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By Julie Bykowicz
A former Cambridge Analytica employee who previously revealed that the company improperly harvested data from millions of Facebook users said Wednesday that he had been contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, made the comments ahead of testimony Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he was called to discuss Cambridge Analytica's operations and the future of data privacy. He declined to answer other questions from reporters.
Cambridge Analytica pitched itself to U.S. political campaigns and candidates as being able to leverage data sets to find and persuade voters. President Donald Trump and two other Republican presidential campaigns contracted with Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 race.
Mr. Wylie, a London resident who appeared in front of Congress with close-cropped pink hair, served as director of research for Cambridge Analytica and parent company SCL Group from mid-2013 to late-2014. He wasn't an employee while Cambridge was under contract with Mr. Trump's campaign.
Cambridge Analytica and SCL recently folded, citing bad publicity from questions about the company's role in the U.S. presidential election and the U.K.'s Brexit vote. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), chairman of the judiciary committee, said Cambridge Analytica officials declined to participate in Wednesday's hearing because the company is dissolving.
In his testimony, Mr. Wylie told senators that the companies were "designed to activate some of the worst characteristics in people" and specialized in disinformation and propaganda. Speaking of Cambridge, he said he was concerned about "the level of engagement that the company had with Russia."
Cambridge Analytica had numerous Russian contacts, he said, and pitched Russian companies. He said he viewed a white paper the company sent Russia's Lukoil touting its data assets in the U.S. Lukoil didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Kremlin-backed oil company told the New York Times in March that its contact with SCL was limited to a promotional campaign with local soccer teams in Turkey.
In February, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian citizens and companies connected to the St. Petersburg, Russia-based Internet Research Agency, accusing them of interfering in the 2016 presidential election through social-media campaigns.
Mr. Wylie said he knows of no link between Cambridge Analytica or SCL Group and the Internet Research Agency
Mr. Mueller and congressional panels including the Senate Judiciary Committee have been examining Russia's role in the 2016 election. Russia has denied meddling in the election, and Mr. Trump has denied his campaign colluded with the Kremlin.
Mr. Wylie also testified Wednesday that Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge Analytica contractor who obtained the Facebook data, was working on psychological-profiling projects in Russia. Facebook has said that Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained data from 87 million users world-wide via an app developed by Dr. Kogan.
Dr. Kogan said he didn't know that his work for Cambridge Analytica violated Facebook's policies and that the social media firm has made him a scapegoat. He said Mr. Wylie's claims about his research in Russia are "a strong exaggeration."
"A couple of colleagues put my name on a grant from the university to help its chances of getting funded," he said.
Write to Julie Bykowicz at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 16, 2018 14:54 ET (18:54 GMT)
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