Disgraced former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner personally funded a racially divisive disinformation campaign designed to discourage black Trinidadians from voting by an election engineering firm in Trinidad and Tobago.
Warner is currently fighting extradition to the US over corruption charges that he accepted $5 million in bribes to vote to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia.
However, “Do So!” The campaign, led by Cambridge Analytica’s parent company SCL, has never been revealed before. The campaign, which may have influenced Trinidad’s 2010 election in favor of his United National Congress party, used graffiti, billboards and music videos to suggest to Trinidadian black youths that they should not vote.
“Do so!” At the time, which ran during the 2010 Trinidad primaries, Warner’s career in international football was coming to an end amid allegations that he had done favors for money. But he was laying the groundwork for a second stint as a Trinidadian politician when he was elected to represent the United National Congress party in Parliament in 2007.
The 2010 election was a turning point in Trinidadian politics, with the current Prime Minister looking vulnerable after three terms in power. Given the stakes, one expert called the role played by the SCL “really troubling”. Emma Bryant, a fellow at Bard College who studies information warfare and propaganda, said the revelations underscore the need for better oversight of influence firms.
“It’s very relevant to what harms can occur in a particular society,” she said. “In Trinidad … there’s this racial divide in politics, and you can either play with that or try to find something that doesn’t.”
plans were made
SCL was formed in the 1990s by British businessman Nigel Oakes, and invested $20 million in what Oakes developed as an “advanced persuasion method”.
The company later rebranded and launched a political segment, mostly in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, focusing on “election management” and other campaigns. On its website – taken offline after the company went into administration in 2019 – it claimed to be influencing political results from Indonesia to South Africa.
The firm also brought in Alexander Nix, who took over his election work and eventually started a new venture, Cambridge Analytica. It was the infamous election engineering agency that aided the rise of Donald Trump to the US presidency in 2016.
Long before Cambridge Analytica entered Trump’s orbit, Nix was busy operating in the Caribbean under the SCL banner.
SCL’s former head of elections, Sven Hughes, said the firm had previously worked in Trinidad under the leadership of Nigel Oakes, who had already established contacts with an opposition party. At the time, a lot of contractors worked on campaigns in the field, he recalled: “It was just ‘Elect which one?’ And you pass.
The SCL saw an opportunity to bring an opposition party to power in Trinidad, which they saw as more advantageous. A new breath in government means new deals, he said.
Hughes said that one night in April 2010, he and Nicks waited in a run-down hotel room in Port of Spain until they received a call at 3 a.m. from Warner’s lawyer, Om Lalla, telling them that they Can proceed to a secret meeting. The four convene at Warner’s FIFA-regalia-clad office and hatch a plan.
Hughes recalled in an interview with OCCRP/Oštro, “Warner sent us his various FIFA medals, photos, posters, and then … we got to work.”
They agreed that SCL would run a “Groundswell” guerilla marketing campaign before the 2010 Trinidad primary to show the United National Congress what SCL could do, and that Warner would pay for it. Later, Hughes said, Warner used his influence to get party leader Kamala Prasad-Bissessar to join the election firm. It was expected that SCL would be awarded a major contract worth $4 or $5 million to prepare a campaign for the upcoming general election.
Reuters/ Alamy Stock Photo
“Do it!” Campaign posters and graffiti promoting opposition leader Kamala Prasad-Bissessar ahead of parliamentary elections in Port of Spain in May 2010.
An email obtained by OCCRP shows that in late April 2010, Lalla sent Nix and Hughes a list of marginal constituencies on which SCL should focus its campaign.
The following month, Lalla told Hughes that he could write to Warner’s secretary to obtain funds for the campaign. “He has paid an amount of $62K USD for SCL,” Lalla wrote in another email, which was leaked to the Guardian and shared with the OCCRP. “She shall also provide you the details of the payment made towards the license fee of Do So in the amount of $15k USD [campaign.],
Citing advocate-client privilege, Lalla said he could not answer questions about the campaign. Warner did not respond to written requests for comment. Reached by telephone, he said he was “not interested” in discussing it.
Hughes had already done much planning for the campaign. Its name was inspired by an older Trinidadian man who made headlines when he crossed his hands to refuse the sitting prime minister from entering his property for an election campaign trip.
“Bingo, I had my behavior change campaign, or to be specific a ‘psychological judo’ campaign,” Hughes wrote in the document he submitted to the FBI.
He recalled the campaign artwork in his hotel room saying: “A pair of black arms, ‘DO SO!’ Below, the UNC coalition is printed on the yellow. The implication was that the youth should also cross their arms and stay away from politics.
Reuters/ Alamy Stock Photo
“Do it!” Campaign posters were put up on the streets of Port of Spain ahead of the 2010 general election in Trinidad and Tobago.
The message of non-political disobedience among Trinidadian youth was “Do So!” But it also became discredited after a 2019 Netflix documentary about Cambridge Analytica exposed it as a prime example of the firm’s covert influence operations.
About half of Trinidad and Tobago’s population is of African descent, while the other half is Indian. The Netflix documentary included a hidden voice recording of Nix boasting that the campaign was aimed at increasing voter apathy and discouraging young Afro-Trinidadians from voting, as SCL’s clientele was more popular among Indians.
Nix explained the campaign’s message as follows:
“Don’t vote. … It’s a sign of resistance—not against the government, but against politics. And voting…
“We knew that when it came to voting, not all Afro-Caribbean children would vote because they ‘do it’. But all Indian children would do what their parents told them to do, which was To go out and vote.
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Hughes denied OCCRP, insisting that the campaign was not intended to target voters by race and that he prepared it without any involvement from Nix.
“It was not a divisional operation at all,” he said. “It was simply about making voters feel empowered to stand up against Manning’s increasingly autocratic government.”
However, a polling report created by SCL for the United National Congress, and obtained by OCCRP and Ostro, notes that the campaign was designed to focus specifically on Afro-Trinidadian voters.
The misinformation expert, Bryant said, “It was a bit naive to think that they weren’t taking advantage of different ethnic groups against each other.”
“They were taking advantage of something that was essentially designed to attract youth, which would reinforce these kinds of divisive caste processes of decision-making in elections, and they’re basically working with people like that.” who didn’t really care about the youth of the country…and doing it in a way that is clearly trying to incite division.”
“Do so!” Despite the seeming success of the SCL, SCL never quite accomplished the grand task it was striving for.
“Warner introduced us to Kamala … but Bertie blew it,” Hughes recalled, referring to Nix by his nickname. Kamala apparently didn’t like his long presentation style with all those slides and asked him to hurry up. He took great offense at this and moved on with his slides. Started shouting together and had to be taken out of the room.
But the United National Party won the 2010 parliamentary elections and became a major partner in the People’s Partnership coalition.
Reuters/ Alamy Stock Photo
Persaud-Bissessar and Warner talk during a campaign rally in May 2010.
Warner was appointed Minister of Public Works and Transportation and later Minister of National Security. CA Political, the Cambridge Analytica branch focused on political propaganda, claimed on its website how it influenced the 2010 elections in Trinidad and Tobago and got Persud-Bissessar elected as prime minister.
Nonetheless, allegations of corruption eventually caught up to Warner, and FIFA suspended him in 2011 for organizing the payment of cash bribes to members of the Caribbean Football Union. Shortly thereafter he was forced to resign from both FIFA and CONCACAF, the influential Caribbean and North American football confederations.
In addition to the bribery allegations, Warner has been accused of failing to pay Trinidadian football players their bonus money; funds stolen for Haitian earthquake victims; allowing his son to black-market World Cup tickets through a family travel agency; and building a $26 million CONCACAF facility on land he owned, essentially giving him ownership over it.
In 2015, he was caught in one of the biggest bribery scandals in football history, when the US government alleged that he accepted millions of dollars in bribes from South African officials to fix voting for the 2010 World Cup location. Was.
Later that year, he was banned from football for life.
In 2018, Nix became the face of Cambridge Analytica’s downfall when the UK’s Channel 4 News revealed secret recordings of the company selling its techniques, including entrapment and bribery, to potential customers who were actually undercover reporters.
Mark Basant (Trinidad and Tobago Guardian) contributed reporting.
The fact-checking was provided by the OCCRP Fact-Checking Desk.