For over a year since Donald J. Trump was elected as US President there have been many media stories concerning allegations that Russia had interfered in the US Presidential Election, and issue currently being investigated by former FBI director, Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed by the US Justice Department to find out whether any inappropriate Russian interference had taken place in Trump’s election. But very little has been written about the long running interference by the United States Government itself in foreign elections. Here are two stories that do address this inconvenient history.
US Meddling in Foreign Elections: A CIA Tradition Since 1948 5 out of 5 based on 5 ratings. 5 user reviews.
US Meddling in Foreign Elections: A CIA Tradition Since 1948
Written by Wayne Madsen; Originally appeared on strategic-culture.org
In a shocking display of relative independence from the post-Operation Mockingbird control of the media by the Central Intelligence Agency, a recent article in The New York Times broke with current conventional pack journalism and covered the long history of CIA meddling in foreign elections. A February 17, 2018, article, titled, “Russia Isn’t the Only One Meddling in Elections. We Do It, Too,” authored by Scott Shane – who covered the perestroika and glasnost for The Baltimore Sun in Moscow from 1988 to 1991 during the final few years of the Soviet Union – reported the US has interfered in foreign elections for decades. However, a couple of old US intelligence hands were quoted in the article as saying the US meddling was for altruistic purposes. The CIA veterans charged that Russia interferes in foreign elections for purely malevolent purposes. The belief that American interference in global elections was to promote liberal democracy could not be further from the truth.
The CIA never meddled in foreign elections for purposes of extending democratic traditions to other nations. The chief purpose was to disenfranchise leftist and progressive voters and political parties, ensure the veneer of “democracy” in totalitarian countries, and protect the interests of the US military bases and US multinational corporations.
In double-talk that is reminiscent of the Cold War years, the CIA considers its election interference to fall under the category of “influence operations,” while the same agency accuses Russia of “election meddling.” In truth, there is no difference between the two categories. Election interference represents intelligence service “tradecraft” and it has been practiced by many intelligence agencies, including those of Israel, France, Britain, China, India, and others.
On the rare occasions when the CIA’s efforts to rig an election failed – as they did in Guatemala in 1950 and Chile in 1970 – the agency simply organized bloody military coups to replace with military juntas the democratically-elected presidents who defeated CIA-supported candidates at the polls.
In 1954, the CIA’s Operation PBSUCCESS overthrew the Guatemalan government of President Jacobo Arbenz, who was elected in 1950 on a platform of agrarian reform that would improve the lives of Guatemala’s peasants, many of whom suffered under the indentured servitude of the US-owned United Fruit Company. United Fruit maintained industrial-level plantations across the country. Working with the CIA, United Fruit did its best to ensure defeat for Arbenz in the 1950 election. When that tactic failed, United Fruit, the CIA, and US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles devised a plan to overthrow Arbenz in a military coup. Guatemala became a stereotypical American-influenced “banana republic.”
The Chilean junta that replaced Socialist President Salvador Allende, who was elected in 1970 despite massive CIA interference, transformed Chile into a testbed for the vulture capitalism devised by the “Chicago Boys” – a group of Chilean economists who studied under the neo-conservative economist Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago. Friedman called the massive free market laissez-faire policies instituted by the regime of General Augusto Pinochet the “Miracle of Chile.” The economic policies, which a US Senate Intelligence Committee investigation concluded were crafted with the help of the CIA, saw the elimination of trade tariffs, the mass sell-off of state-owned enterprises, cutting of taxes, privatization of the state-run pension system, and de-regulation of industry.
In 1990, CIA election meddling in Nicaragua ensured a win for the opposition over the ruling Sandinista-led government. This type of meddling was repeated in the 2000 Serbian election, which saw President Slobodan Milosevic ejected from power. The ouster of Milosevic saw the first demonstrated cooperation in election meddling between the CIA and international hedfe fund tycoon George Soros’s Open Society Institute cadres. In 2009, the CIA attempted to defeat Afghan President Hamid Karzai for re-election. Although Karzai was re-elected, he bitterly complained about the CIA’s interference in the election.
MS-NBC constantly features as a contributing expert on Russia the former US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul. However, McFaul never mentions how he funneled CIA cash – some $6.8 million in total – via the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its two branches, the International Republican Institute of the Republican Party and the National Democratic Institute of the Democratic Party, to Russian opposition leaders like Aleksei Navalny. Nor does the US media mention that the CIA and State Department funneled some $5 billion into Ukraine in order to bring about a pro-US government in that country.
McFaul hosted Russian opposition party meetings at the US embassy and ignored warnings that Navalny’s coalition included several neo-Nazi nationalists, who oppose immigrants hailing from south of the Russian border. Although he has been called by some Western journalists the “Russian Erin Brokovich” (an American environmental activist), Navalny is more like the “Russian David Duke.” Duke is the former leader of the American racist group, the Ku Klux Klan.
Declassified CIA files are replete with examples of agency interference in foreign elections, including state elections in India and West Germany and provincial elections in Australia, Canada, and Japan. In the 1950s, the CIA provided massive support to the West German Christian Democrats, which were led by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. The CIA also did its best to suppress supprt for the West German Social Democrats and the far-right nationalist German Party in Berlin, Hesse, and Bavaria.
In 1967, Indian Foreign Minister M. C. Chagla charged that the CIA “meddled” in India’s election, mainly through financial donations to parties in opposition to the ruling Indian Congress party. The CIA particularly targeted Communist parties in West Bengal and Kerala states.
Former Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker of the Conservative Party charged in 1967 that CIA funds were used to bolster the Liberal Party, which contributed to Diefenbaker’s electoral losses in two general elections held between May 1962 and June 1963. Diefenbaker’s successor, Prime Minister Lester Pearson of the Liberal Party, discovered that the CIA funneled cash to the pro-Liberal Canadian Union of Students in 1965 and 1966.
The CIA did everything possible to defeat for re-election the New Zealand Labor Party government of Prime Minister David Lange. The CIA provided propaganda support to the opposition National Party, which was opposed to Lange’s policy of denying entry to New Zealand waters of US nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered warships. The CIA ensured that pro-American media in New Zealand harped on about New Zealand record-high 6 percent unemployment, the nation’s foreign debt being half of its gross domestic product, and $1 billion budget deficit. The CIA also attempted to suppress traditional Maori support for Labor in the August 15, 1987 election, a cynical use of race-based politics to alter an election outcome.
Between 1965 and 1967, the CIA station in Brazil, working in conjunction with the AFL/CIO union in the United States and its international arm, the American Institute of Free Labor Development (AIFLD), were discovered to be interfering in union elections in Brazil. The Sao Paulo office of the AIFLD, which was nothing more than a CIA front, made cash payments to Brazilian officials to corrupt union elections in the Brazilian petroleum sector. An itemized list of CIA bribes to Brazilian officials was discovered by a Sao Paulo union official: “Bonus to Jose Abud for collaboration – $156.25; Special payment to Dt. Jorge M. Filho of Labor Ministry – $875.00; Trip for Mr. Glaimbore Guimasaes, our informer at Fegundes St. – $56.25; Photocopies of books and documents of Petroleum Federation – $100.00; Assistance to Guedes and Eufrasio to defeat Luis Furtado of the Suzano Union – $140.64.”
Prior to the September 4, 1964 Chilean presidential election, the leftist Popular Action Front opposition discovered that US chargé d’affaires Joseph Jova was assisting the Christian Democratic Party candidate. Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei Montalva, with the CIA’s help, defeated Allende.
A CIA memo dated October 3, 1955, describes CIA support for the pro-Western. Masjumi Party in the Indonesian election, the nation’s first since independence. CIA director Allen Dulles appeared to be hopeful about the chances of a Masjumi victory due to Indonesia’s “large percentage of illiterates.” In the 1984 El Salvador presidential election, the CIA supported Christian Democrat Jose Napoleon Duarte over the more extreme-right winger, Roberto d’Aubisson. Republican US Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina charged that the CIA “meddled” in the election on behalf of Duarte. It was even discovered that the “invisible ink” used on the fingers of those who had voted was supplied from the CIA.
If the United States truly wants to halt foreign interference in elections, it must be the first to advocate and adhere to such a policy. Just as with the nuclear test-ban treaty, the convention to abolish biological and chemical weapons, and the treaty to prohibit weapons in outer space, the United States should call for an international treaty to ban election interference in all of its forms – the use of cyber-attacks, propaganda, social media manipulation, and funding of foreign political parties. Without such a commitment, US protestations about election meddling will continue to be a case of “do as I say, not as I do.”
SundayReview | News Analysis
Russia Isn’t the Only One Meddling in Elections. We Do It, Too.
By SCOTT SHANE
New York Times, FEB. 17, 2018
Credit Adam Maida
Bags of cash delivered to a Rome hotel for favored Italian candidates. Scandalous stories leaked to foreign newspapers to swing an election in Nicaragua. Millions of pamphlets, posters and stickers printed to defeat an incumbent in Serbia.
The long arm of Vladimir Putin? No, just a small sample of the United States’ history of intervention in foreign elections.
On Tuesday, American intelligence chiefs warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia appears to be preparing to repeat in the 2018 midterm elections the same full-on chicanery it unleashed in 2016: hacking, leaking, social media manipulation and possibly more. Then on Friday, Robert Mueller, the special counsel, announced the indictments of 13 Russians and three companies, run by a businessman with close Kremlin ties, laying out in astonishing detail a three-year scheme to use social media to attack Hillary Clinton, boost Donald Trump and sow discord.
Most Americans are understandably shocked by what they view as an unprecedented attack on our political system. But intelligence veterans, and scholars who have studied covert operations, have a different, and quite revealing, view.
“If you ask an intelligence officer, did the Russians break the rules or do something bizarre, the answer is no, not at all,” said Steven L. Hall, who retired in 2015 after 30 years at the C.I.A., where he was the chief of Russian operations. The United States “absolutely” has carried out such election influence operations historically, he said, “and I hope we keep doing it.”
Loch K. Johnson, the dean of American intelligence scholars, who began his career in the 1970s investigating the C.I.A. as a staff member of the Senate’s Church Committee, says Russia’s 2016 operation was simply the cyber-age version of standard United States practice for decades, whenever American officials were worried about a foreign vote.
“We’ve been doing this kind of thing since the C.I.A. was created in 1947,” said Mr. Johnson, now at the University of Georgia. “We’ve used posters, pamphlets, mailers, banners — you name it. We’ve planted false information in foreign newspapers. We’ve used what the British call ‘King George’s cavalry’: suitcases of cash.”
The United States’ departure from democratic ideals sometimes went much further. The C.I.A. helped overthrow elected leaders in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s and backed violent coups in several other countries in the 1960s. It plotted assassinations and supported brutal anti-Communist governments in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
But in recent decades, both Mr. Hall and Mr. Johnson argued, Russian and American interferences in elections have not been morally equivalent. American interventions have generally been aimed at helping non-authoritarian candidates challenge dictators or otherwise promoting democracy. Russia has more often intervened to disrupt democracy or promote authoritarian rule, they said.
Equating the two, Mr. Hall says, “is like saying cops and bad guys are the same because they both have guns — the motivation matters.”
This broader history of election meddling has largely been missing from the flood of reporting on the Russian intervention and the investigation of whether the Trump campaign was involved. It is a reminder that the Russian campaign in 2016 was fundamentally old-school espionage, even if it exploited new technologies. And it illuminates the larger currents of history that drove American electoral interventions during the Cold War and motivate Russia’s actions today.
A Carnegie Mellon scholar, Dov H. Levin, has scoured the historical record for both overt and covert election influence operations. He found 81 by the United States and 36 by the Soviet Union or Russia between 1946 and 2000, though the Russian count is undoubtedly incomplete.
“I’m not in any way justifying what the Russians did in 2016,” Mr. Levin said. “It was completely wrong of Vladimir Putin to intervene in this way. That said, the methods they used in this election were the digital version of methods used both by the United States and Russia for decades: breaking into party headquarters, recruiting secretaries, placing informants in a party, giving information or disinformation to newspapers.”
His findings underscore how routine election meddling by the United States — sometimes covert and sometimes quite open — has been.
The precedent was established in Italy with assistance to non-Communist candidates from the late 1940s to the 1960s. “We had bags of money that we delivered to selected politicians, to defray their expenses,” said F. Mark Wyatt, a former C.I.A. officer, in a 1996 interview.
Covert propaganda has also been a mainstay. Richard M. Bissell Jr., who ran the agency’s operations in the late 1950s and early 1960s, wrote casually in his autobiography of “exercising control over a newspaper or broadcasting station, or of securing the desired outcome in an election.” A self-congratulatory declassified report on the C.I.A.’s work in Chile’s 1964 election boasts of the “hard work” the agency did supplying “large sums” to its favored candidate and portraying him as a “wise, sincere and high-minded statesman” while painting his leftist opponent as a “calculating schemer.”
C.I.A. officials told Mr. Johnson in the late 1980s that “insertions” of information into foreign news media, mostly accurate but sometimes false, were running at 70 to 80 a day. In the 1990 election in Nicaragua, the C.I.A. planted stories about corruption in the leftist Sandinista government, Mr. Levin said. The opposition won.
Over time, more American influence operations have been mounted not secretly by the C.I.A. but openly by the State Department and its affiliates. For the 2000 election in Serbia, the United States funded a successful effort to defeat Slobodan Milosevic, the nationalist leader, providing political consultants and millions of stickers with the opposition’s clenched-fist symbol and “He’s finished” in Serbian, printed on 80 tons of adhesive paper and delivered by a Washington contractor.
Vince Houghton, who served in the military in the Balkans at the time and worked closely with the intelligence agencies, said he saw American efforts everywhere. “We made it very clear that we had no intention of letting Milosevic stay in power,” said Mr. Houghton, now the historian at the International Spy Museum.
Similar efforts were undertaken in elections in wartime Iraq and Afghanistan, not always with success. After Hamid Karzai was re-elected president of Afghanistan in 2009, he complained to Robert Gates, then the secretary of defense, about the United States’ blatant attempt to defeat him, which Mr. Gates calls in his memoir “our clumsy and failed putsch.”
At least once the hand of the United States reached boldly into a Russian election. American fears that Boris Yeltsin would be defeated for re-election as president in 1996 by an old-fashioned Communist led to an overt and covert effort to help him, urged on by President Bill Clinton. It included an American push for a $10 billion International Monetary Fund loan to Russia four months before the voting and a team of American political consultants (though some Russians scoffed when they took credit for the Yeltsin win).
That heavy-handed intervention made some Americans uneasy. Thomas Carothers, a scholar at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace, recalls arguing with a State Department official who told him at the time, “Yeltsin is democracy in Russia,” to which Mr. Carothers said he replied, “That’s not what democracy means.”
But what does democracy mean? Can it include secretly undermining an authoritarian ruler or helping challengers who embrace democratic values? How about financing civic organizations?
In recent decades, the most visible American presence in foreign politics has been taxpayer-funded groups like the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, which do not support candidates but teach basic campaign skills, build democratic institutions and train election monitors.
Most Americans view such efforts as benign — indeed, charitable. But Mr. Putin sees them as hostile. The National Endowment for Democracy gave a $23,000 grant in 2006 to an organization that employed Aleksei Navalny, who years later became Mr. Putin’s main political nemesis, a fact the government has used to attack both Mr. Navalny and the endowment. In 2016, the endowment gave 108 grants totaling $6.8 million to organizations in Russia for such purposes as “engaging activists” and “fostering civic engagement.” The endowment no longer names Russian recipients, who, under Russian laws cracking down on foreign funding, can face harassment or arrest.
It is easy to understand why Mr. Putin sees such American cash as a threat to his rule, which tolerates no real opposition. But American veterans of democracy promotion find abhorrent Mr. Putin’s insinuations that their work is equivalent to what the Russian government is accused of doing in the United States today.
“It’s not just apples and oranges,” said Kenneth Wollack, president of the National Democratic Institute. “It’s comparing someone who delivers lifesaving medicine to someone who brings deadly poison.”
What the C.I.A. may have done in recent years to steer foreign elections is still secret and may not be known for decades. It may be modest by comparison with the agency’s Cold War manipulation. But some old-timers aren’t so sure.
“I assume they’re doing a lot of the old stuff, because, you know, it never changes,” said William J. Daugherty, who worked for the C.I.A. from 1979 to 1996 and at one time had the job of reviewing covert operations. “The technology may change, but the objectives don’t.”
Correction: February 18, 2018
An earlier version of this article stated incorrectly that Aleksei Navalny, a political opponent of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, had received grants from the National Endowment for Democracy. In fact, an organization employing him received one $23,000 grant from the endowment in 2006.
Scott Shane is a national security reporter for The Times and a former Moscow correspondent.
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A version of this news analysis appears in print on February 18, 2018, on Page SR4 of the New York edition with the headline: America Meddles in Elections