Source: The New York Times
By Danny Hakim
The price of oil was in free fall and a youthful population restive.
So the government of Saudi Arabia turned in recent years to the parent company of the political data firm Cambridge Analytica for help, according to Western consultants who worked in the kingdom, company executives and a review of public documents.
The work by Cambridge’s parent, a secretive defense and intelligence contractor called SCL Group, presaged the tumultuous changes that are reshaping the kingdom. The company, now mired in scandals related to its corporate practices and the use of Facebook user data, conducted a detailed population study. It provided a psychological road map of the kingdom’s citizenry and its sentiment toward the royal family, even testing potential reform steps as they charted a path forward to preserve stability.
The consultants and executives spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were bound by nondisclosure agreements.
One proposal tested by the company was lifting a 35-year ban on cinemas in the kingdom, an action that was subsequently taken in December. Another was allowing women to drive, a move that was made last September.