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

March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail