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Probe uncovers how two main parties use hacking and disinformation

Claims by Israeli contractors to have manipulated elections could have swayed votes in Kenya

The tepid reaction of Kenya's political class to an investigation detailing how Israeli national Tal Hanan's group of disinformation experts (known as Team Jorge) were hired to manipulate last year's presidential elections can be explained by the widespread use of such tactics by both the ruling party and the main opposition alliance.

As Kenya's electoral systems have developed digital technology to try to prevent fraud, campaigners have resorted to sophisticated surveillance and disinformation tactics to give them an edge over their opponents.

Hanan's operations were exposed by journalists working undercover (posing as potential clients) to whom he demonstrated Team Jorge's capabilities. These included revealed hacking techniques targeting three aides close to President William Ruto. That was in the run up to the August presidential elections pitting Ruto against Raila Odinga and the Azimio la Umoja alliance.

Hanan showed he could access the email inboxes of senior government officials across the continent. His team gathered inside information in election campaigns, its employees posing as journalists.

Hanan's team's software spread fake news and created thousands of fake social media profiles, which then spread disinformation. His teams have been using dark ops tactics undetected since 1999.

Both the main political alliances in Kenya have used these tactics. Ruto and his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta hired the disgraced data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica (CA)/Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) ahead of the 2013 and 2017 elections, with a team that included former Brexit party politician Alexandra Phillips, now a television presenter with GB News (AC Vol 58 No 17, New elections, old battles & Vol 60 No 15, Spinner caught in web).

The SCL group, of which CA was a subsidiary, was also involved in Nigeria's 2007 elections won by Umaru Yar'Adua. It has emerged that Team Jorge was also involved in a failed plan in 2015 to get Goodluck Jonathan re-elected as Nigeria's president and discredit his challenger Muhammadu Buhari. Hanan's disinformation software was also involved in spreading disinformation in the 2019 presidential election in Senegal.

It's unclear what effect these revelations about the hacking of Ruto's close political advisors will have. When asked if he had commissioned the hacking, Odinga equivocated. He told reporters that he used 'ethical hackers' to try to provide him with evidence that last year's poll was rigged.

A month after the presidential elections, the Supreme Court threw out Odinga's petition claiming foul play by Ruto's campaign and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Yet Odinga still refuses to accept the election results announced by the IEBC.

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