FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Electoral Interference as Reality: a Brief History

by

We should not forget the encouragement: hack those emails, extolled Donald J. Trump during the presidential campaign in 2016.  It was the first public evocation of its sort, an invitation to a foreign power, in this case Russia, to indulge in cyber activity that has now been described by various US members of congress as “an act of war”.

The excitement has turned, less on the issue of what the material revealed – suitably damaging, impairing and even disabling of, for instance, the Clinton campaign – but the fact of hacking itself.  US sovereignty, goes the cry, was breached.

The sense of many tears over spilt milk is hard to avoid.  The whole dimension of influencing – or at the very least attempting to – electoral outcomes, has a long history.  In the 1990s, the US election system faced outside influences – on that occasion from funding sources in China.  Campaign financing, notably favouring the Democrats, became the hot topic of discussion.  As with what took place in 2016, there was rage and indignation.

Sober voices suggested that some soul searching beyond the moral cant was in order.  “China has done little more,” claimed Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive, an affiliate of George Washington University, “than emulate a long pattern of US manipulation, bribery and covert operations to influence the political trajectory of countless countries around the world.”[1]

When it comes to electoral interference, the United States can hold its own, whether through the soft power hands of the National Endowment for Democracy, or the more thuggish applications of the Central Intelligence Agency.  In brute fashion, the US has swaggered imperially into and through state systems without much care.  Even moderate stages of operation saw funding provided for the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s, and various parties from Northern Ireland to Portugal.

During the Cold War, regimes were overthrown precisely because the electoral outcome was deemed undesirable to the stake holding power, or even too risky to entertain.  Behind the screens and in the shadows of elections, local campaigns would also be shaped, funded and sabotaged.  Local proxies were cultivated.  The Soviets empowered their active intelligence arm, the KGB, to engage in aktivinyye meropriatia (“active measures”) rich with political warfare tactics to influence policy.[2]

The US, in mirror fashion, complemented such tactics, employing strategies of discrediting and targeting with similar feats of deception.  More often than not, the trajectory disrupting target would be a rabble rousing populist, storming into the seat of government on the crest of a democratic wave.

The short of it is that both the United States and the United Kingdom, both states distinctly outraged by claims of Russian influence in both the UK election in 2015 and the US election a year later, were certainly, and avidly, doing their bit to transform and retard societies in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa, restoring ceremonially heavy monarchies, backing blood curdling despots and encouraging the nasty effects: murder, looting, carnage.

In the trophy cabinet of such meddling lie dark memories of the overthrow of Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, a process that led to the return of authoritarianism in the form of the Pahlavi dynasty. As the wheel turned in vengeance, the dynasty would fall to the religious populist outrage inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini.

To these ghastly exploits can be added the removal and murder of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba in 1961, and the overthrow of Chile’s Salvador Allende in 1973 in what is remembered as that country’s September 11.  Similar methods; similar bloody outcomes.

Economic and business imperatives were also dominant factors. In 1954, the strongarm gangster spirit of the United Fruit Co. (with direct interests with members of Congress), did Guatemala’s pro-agrarian and reformist Jacobo Arbenz in.  Behind every nuisance of a democracy lurked the CIA, ready to pounce and strangle its quarry in the name of free enterprise.

The best, for last: allies, friends, who also wish to see their trajectory of history assured in the other country. After the outbreak of the Second World War, a threatened Britain was keen to push a pro-war line in the United States, initiating its own campaign through covert operations to get the candidates they wanted into a hostile Congress. Neutrality was the enemy.

This effort had, and here the word is appropriate, local collaborators, those scores, as Steve Usdin notes, “perhaps hundreds – of Americans who believed that fighting fascism justified unethical and, at times, illegal behaviour”.[3]

Usdin reminds us in salient fashion that Britain’s Secret Intelligence Services were adept at using their own variant of fake news and smear campaigns against candidates sympathetic to the “America First” line.

In 1999, a history commissioned by Canadian Sir William Stephenson, chief of British Security Coordination responsible or SIS operations in North and South America (1941-5), was declassified.[4]  It revealed, in stark fashion, the extensive efforts made by Churchill’s government to intercept enemy communications, infiltrate labour unions and deploy radio and print propaganda sympathetic to Britain’s cause through the United States.  Friends, indeed.

In the final analysis, electoral interference may not even net desirable results for the purported meddler.  Beware the horse you back, not to mention the faecal blowback.  Having Trump in the White House is certainly a different prospect from previous presidents, but Russia still faces the sanctions lobby in the State Department and an increased defence budget. A cursory appreciation of remarks by the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, on the veto by Russia and China of new sanctions on Syria, would attest to that.[5]

Notes. 

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/31/us/political-meddling-by-outsiders-not-new-for-us.html

[2] http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/science-and-technology/active-measures-a-history-of-russian-interference-in-us-elections

[3] http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/01/when-a-foreign-government-interfered-in-a-us-electionto-reelect-fdr-214634

[4] https://www.amazon.com/British-Security-Coordination-Intelligence-1940-1945/dp/088064236X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1484169486&sr=8-1&keywords=british+security+coordination+history%20or%20http://www.worldcat.org/title/british-security-coordination-the-se

[5] http://www.scmp.com/news/world/middle-east/article/2075006/china-and-russia-veto-new-un-sanctions-syria-over-chemical

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Sam Pizzigati
The Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
David Yearsley
Handel’s Executioner
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail