The Tuesday Letter: Inside SCL
It's the 29th of June 2010, a Tuesday, and from an inconspicuous office at 8 Grafton Street a man nobody has ever really heard of signs a typed letter on the company letterhead of Strategic Communication Laboratories.
The company itself is registered elsewhere, One America Square, Crosswall, almost half an hour away across the capital by Tube.
The author, Alexander Nix, would later become first a rockstar of online marketing, following his role in the election of President Donald Trump, then a global pariah, responsible for the perceived death of international democracy by virtue of the same position. But on that London weekday, in a drab brick building almost a decade before, none of this is foreseen.
Nix's world is one of psychological warfare, conducted silently across the globe. And, it transpires, closer to home.
"SCL Elections had "helped, among others, Nelson Mandela (South Africa), Presidents Jusuf Habibie/Abdurrahman Wahid (Indonesia), PM Chuan Leekpai (Thailand), PM Allawi (Iraq), President Musharraf (Pakistan), President De la Rua (Argentina) and The UK Conservative Party.""
The recipient of Nix's letter, addressed as "Excellency," is Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, then the Commander in Chief of Nigeria's armed forces, having been sworn into office as President just over a month earlier following his predecessor's death.
"We are seeking a brief meeting to show you how our company, SCL Elections can help you to address the current balance of power in Nigeria by delivering extremely powerful research and strategy to allow you to ‘persuade’ and ‘influence’ your critical audience – the electorate – to make the right decision in the forthcoming election," Nix wrote. Cambridge Analytica was to come from SCL Elections later, when legal advice on the use of foreign individuals to actively work on US election campaigns was received in 2013-14.
Giving background on the company as it was, Nix went on to set out in his introduction that, between 1994 and 2010, SCL Elections had "helped, among others, Nelson Mandela (South Africa), Presidents Jusuf Habibie/Abdurrahman Wahid (Indonesia), PM Chuan Leekpai (Thailand), PM Allawi (Iraq), President Musharraf (Pakistan), President De la Rua (Argentina) and The UK Conservative Party."
"In fact," Nix claimed, "to date SCL Elections has been involved in over 35 elections and managed in their entirety a total of 23 election campaigns world-wide – without losing a single one" [Nix's emphasis].
On behalf of the then unknown electioneers, Nix claimed, "in the global information environment where public opinion is everything, SCL is the world leader in Public Diplomacy, psychological operations (PSYOP), Information Operations and strategic communication."
"SCL has over 20 years experience managing effects based communication campaigns spanning elections, political reform, democratic change and social development. SCL would like the opportunity to share with you, or one of your colleagues, how we could help you address the current balance of power in Nigeria," he added, finishing the correspondence with a request for a meeting.
The letter was copied to Nigel Oakes, one of Nix's colleagues at SCL, and Stephanos Stavrou, of White Cloud Media Ltd.
By the 15th of September 2010, Jonathan had announced his first electoral campaign, to retain the role of Nigeria's president the following year, via Facebook. (A company that would become synonomous with information warfare and Cambridge Analytica several years in the future.)
Goodluck Jonathan's time as figurehead of the African nation came to an end in 2015, under a cloud of corruption - including a reportedly illegal redirection of $15 million from the central bank to his own re-election campaign.
Though it is unlikely discovery of any of this crosses Nix's mind as the correspondence is sent, The Tuesday Letter not only confirms SCL's activity in operations across distant corners of the world, but brings a covert information war home, to Downing Street via the Conservative Party...
Attached to Nix's two page covering letter were six pages of company history and FAQs, reproduced here unedited (without images), and made available, in full, in the public interest:
"Effective communication with its own citizens is a critical function of any government, but to change peoples’ attitudes and behaviour on a large scale one needs capabilities that go well beyond mere marketing and public relations.
In 1989 a group of renowned academics and a consortium of international investors collaborated to establish the first academic think-tank specialising in the Science of Communication. This drew together the world’s leading experts from the fields of Behavioural Science, Social Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, Organisation Science and many related disciplines.
"In 1990 the first field trials for this methodology were undertaken by Strategic Communication Laboratories Ltd., a project management and implementation company, who successfully broke up a strike at a UK car transport plant. The following year, SCL was accredited with saving Lloyds of London by using scientific communication to persuade its many then financially crippled investors to reinvest a further £1bn. "
Together they formed the Behavioural Dynamics Institute (BDi) and created a powerful persuasion methodology for communication that could be used to change the behaviour of audience groups. This methodology, known as Target Audience Analysis (TAA), was deeply rooted in science and sought to replace traditional creative-led communication such as advertising and public relations.
