Disgraced former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner personally funded an ethnically divisive disinformation campaign in Trinidad and Tobago designed by an election engineering firm to discourage black Trinidadians from voting.
Warner is currently fighting extradition to the U.S. on charges of corruption, including that he accepted $5 million in bribes to vote for Russia to be awarded the 2018 World Cup.
However, his involvement with the “Do So!” campaign led by SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, has never before been revealed. The campaign, which may have swayed Trinidad’s 2010 election in favor of his United National Congress party, used graffiti, billboards, and music videos to suggest to black Trinidadian youth that they shouldn’t vote.
At the time of “Do So!”, which ran during the 2010 Trinidad primaries, Warner’s career in international football was sputtering to an end amid accusations that he had traded favors for money. But he was laying the groundwork for a second act as a Trinidadian politician, having been elected to represent the United National Congress party in parliament in 2007.
The 2010 vote was a critical juncture in Trinidadian politics, with the incumbent prime minister looking vulnerable after three terms in power. Given the stakes, one expert called the role played by SCL “really disturbing.” Emma Briant, 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 contextual what can do damage in a particular society,” she said. “In Trinidad … there is this racial divide in politics, and you can either play to that or try to find something that doesn’t.”
SCL was formed in the 1990s by British businessman Nigel Oakes, and invested $20 million into developing what Oakes called an “advanced persuasion methodology.”
The company later rebranded and launched a political section focusing on “election management” and other campaigns, mostly in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. On its website — taken offline after the company went into administration in 2019 — it boasted of influencing political outcomes from Indonesia to South Africa.
The firm also brought on Alexander Nix, who took over its electioneering work and eventually started a new venture, Cambridge Analytica. This was the infamous election engineering agency that assisted Donald Trump’s rise to the U.S. presidency in 2016.
Long before Cambridge Analytica would enter Trump’s orbit, Nix was busy working in the Caribbean under the SCL banner.
Sven Hughes, the former head of elections for SCL, said the firm had worked in Trinidad before under the leadership of Nigel Oakes, who already had established contacts with an opposition party. At the time, a lot of contractors worked on campaigns in the region, he recalled: “It was just ‘which election is next?’ and you get passed around.”
SCL spotted an opportunity to put an opposition party in power in Trinidad, which they saw as more advantageous. A fresh breath in government meant fresh deals, he noted.
Hughes said that one night in April 2010, he and Nix waited in a run-down hotel room in Port of Spain until they received a 3 a.m. phone call from Warner’s lawyer, Om Lalla, telling them they could head over for a secret meeting. The four convened in Warner’s FIFA-regalia-clad office, and made a plan.
“Warner gave us a tour of his various FIFA medals, photos, posters, and then … we got down to business,” Hughes recalled in an interview with OCCRP/Oštro.
They agreed that SCL would run what it called a “groundswell” guerilla marketing campaign ahead of the 2010 Trinidad primaries, to show the United National Congress what SCL could do, and that Warner would pay for it. Later, Warner would use his influence to get party leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar to meet with the electioneering firm, Hughes said. The hope was that SCL would be given a much larger contract, worth $4 or $5 million, to devise a campaign for the upcoming general election.
Reuters/Alamy Stock Photo
“Do So!” campaign posters and graffiti promoting opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar ahead of the parliamentary elections in Port of Spain, May 2010.
An email obtained by OCCRP shows that in late April 2010, Lalla sent Nix and Hughes a list of marginal constituencies that SCL should focus its campaign on.
The following month, Lalla told Hughes he could write to Warner’s secretary to get the money for the campaign. “She has payment of the sum of $62K usd for SCL,” Lalla wrote in an another email, leaked to The Guardian and shared with OCCRP. “She will also provide you with the details of payment made in the sum of $15k usd for the license fee of the Do So [campaign.].”
Citing attorney-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 planned much of the campaign. Its name was inspired by an old Trinidadian man who made headlines when he crossed his arms in front of him to refuse the incumbent prime minister to enter his property for an electioneering visit.
“Bingo, I had my behaviour change campaign, or a ‘psychological judo’ campaign, to be specific,” Hughes wrote in the document he said he submitted to the FBI.
He recalled drawing up the campaign artwork in his hotel room: “A pair of black arms, crossed, with the line ‘DO SO!’ underneath, printed on the UNC Coalition yellow.” The implication was that youth should also cross their arms and abstain from politics.
Reuters/Alamy Stock Photo
“Do So!” campaign posters plastered on the streets of Port of Spain ahead of Trinidad and Tobago’s 2010 general election.
“Do So!”’s message of apolitical defiance took off among Trinidadian youth, but it also became infamous after a 2019 Netflix documentary about Cambridge Analytica highlighted it as a key example of the firm’s covert influence operations.
Roughly half the population of Trinidad and Tobago is of African descent, while the other half is Indian. The Netflix documentary included a secret voice recording of Nix bragging that the goal of the campaign was to increase voter apathy and discourage young Afro-Trinidadians from voting, since SCL’s client was more popular among Indians.
Nix explained the campaign’s message like this:
“Don’t vote. … It’s a sign of resistance against — not the government, against politics. And voting…
“We knew that when it came to voting, all the Afro-Caribbean kids wouldn’t vote, because they ‘Do So’. But all the Indian kids would do what their parents told them to do, which is go out and vote.”
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Hughes denied this to OCCRP, insisting that the campaign wasn’t intended to target voters by race and that he had devised it without any involvement from Nix.
“It was absolutely not some sort of divisional campaign,” he said. “It was only about making the voters feel empowered to stand up to Manning’s increasingly autocratic government.”
However, a polling report created by SCL for the United National Congress, and obtained by OCCRP and Oštro, notes that the campaign was designed to focus specifically on Afro-Trinidadian voters.
Briant, the disinformation expert, said it was “a little bit naive to think they weren’t leveraging the different ethnic groups against each other.”
“They were leveraging some things that essentially were designed to get at the youth, that would reinforce these kinds of divisive ethnic processes of decision-making in the elections, and they were basically trying to work with people who really didn’t care about the youth of the country … and doing it in such a way that was clearly trying to stoke divisions,” she added.
Despite the seeming success of “Do So!”, SCL never ended up landing the big assignment it was angling for.
“Warner got us a meeting with Kamla … but Bertie blew it,” Hughes recalled, referring to Nix by his nickname. “Kamla clearly didn’t like his long presentation style with all those slides and told him to hurry up. He took great offence at this and carried on with his slides.” Ultimately, he said, Nix got into a shouting match with the party boss and had to be escorted from the room.
But the United National Party did win the 2010 parliamentary elections, becoming a leading partner in the People’s Partnership coalition.
Reuters/Alamy Stock Photo
Persad-Bissessar and Warner talk during a campaign rally in May 2010.
Warner was appointed Public Works and Transport Minister and, later, Minister of National Security. CA Political, the Cambridge Analytica arm focused on political campaigning, boasted on its website of how it had influenced the 2010 elections in Trinidad and Tobago and gotten Persad-Bissessar elected as prime minister.
Nonetheless, accusations of corruption eventually caught up with Warner, and FIFA suspended him in 2011 for allegedly organizing the payment of cash bribes to members of a Caribbean football association. Soon after that he was forced to resign from both FIFA and CONCACAF, the influential Caribbean and North American football association he led.
In addition to the bribery allegations, Warner has been accused of failing to pay Trinidadian football players their bonus money; stealing funds for Haitian earthquake victims; allowing his son to sell black-market World Cup tickets through a family travel agency; and building a $26-million CONCACAF facility on land he owned, essentially granting him ownership over it.
In 2015, he was caught in one of the biggest bribery scandals in football history after the U.S. government alleged he had taken in millions of dollars’ worth of bribes from South African officials to fix the voting for the location of the 2010 World Cup.
Later that year, he was banned from football for life.
In 2018, Nix became the face of Cambridge Analytica’s downfall when the U.K.’s Channel 4 News revealed secret recordings of him selling the company’s techniques, including entrapment and bribery, to prospective clients who were actually undercover reporters.
Mark Bassant (Trinidad and Tobago Guardian) contributed reporting.
Fact-checking was provided by the OCCRP Fact-Checking Desk.