Grand Theory - Supp.1
Louise Mensch recently published Alfa Bank, Trump Tower and a Social Media Impeachment. Mensch’s article presents what I would consider a ‘Grand Theory’ that explains WTH happened this election cycle. Without getting into the who-done-it, the gist is that the electorate’s user data was weaponized. This post, snark and all, will supplement Mensch’s work with some additional reading material, details, and ideas to consider along with the information provided by Mensch. Most of the information in this post is related to the Trump campaign’s Director of Digital Operations and his San Antonio-based marketing firm, Giles Parscale.
Disclaimers: No tinfoil was harmed in writing this post. This post is not scientific. Expect typos. Edits and updates are ongoing (so, check back occasionally).
OPTIONAL BUT HELPFUL [and sometimes heavy] BACKGROUND READING
- What’s Missing From The Trump Election Equation? Let’s Start With Military-Grade PsyOps (Dr. Johnathon Albright)
- Can’t Touch This: ‘Hammertoss’ Russian Cyberspies Hide In Plain Sight (Kelly Higgins, Darkreading July 29, 2015)
- HAMMERTOSS: Stealthy Tactics Define a Russian Cyber Threat Group
- Improved “Marcher” Banking Trojan Targets UK (Kovacs, Security Week)
- Articles by Clint Watts
- Social Privacy in Networked Publics: Teens’ Attitudes, Practices, and Strategies (dannah boyd & Alice Marwick, Microsoft Research, 2011)
- Sovereignty on the Internet: Ways to Prevent Cyberanarchy (1998, MIT 6.805/STS085: Ethics and Law on the Electronic Frontier and Harvard Law School: The Law of Cyberspace — Social Protocols, Sovereignty Group)
- The Vanishing Rouble: Barter Networks and Non-Monetary Transactions in Post-Soviet Societies (Ed. Paul Seabright)
Giles-Parscale (GP) is a web-design and marketing firm based out of San Antonio, TX.
GP WAS THE BACKBONE OF TRUMP’S DIGITAL AND SOCIAL MEDIA OPERATION; IT STARTED BACK IN 2015.
A June 2015 San Antonio Business Journal article notes that Trump likes the San Antonio-based company because they are cheap by comparison. The article also notes that Trump previously ridiculed Obama for excessive spending on his campaign website.
Trump even joked about it at a subsequent press briefing when he chided President Barack Obama for spending “billions” on his websites, whereas Trump said he was able to get his done for just $3.
To be fair, Trump did pay Parscale $1,500 for his first campaign website. Trump’s confidence in GP is notable, in part, considering that the Trump campaign was GP’s first project in the realm of politics and yet Trump made Brad Parscale the Digital Director of the entire campaign. While GP is a marketing firm, Talkingpoints Memo noted in August 2016 that it had:
zero experience in campaign email marketing (hitting you up for cash via email), ad placement and targeting, data-mining etc.
An October 2016 Bloomberg Businessweek [hereinafter Businessweek]article notes that as of May 2016, Trump needed a miracle to beat Clinton and that his plan was to “harness ‘the movement’ to challenge Clinton in states Republicans haven’t carried in years.”
More specifically, the plan was to shrink the size of the electorate. What does that mean? To use the words of a senior campaign official quoted by Businessweek last fall:
We have three major voter suppression operations under way
The voter suppression plan was known as “Project Alamo” and was implemented by GP. Businessweek reported that the suppression operations were being
aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans. Trump’s invocation at the debate of Clinton’s WikiLeaks e-mails and support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to turn off Sanders supporters. The parade of women who say they were sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton and harassed or threatened by Hillary is meant to undermine her appeal to young women. And her 1996 suggestion that some African American males are “super predators” is the basis of a below-the-radar effort to discourage infrequent black voters from showing up at the polls — particularly in Florida.
On the importance of Facebook, Bannon is quoted by Businessweek as saying:
“I wouldn’t have come aboard, even for Trump, if I hadn’t known they were building this massive Facebook and data engine,” says Bannon. “Facebook is what propelled Breitbart to a massive audience. We know its power.”
The Businessweek article further notes:
Parscale was given a small budget to expand Trump’s base and decided to spend it all on Facebook.
On the use of social media generally, the article quotes a campaign spokesperson as saying:
What we found is that our people have organized incredibly well on the web. Reddit literally had to change their rules because it was becoming all Trump. Growing the digital footprint has really allowed us to take his message directly to the people.
- Note 2: Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus — which was later acquired by Facebook, was also putting Facebook to use in the late summer/early fall period for the benefit of Trump and in a manner consistent with the campaign’s suppression strategy. Luckey is also a Bitcoiner with an affection for Dogecoin. It’s interesting how the design of the major pro-trump Subreddit resembles the Dogecoin subreddit (at least it did until the last few days when both Subreddit designs changed after I started tweeting about Luckey). Also of note is that several news outlets this past week reported that Luckey had separated from Facebook (Update: New York Times, June 4, 2017 article on Mr. Luckey — he’s working on a virtual border wall and a defense-related startup).