By developing an at depth Target Audience Profile: (For example, recognising their motivators and aspirations, identifying their leaders and social structures and better understanding their values and concerns) the BDi was able to apply complex persuasive protocols based on drivers such as guilt, religion, society, peer-group pressure and frame-of-reference, to influence the direction and ultimately the behaviour of groups.
In 1990 the first field trials for this methodology were undertaken by Strategic Communication Laboratories Ltd., a project management and implementation company, who successfully broke up a strike at a UK car transport plant. The following year, SCL was accredited with saving Lloyds of London by using scientific communication to persuade its many then financially crippled investors to reinvest a further £1bn.
Further successes in the commercial sector encouraged SCL to offer its unique capability to International Militaries for independent critical evaluation. Following an absolute analysis of the methodology and thorough measurement of its effectiveness, SCL now supplies the world’s leading militaries, including both the US and UK Departments of Defence, a range of weapon grade communications solutions for Psychological Operations (Psyops): the ability to undermine the enemy, win support from the uncommitted, affirm support of the committed, persuade your troops to fight, your enemies to surrender, your Nationals to support you and the International Community to endorse you.
Specifically, campaigns have included counter terrorism/radicalization programmes, Information Operations Training, International Public Affairs and the development of Strategic Communication doctrinal policy.
"SCL established SCL Elections Ltd and between 1994 and 2010 SCL Elections provided the research, planning and strategy for over 23 election campaigns – WITHOUT LOSS. These have included Nelson Mandela’s election campaign for the African National Congress, the largest political research project ever undertaken."
Over the same period, SCL also offered its TAA methodology to governments and political parties world-wide. The goal was to deliver extremely powerful research and strategy to allow them to ‘persuade’ and ‘influence’ their critical audience – the electorate – to make the right decision in local, state and national elections.
To undertake this work SCL established SCL Elections Ltd and between 1994 and 2010 SCL Elections provided the research, planning and strategy for over 23 election campaigns – WITHOUT LOSS. These have included Nelson Mandela’s election campaign for the African National Congress, the largest political research project ever undertaken - in Thailand and managing the difficult shift of power from President Suharto to President Abdurrahman Wahid in Indonesia.
In today’s global information environment, where public opinion is everything, SCL has the knowledge, the people and the experience to offer world leaders powerful and effective behavioural change training, consultancy and turnkey solutions.
Foreign governments have been quick to embrace this new thinking and consequently SCL has provided communication training, consulting and infrastructure campaigns for governments and militaries all over the world. Such campaigns have included:
• A communication programme designed to reduce the number of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) being built by the ‘enemy’ in Iraq - being the primary cause of death for allied troops. (This was a perfect programme for SCL as it was immediately measurable and the Company could demonstrate that it was saving lives)
• A campaign to reduce and ultimately stop the large numbers of Maoist insurgents in Nepal from breaking into houses in remote areas to steal food, harass the homeowners and cause disruption. After analysing the underlying reasons for the antisocial behaviour, the recommended intervention was to provide food for the insurgents outside the houses in a public gathering place. The insurgents were now quite happy to take their food without having to break into people’s houses. Hunger was the primary motivation for their anti-social behaviour
"We have managed 23 election campaigns in their entirety, including second and third term elections for a number of clients."
• A campaign to reduce the incidences of terrorist recruitment, especially amongst young Muslim men/boys, in South East Asia. This pan-Asian campaign involved not just identifying the triggers that would elicit the correct response from the target audience, but also implementing the ensuing communications campaign across four countries
• Delivery to the United States Department of Defence and UK Ministry of Defence of a comprehensive TAA research report criticising the use of printed material in Afghanistan. In the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks, the United States government produced and distributed 1.3 million copies of a pamphlet called “The Network of Terrorism”. SCL found that the written word has very little meaning or credibility in Afghanistan, due to a literacy rate of between 20 and 30 percent
• Production of a five-tiered training programme covering strategic, operational and tactical Psyops and the design and re-equipping of a communication facility. The personnel had to be able to take over the new facility after only six months
• Design, build and install a Homeland Security Centre for an Asian country. The OpCentre could over-ride all national radio and TV broadcasts in time of crisis
• A research campaign in the Middle-East designed to identify the strategic influences that might prevent governing regimes from adopting a nuclear policy. Western attempts to restrict Middle-Eastern countries’ nuclear capability have been ill-received, due to the perception that to do so would be to restrict their ability to become first-order states. The SCL approach helped to understand the real underlying motivations behind such actions, which may go a long way towards resolving the issue.
• Delivery of a 3 phase SCL training programme, (including train-the-trainier) designed to provide a complete Information Operations capability (strategic and tactical) to a foreign military, to allow them to manage and operate their own military IO unit within 12 months
• To pre-test a major AIDS awareness campaign that was scheduled to be delivered across the Caribbean. The messages were simple and humorous in their portrayal of practicing safe sex. Our research showed that across a wide spectrum of the Caribbean islands, religion was a major factor in many people’s lives and that certainly procreation and sexual conduct was a matter of divine intervention. Consequently, the humour in the communications was very poorly received. A new, successful campaign was designed on the basis of our findings."
"FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS – FAQs
1. What experience does SCL Elections have? SCL Elections has worked in a varying capacity on more than 35 election campaigns worldwide. We have managed 23 election campaigns in their entirety, including second and third term elections for a number of clients.
"To date, we have a 100% track record in election management. We have never lost an election, which we have managed."
2. What makes SCL Elections services stand out? SCL Elections election campaign management services are unique. Unlike our competitors, our services are underpinned by powerful scientific methodologies developed by the Behavioural Dynamics Institute, a leading international centre of excellence for multidisciplinary research and development into target audience analysis, social influence and strategic communication. Using advanced behavioural protocols; we have the power to diagnose patterns of behaviour and effect measurable behavioural change within electorates. Put simply, we have the proven ability to persuade people to vote for our clients.
To date, we have a 100% track record in election management. We have never lost an election, which we have managed.
3. How can SCL Elections help me win an election? Our scientific approach, based on Target Audience Analysis, allows us to provide detailed profiling of a given electorate, including the identification of key ‘drivers’ and ‘switches’, which influence attitudes and command behaviours. Using such knowledge we can then develop effective strategic campaign plans and implement election campaigns designed to ‘press’ these buttons, thereby ensuring electoral success.
4. How can I be sure that SCL Elections will understand my country and electorate? Whilst we would never presume to understand our clients’ countries and electoral situations better than they do themselves, we nevertheless offer unique scientific methodologies that can be applied to any electoral scenario and that have a proven track record of winning elections.
We work in close partnership with our clients to utilise local knowledge and capabilities at all levels to supplement our election expertise and technical know-how.
5. Can I pick and choose different services? Our services are client oriented. Whilst we offer a fully comprehensive package of Election Services, ranging from advanced electoral polling, audience research and behavioural analysis, through to a fully comprehensive election campaign formulation and management solution, we tailor-make our services to suit our clients individual needs, however small or large they may be.
6. When should I contact SCL Elections? We have the capability to respond and services to match any given electoral situation at any point in the electoral process. Although it is preferable to allow 9-12 months for the implementation of a full campaign management solution, we also have the capability to respond immediately to crisis situations if required.
7. How quickly can SCL Elections respond to an inquiry? SCL Elections will respond to general enquiries immediately and can have a Senior Election Campaign manager in country within 24 hours if required.
"SCL is a UK government approved commercial body authorised to undertake military and civilian projects for foreign clients. SCL has received ‘List X’ accreditation from the British Government’s Ministry of Defence, the same equivalent to Facility Security Clearance (FSC) used in other countries, which provides us with Government endorsed clearance to handle information protectively marked as ‘confidential’ and above."
8. How can I trust SCL Elections? SCL is a UK Limited Company with head offices in London. We are committed to ensuring client confidentiality and never release or share information on any of our clients’ activities without their express permission. SCL is a UK government approved commercial body authorised to undertake military and civilian projects for foreign clients. SCL has received ‘List X’ accreditation from the British Government’s Ministry of Defence, the same equivalent to Facility Security Clearance (FSC) used in other countries, which provides us with Government endorsed clearance to handle information protectively marked as ‘confidential’ and above. We have an extensive worldwide track record and enquires can be directed through any British High Commission or Embassy.
9. How quickly can I expect results? Our services are results oriented. Our scientifically driven approach allows for a clear understanding and measurement of effectiveness, and we work closely with our clients to ensure that the behavioural effects of our services are readily identifiable and measurable.
10. How much is it going to cost? Given that our services are tailor-made, our costs vary depending on the extent and level of service our clients require. Generally, we provide fixed costs for specific services, such as Target Audience Analysis. In cases of full election campaign management, however, we may charge an agreed percentage of overall campaigns spend."
Nix's company background additionally provided two high-level UK references, one a former Privy Chancellor and the other from defence who was working within the Cabinet Office.
The Tuesday Letter has been published in full by Liberty Stratcom.