

[15:10:00] "The claim that this is a data breach is completely false. People knowingly provided their information. No systems were infiltrated.

No passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked."

How does that sit with you?

SCHIFF: I don't know whether it's better or worse that the private data of 50 million Americans may have been inappropriately used and it wasn't a

breach. That may be, in some respects, a worse problem.

But, look, Cambridge Analytica had Facebook people embedded within its operation. Did these people know where Cambridge Analytica had acquired

the data? These are very important questions that we need to get answers to and I don't think we're anywhere near finding out at this point.

AMANPOUR: I want to know whether the US Congress needs to sort of get up to speed with Britain and other parts of Europe, which have more robust

laws on privacy and which are actually doing more to try to ensure data privacy and that no breach or this kind of usage of people's data can be


SCHIFF: Well, it's certainly true. I think that we have lagged behind in terms of the oversight that we've done in Congress. This is something that

really transcends what the Russians did.

But the broader issues are even more important, and that is how was this private information acquired? How was the use of this to manipulate voters

conducted? Who was knowing of this while it was going on? And even more broadly, what does this say about how Americans now get their information?

How much can we rely on what we see and how much are we seeing only that which the algorithms want to show us information essentially that we are

choosing to see and contrary points of view we are choosing to ignore.

AMANPOUR: Very important points which we are going to discuss with our next guest, but for the moment, Congressman Schiff, thank you for joining

us from Capitol Hill.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: So, what are Facebook's most senior leaders like Mark Zuckerberg thinking right now? Silicon Valley entrepreneur Roger McNamee should have

a very good idea. He was an early investor and an early mentor to Zuckerberg and he recently confronted the CEO about what he calls

Facebook's increasingly malign influence. And he's joining me now.

Roger McNamee, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: So, you've just heard, and I'll ask you in a second, that Cambridge Analytica has suspended its CEO, but you also just heard what

Adam Schiff said about needing Mark Zuckerberg and the CEOs to talk to them about what's going on.

What do you think right now because you wrote an op-ed that you didn't publish, but you took it to Mark Zuckerberg and to Sheryl Sandberg

complaining about kind of a bad business model and the algorithms have led, in your words, bad actors influence and effect innocent users?

MCNAMEE: Well, that was - I wrote that op-ed and gave it to them at the end of October of 2016. So, roughly nine days before the US presidential

election. And I was deeply troubled.

There were a lot of signs of issues then. And as their friend and mentor, I went to them privately and spent three months trying to persuade them

that I thought there was a systemic issue in the product.

Their response was to treat it like a public relations problem, not a business problem, and they kept saying, Roger, we are a platform, not a

media company. We are not responsible for what third parties do.

And I kept saying to them, I'm sorry guys, you have 1.7 billion members. That's the number they had then. If they decide you're responsible, it

won't matter what the law says.

AMANPOUR: So, OK, that was three months ago. You spent a long time -

MCNAMEE: No, no. That was in 2016. That was before the election.

AMANPOUR: 2016. That's right.

MCNAMEE: And I've been at it ever since.

AMANPOUR: And what is - have you even been at it since this latest cascade of bad news over the weekend with these "Channel 4" reports and " New York

Times" reporting.

MCNAMEE: They are not talking to me anymore. So, I have to communicate through the press. And the thing that I've been trying to do, and which

I've been expressing to Facebook employees, is this notion that this is a moment of truth.

I can understand at the beginning that they did not appreciate how their strategy of growing at any cost might have negative repercussions, but the

truth is they have known this for at least a year now and there is no excuse.

And the fact that they're not coming forward and dealing with it, that is a crisis that is going to destroy the company and it's already destroying

democracy all over the Western world.

AMANPOUR: I mean, that is a very bold statement to make, destroying the company. And we've, obviously, seen what it's doing to democracy and the

complaints about that.

But, I mean, we are watching a massive drop in Facebook stock. Do you really think that the company cannot arrest this problem and actually do

proper damage control?

MCNAMEE: I have believed from the beginning they could do so, but they need to start. They haven't even taken the first step of admitting there's

a problem.

[15:15:05] They've never reached out to their critics. They've never provided any data to any of the investigators. They have always pretended

like somehow they can't do that. They haven't reached out to the people who are affected which they should do.

One-hundred-and-twenty-six million people were touched by Russian interference in 2016. They should be reaching out to those people and

saying, listen, let's stop future interference. What the Russians are trying to do is to keep you from voting, by making you feel bad about

democracy. And so, everyone should go out and vote.

And by not doing that, Facebook is basically saying this is not our problem, we don't care. And I'm going, guys, come on, and you can see it

in their numbers. There was less usage of Facebook in North America in the fourth quarter for the first time in history. That will be true in the

March quarter.

And who knows? If they don't do something pretty soon, people are going to realize, they can't trust Facebook anymore and that is the problem I'm

talking that might threaten them permanently.

AMANPOUR: So, what do you make? You heard Congressman Schiff and I said that the British parliament are also requesting and requiring that Mark

Zuckerberg himself come to testify about these issues.

And you've heard that Facebook says that it will testify before a number of committees in the next week or the coming week. Is that enough? Do you

think Mark Zuckerberg needs to go to Congress and saves the day for himself?

MCNAMEE: I don't know that he can save the day, but the first step of healing is to go and admit you have a problem and go and address the people

who are doing the work.

And Mark has made billions of dollars from this. He can't hide in a bunker. I mean, I would just say to him right now, dude, come on out and

handle this thing. You're a big guy. You can be a hero in your own movie by getting in front of this thing now, recognizing there's a problem with

the product and committing and actually doing the things necessary to fix it.

I think people would reward him with trust if he does that, but every day that goes by that they don't do it makes that a lot harder to do.

AMANPOUR: Let me just read you something that Facebook has said in the response. "In the past five years, we've made significant improvements in

our ability to detect and prevent violations by app developers." Do you believe that?

MCNAMEE: Well, let's look at the facts, Christiane. In 2011, the US Federal Trade Commission put a consent decree in place with Facebook that

said that Facebook required the affirmative active approval of users for any sharing of their data.

They left in place the tool that Alexander Kogan used, which was the tool that essentially allowed them to harvest friend data, in place until 2014.

My partner Sandy Parakilas just wrote an op-ed in "The Guardian", in which he pointed out that when he was in charge of privacy on the Facebook

platform for applications, exactly that role, they had no engineering resources to make sure that they actually did protecting.

I think the company has shown a flagrant disregard since at least 2011. And I don't think we should accept anything they say. I think this is one

of those things where show me the money, show us that you've actually made changes, demonstrate that you're protecting people because the timeline

here does not make Facebook's case at all.

AMANPOUR: So, I said that you are an early investor and you're still a stockholder, a shareholder.

MCNAMEE: I am. I am.

AMANPOUR: Yes. So, for many reasons, you're concerned about this, but I want to play you - or rather read to you a quote that was from Mark

Zuckerberg admittedly when he was about 19 years old, when he's still at university and it was instant message exchanging while at Harvard. So we

can see it, we can put it up.

And he's basically saying to a friend, if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard, just ask. I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses. And

the friend says, what, how did you manage that one? He says people just submitted it. I don't know why. They trust me, dumb (EXPLETIVE).

Later, he told "The New Yorker" about that that I think I've grown and learned a lot. It shows that forever this was an issue, the idea of

somebody, some company having all of this and just depended on the grace of God or goodwill or whatever as to where this data was going to go. Am I


AMANPOUR: Well, I think, Christiane, one of the factors here is that the Silicon Valley has a culture of libertarianism that basically says that

moving fast and breaking things is OK, that nobody is responsible for anyone, but themselves, and it's OK to break things because it's somebody

else's problem.

And when I knew Mark, which was 2006 to 2009, he was a really decent wonderful person. I liked him enormously. I mean, he was really intense

and he was different, but in a way that struck me as being really constructive.

Everything that's happened over the last couple of years has caught me completely by surprise. And frankly, every day that goes by that it

continues, I find astonishing.

And I just - I want to plead with him to just like step back a little bit, look at this and recognize that it doesn't have to be this way. He doesn't

have to be the enemy.

[15:20:08] AMANPOUR: All right. Roger McNamee, thank you so much for all those questions we hope will be answered in the upcoming weeks.

Now, in the meantime, social media may be seen as part of the problem now, but once it was heralded as part of the solution to so many of the world's

ills, to activists and journalists in countries like Syria who use to tell stories that might never have been told.

Now, as Syria's war enters its eighth year, one award-winning journalist, who refuses to let that war be forgotten, is Rania Abouzeid. In her new

book, "No Turning Back", she tracks civilians, rebels, Islamic extremists and children over the course of that war and now she'll be speaking about

it at the Oxford Literary Festival this weekend.

And she is in the studio with me now to give a little preview. Rania, welcome.


AMANPOUR: So, just in the context of what we've been talking about, you have been able to tell these stories. You went to Syria several times, you

yourself, an immigrant from a civil war from Lebanon. So, you know a lot about what's going on.