- Note 3: Very NASCAR? So Meme [practice]. See also A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K
- Note 4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=000al7ru3ms ←Must Watch
- Note 5: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OSUbnSwMGM ←Must Watch
- Note 6: A,B
- Note 7: Back in 2011, The Hill had an article scrutinizing various presidential candidates using the “NASCAR Test”. The article’s concluding paragraph is as follows:
But now it will be more than Palin behind Perry. It will be Giuliani as well, and my guess is he will have another New Yorker who passes the NASCAR test: Donald Trump.
Overall, GP’s operation was central to the campaign’s communications and media teams. Here’s GP’s principal, Brad Parscale, working with his campaign counterparts (found in Businessweek):
- Note 8: You might recognize one of counterparts as Trump’s Soviet Union-born former Media Chair, Boris Epshteyn. You might recall that Mensch previously reported on Epshteyn vis-a-vis a FISA warrant (on the FISA Court).
GP SCALED ITS ENTERPRISE ALONG WITH PROJECT ALAMO
After Trump won the Indiana primary, vanquishing his remaining rivals, Parscale had to integrate his do-it-yourself operation with two established players who would jostle for primacy as supplier of Trump’s data. The first was Cambridge Analytica, on whose board Bannon sits. Among its investors is the hedge fund titan Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah, who were about to become some of the largest donors to the Trump cause. Locations for the candidate’s rallies, long the centerpiece of his media-centric candidacy, are guided by a Cambridge Analytica ranking of the places in a state with the largest clusters of persuadable voters.
- Note 9: The Indiana Primary was held on May 3, 2016, which was a mere 6 days after Trump’s first policy speech on April 27, 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel in D.C. It was at that meeting he and members of his campaign met with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S.
- Note 10: Cambridge Analytica is an affiliate of SCL Group. They liked that personal data in the U.S. was less private than in Europe. That is an interesting point of view when considered with recent legislative events (i.e., that Congressional republicans voted to rollback U.S. internet privacy protections even further).
Parscale’s 100-person crack team reportedly spends $70 million a month to take people who are leaning toward Trump and turn them into the candidate’s most ardent fans.
$70M a month? Have a look at this spreadsheet I made for campaign expenditures to Giles Parscale in 2016 (I’ve also included total expenditures for 2016 (and monthly) so that the relative size of payments to GP can be considered):
- Note 11: I’ve placed direct links to Trump campaign payment invoices for both GP and Cambridge Analytica here.
The spreadsheet shows total monthly campaign expenditures only exceeding $70M twice: September and the period called “November Post-General.” In said periods, GP received payments from the campaign totaling $20.6M and $28.8M, respectively. The sheet also shows that payments to GP ranged from 21% to 46% of the Trump campaign’s monthly expenditures for June through November 2016. Even if the payments made to Cambridge Analytics are added to the amounts received by GP, which includes a hefty $5M payment on September 1, 2016, the campaign’s easily-identifiable GP-related expenditures do not come close to $70M in any one month. If Parscale’s team was spending $70M a month on its operations for the campaign while never coming close to receiving that amount from the campaign, then GP lost money unless….err… perhaps we will discover a new meaning for “in the red.”
- UPDATE: @RVAwonk has a good explanation. It might also be something like GP had its own vendors/bills to pay (good way to create some document gaps between parties). Payments to GP were also irregular in frequency and amount.
Strategic Burger Diplomacy (SBD)
You must be wondering if anyone in the campaign noticed that the cheap website guy from Texas who charged $1,500 for a campaign website was routinely charging over $10 million a month during peak campaign season. I am wondering that too. :)
Trump campaign officials must have really liked the burger strategy:
The Russian Embassy in D.C., along with its stakeholders, most certainly appreciated the burger strategy — they appear to have embraced burger diplomacy:
- Note 12(a): Fun Fact: Kushner’s right-hand-man is a 2016 law school grad named Avi Berkowitz. He joined Trump campaign in June 2016 as Assistant Director of Analytics, working with Boris and others (he was also the guy behind Trump TV). He went on a burger pilgrimage and appreciates the power of being able to make a good burger (this Grub Street article, “McBirthright: The Pilgrimage Orthodox Jews Take to Finally Eat Their Very First McDonald’s Burger,” is really pretty fascinating).
- Note 12(b): Two folks @counterchekist and then @ChristinLuvsSno ) directed me to this SlickRockWeb post about “unusual Russian and Kyrgyzstan based web traffic coming to the City of Ashland, Wisconsin website server starting on March 16th[, 2016]. The unusual nature and circumstances were such that [SlickRockWeb] reported it to local authorities who in turn reported it to the FBI.” Ashland, WI likely has some geo-strategic value as it allows for international travel by ship (Lake Superior —Historically, ore shipping; read-up on the Great Lakes Waterways and Soo Locks) and rail (Ashland is a termini on the Canadian National Railway). Anyway, the post has some interesting burger references:
- Note 12(c): UPDATE — An article by Bill Littlefield featuring Trumpsters referencing burgers HERE.
“A bolt of lightning literally hit a house, and the rains came down, and we raced in our carts back to the clubhouse,” Dodson says. “And, truthfully, I thought, ‘I’m going to be able to clear out of here now. This will be great.’ And I’m loading my clubs in the back of my car, thinking I can get an early start back to Southern Pines for our trip to Latrobe. And this kid comes running out: ‘Mr. Dodson! Mr. Trump really wants you to come in and have a cheeseburger.’ And I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ And that kid pointed out they were ‘really, really awesome cheeseburgers.’
- Note 12(d): Bob Mercer owns a slick yacht that was designed by Wisconsin-based boat designer, Burger Boat Company. The Yacht is named the “Sea Owl” and is fairy tale-themed. See also: i, ii.
- Note 12(e): Continuing on with Burger Boats… I just discovered that a prominent “liker” on the Burger Boats Facebook page is a gentleman named John Peddie (tragic last name) from Boca Raton, FL. Mr. Peddie — a commodities supplier, cigar aficionado, and plane watcher — loves his Burger yacht.
Mr. Peddie also loves Trump (he was invited to the inauguration) and has taken advantage recently of getting an expedited passport for a trip to Trinidad & Tobago.
You should see who he follows on Twitter. He followed Felix Sater before it was cool.
Mr. Peddie is married to Olga. Olga is a Sr. VP at Cendyn.
You’ll recall from other Supplements, as well as the research of others, that Cendyn has an odd-link to the Trump campaign. In particular, and as noted by The Washington Post back in November 2016:
The trump-email.com domain that Alfa was connecting to was hosted by a company called Cendyn. Cendyn runs marketing systems for the hospitality industry, meaning that it offers an out-of-the-box solution for a company that owns a bunch of hotels to push out sales pitch emails to its customers. In other words, trump-email.com isn’t the email server Trump used to send emails from his closet. It was a domain name that linked back to a Cendyn server
Must be an omen…
- Note 12(f): Don’t forget Nunes’ background either (as an alternative meaning).
- Note 13: The reference to the beef industry raises the issue of lobbying from other industries that has implications on foreign relations. (UPDATE: NYT, June 6, 2017 “Mexico Agrees to Sugar Trade Deal, but U.S. Refiners Remain Unhappy”)
- Note 14: The Russian Embassy in DC is a fan of breakfast — evidenced by its tweeting a lot about crepes this year (all kinds of messages can be picked up from Twitter it seems….implantology anyone?). Here’s an old tweet that is really interesting (they love wieners…. so foxy):
Parscale may just have the Midas Touch when it comes to communicating in a way the Russians understand. After all, he’s a farm kid from beef country.
- Note 15a: Speaking of Montana — I’m reminded of our newly appointed Dept of Interior Secretary as well as this online publication, ZeroHedge, and its ownership:
- Note 15c — Article in The Guardian dated 28–4–2017: “GOP candidate has financial ties to US-sanctioned Russian companies” (from MT, of course).
Greg Gianforte, who is the GOP standard bearer in the upcoming special election in Montana, owns just under $250,000 in shares in two index funds that are invested in the Russian economy to match its overall performance.
According to a financial disclosure filed with the clerk of the House of Representatives, the Montana tech mogul owns almost $150,000 worth of shares in VanEck Vectors Russia ETF and $92,400 in the IShares MSCF Russia ETF fund.Both are indexed to the Russian equities market and have significant holdings in companies such as Gazprom and Rosneft that came under US sanctions in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of the Crimea.
- Note 16: I know, you think I’m nutty. I’ve been following this trail for a while. I wrote this back in December 2015, it might give you a better idea of the white rabbit I’ve been chasing:
Finally, it seems that both GP and the Russian Embassy in D.C. have related work experience: both love helping to sell Crimean real estate
Additional bits that don’t quite fit neatly into Supp 1:
- A bit on a Trump campaigner’s trip to Syria on April 27, 2016 (while trump was wooing the Russian Ambassador at the Mayflower Hotel in D.C.)
- Some info on M Cohen: https://twitter.com/MrFelt_/status/834560307875811329
- Going way-back: https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=1281318.msg13197020#msg13197020
- A prior write up of mine RE: what Mensch calls The Carolina Conspiracy.
- Was Bannon given the playbook back in 2014? Consider this and that.