I was struck by the stories of the children that you managed to tell, including this one child, this young girl, who was essentially physically

affected by the trauma and the fear. Tell me about that.

ABOUZEID: Yes. She was a little three-year-old girl. Her name is Telala (ph). And she became sick with a hormonal condition that the few doctors

left in her hometown said was brought about by the fear. So, her family tries to treat her, but there are no specialists in the rebel-held areas.

So, they have to escape to Turkey.

AMANPOUR: And that escape, you joined them on part of that journey.

ABOUZEID: Yes. All of it, yes.

AMANPOUR: It was dramatic. How did a family - and he was with the Free Syrian Army, the father. So, he was fighting against the Assad forces at

the time and they had very, very young kids. How did they make it out?

ABOUZEID: They were smuggled across the border. And I documented in the book that the fact is that every time somebody came and went, every time I

came and went in Syria, I had to enter and exit the same way.

AMANPOUR: So, was it - I mean, it was in the night time. There wasn't - it wasn't like they were shown a lovely road and a gate and showing any

passports. They didn't have passports.

ABOUZEID: No, they didn't even have passports. They literally crossed on foot. And they crossed the mountains on foot. And it's the kind of

situation where it's in complete darkness. You can't hold a cell phone light up. You can't smoke a cigarette. You can't use any sort of

illumination that may give you away.

And these are very young kids. The eldest was about 10 years old. The youngest was 3 and they made this perilous journey in order to treat the

youngest child.

AMANPOUR: So, they got out. Now, others who you talked about - I said they were militants, they were people on all sides of this war. You met

with Al-Nusra people, who are hardline Islamists. What did they make of you as a woman and weren't you scared? Was there any time that you

specifically were threatened?

ABOUZEID: They were kidnapping threats made against me and that happened several times. But what I wanted to do in the book, I tell the story of

three Al-Qaeda members in the book.

One of them was in the inner circle. And I want to - I presented the stories in such a way with an immediacy. I want to place readers there. I

want to place you on that journey with the family as they crossed into Turkey. I want to put you on a basement under shelling. I want to take

you into the meetings with the Saudis and Qataris as they try and arm certain rebel groups. And I want to show you what was happening at the

highest levels of Islamic militancy in Syria.

AMANPOUR: Well, you do a very good job of it, but also when we talk about remembering and putting down for the record, there is a very poignant quote

from a young man.

You described how he is crushed by the world's abandonment, particularly around the use of sarin and chemicals by the Assad regime.

And in the book, it says the young man, "I had hoped that the time will come and the proof will be ready here in the cave, but nobody cared.

Nobody cared about us or about international laws and forbidden weapons. It made me just want to wait for a barrel bomb to fall on me."

And this, as he tried to hide one of these weapons and bury it for some time in the future, so he can prove what happened, but -

ABOUZEID: That encapsulates what many Syrians on the rebel side felt. The word that I most often heard was abandoned. Abandoned by an international

community that even stopped counting Syria's dead. Since mid-2013, the UN has stopped counting them. So, Syrians aren't even numbered.

Abandoned by the international organizations that supposedly cared for humanitarian causes. So, that's the sense that you get across rebel-held

northern Syria.

AMANPOUR: And it just does seem to be endless now. I mean, we have Russia, we have Iran, but otherwise we don't really know what is going. I

wonder what you made, what you felt in your gut because you couldn't get over into government-held territory.

ABOUZEID: Although I did manage twice and I document that in the book. In 2013 and 2016, I was allowed to go back in.

AMANPOUR: Well, what do you make then of the recent pictures of the president, Assad, driving himself into the town of eastern Ghouta, a

Damascus suburb, which had been under withering siege and bombs and air attack and sort of meeting like a hero with the residents there? It's a

bombed-out shell.

ABOUZEID: It's vintage Assad. It's Assad pre-2011 when he presented himself as the everyman, the man who would go into the (INAUDIBLE) with his

children and who would drive himself everywhere. So, he is back to that mode.

But the thing is that Assad was never realistically going to negotiate his own demise, not while his allies, the Russians and the Iranians backed him

on the ground and in the Security Council.


ABOUZEID: So, here's to say.

AMANPOUR: That's it? You don't see any way out of this? There's no negotiated political solution?

ABOUZEID: No. I think at the end of the day, there has to be some sort of a negotiated political solution, but the notion that Assad must go as the

first step, I think, is unrealistic.

AMANPOUR: Rania Abouzeid, thank you so much for reminding us all of the real horror that continues there seven years on and counting.

ABOUZEID: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast at any time and see us online at

And, of course, you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.