With all the talk—and perhaps ironic but justifiable—outrage over Russian meddling, by hacking into a DNC server during the 2016 US election and other activities, it seems only fitting to consider the reverse: America’s own history of meddling in the democratic elections of foreign countries. The fact is America has become internationally expert over the last century at inserting itself, sometimes in extra-legal ways, into the internal goings on of other countries and their elections, going so far as to even assassinate candidates and democratically elected heads of state it has deemed a threat to its interests.
Typically, these interventions are draped in deeply enshrined domestic moral justifications, but often the true motivator has been the spread not of American-style democracy as is often argued but rather the spread of US financial and market interests.
Dov Levin, a researcher at Carnegie-Mellon University who specializes in election interventions by foreign powers, says that the US has influenced, mostly by covert means, the outcomes of at least 81 foreign elections between the years 1946-2000, a little more than twice as many times as the USSR/Russia in that same time period.
Levin defines this particular type of intervention, as distinguished from coups and regime change, as “a costly act which is designed to determine the election results [in favor of] one of the two sides.”
The 1948 Italian Election
One of the perceived threats to US interests that has historically impelled the United States into the elections meddling game is the spread of Communism into Western nations. This has led the US, for instance, to intervene in the 1948 Italian election by re-routing monies intended for post-war reconstruction to establish new anti-Communist political entities as well to aid like-minded Christian Democratic Party candidates as well as to Catholic power centers.
But none of this was approved by Congress as it was part of a covert plan aimed at rolling back the forces of Communism in what the CIA at the time called “the most ancient seat of Western culture.” In other words, the CIA, spawned on by past successes of “purchasing elections and politicians,” was very worried that the Soviets were advancing in Western Europe and sought to stem the red encroachment with “bags of cash,” an act that would certainly put the US actors involved at odds with campaign finance law in the United States today.
Some of the other techniques the US, and to a much lesser extent the USSR/Russia, employed in election interventions were teaching the favored party in a certain locality the latest in campaign strategies, spreading misinformation about the opposition candidate through secret channels, and dangling foreign aid to effect voting outcomes.
The 1996 Russian Election
The US also sought, interestingly, to influence the 1996 Russian election to American advantage, in which President Clinton endorsed an IMF loan of more than $10 billion to advance a number of Capitalist reforms inside of Russia: open up markets, promote American-style free trade and democracy, and stabilize the US-friendly presidency of Boris Yeltsin, despite the fact that the Yeltsin government has been described as little more than a puppet for wealthy Russian Oligarchs.
During the intervening years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the US became almost religious in its attempts to transform the former Cold War adversary “into some facsimile of the American democratic and capitalist system,” pumping enormous amounts of money into Russia and corrupting the system as a result. This plan, of course, would not go as planned, as is often the case, but was an alarming failure.
The Clinton policy toward Post-Communist Russia was one of creating a kind of “American tutelage” relationship between the two powers, in which the United States would guide or force its erring partner to realize the wrongness of its ways. To this end, the US government send out swarms of so-called “advisors” throughout Russian, with the intent, in the words of the former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, of Russia “increasingly passing into de facto western receivership.”
Failed Efforts and Widespread Suffering
The resulting failure of these efforts brings into sharp contrast the relatively mild hacking by contrast of the Russian government into the DNC servers, though the US is right to take this very seriously and to prevent its occurrence. But life expectancy dropped precipitously in Russia during these years for both men and women. For men, the number went from 64 to 58 and for women 74 to 71, a decrease that far exceeded anything seen in modern industrialized nations.
Civil rights protections also fell by the wayside, and the process of “deindustrialization” and price gouging brought economic havoc to the lives of ordinary citizens, causing poverty levels to run rampant; while at the same time, this period also saw a dramatic uptick in creating brand new wealth to a rising class of oligarchs. But the situation grew so dire that Yelstin, with his popularity plummeting, enlisted the help of the newly wealthy oligarchs and embarked upon a very dirty campaign, undermining the nascent democratic reforms in Russia and setting the stage for the ascendency of Vladimir Putin.
Subverting Democratic elections in Nicaragua
Years earlier, the CIA helped tilt the 1990 Nicaragua election by secretly disseminating information about possible corruption in the Marxist National Liberation Front, the Sandinistas, across the pages of German newspapers. And its leader and then president, Daniel Ortega, just so happened to have been running for another term. The US successfully supported Violeta Chomorro, leader of the National Opposition Union, a multi-party organization with a platform of little more than opposition to the Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega.
But these examples, though certainly disastrous and illegal by our own standards and would no doubt throw the US into hysteria, are among the more innocuous and certainly less violent and deadly of US excursions into the internal goings on of other nations.
The School of the Americas and Everardo
The CIA teaches various methods of torture, assassination, and espionage at Fort Benning, Georgia’s School of the Americas, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, even publishing a special manual on the subject of torture. The agency, according to former State Department computer analyst, William Blum, is responsible for some 6 million deaths and murders as a result of its covert operations. Much of the CIA training at the school focuses on US/CIA interventions in Latin America, with Mexico a central focal point.
One of the more shocking stories of CIA interventions in other countries occurred in revolutionary Guatemala in 1992, in which CIA “assets” there were involved in the heinous kidnaping, torture, and murder of Efrain Bámaca Velásquez, AKA Everardo, a commanding officer in the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity Front.
At the time, the US had been involved in countless coups of democratically elected governments in Nicaragua, starting with its very first coup at the beginning of the civil war to unseat Jacob Arbenz in 1954.
Everardo and his group had been fighting the military junta, which was backed by the US, and which had been committing genocide, with US “operational involvement,” against Nicaragua’s indigenous peoples to the tune of some 200,000 persons by 1992, most of whom were Mayan. It was at this time that Evarardo suddenly went missing without so much as a trace.
It was later discovered, largely as a result of the efforts of Everardo’s North American wife, Jennifer Harbury, that he had been encased in a body cast in order to immobilize his body while he was tortured for two years and then executed. After years of lobbying an unwilling-to-cooperate US government for answers, Harbury eventually learned of her husband’s gruesome fate when an army torture program escapee revealed that Everardo was alive and being tortured. Harbury’s lobbying and hunger-strike efforts also began to pay off when former New Jersey Senator Toricelli produced proof in official US government documents that Everardo had been kidnapped and tortured by Guatemalan army officers in the employ of the CIA.
Expeditions into the Middle East: Iran
Another rich area of US involvement in the affairs of foreign nations is in the Middle East, a region perhaps made more volatile and unstable as a result of Western interventions. One such example occurred in 1953 when the US intelligence agency, the CIA, organized and executed a coup in Iran which resulted in the unseating of the first democratically elected leader there, Prime Minister Mohamed Mossadegh.
The CIA took these measures as a result of the scramble for oil reserves there set off by the post WWII competition for dominance in the region between the US and the Soviet Union. At the time, the Iranian legislature voted to nationalize the oil industry, dealing a severe blow to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and to British controlling financial interests. This set off alarms in the highest echelons of the American and British governments.
The problem was that such an action severely affected the economies of both the US but especially Britain, threatening British expansion plans of its Mideast oil production capabilities to boost its economy. The United States was embarking upon a campaign at the time, with Marshall Plan funds, to build oil refineries in Europe to process the Anglo-Iranian Company produced crude oil, which, on account of the nationalization movement in Iran, would be diminished below that required for the purchase of new raw materials overseas for further production and would open the way for Soviet expansion into these assets.
CIA agents, one of them the grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, began their plans to overthrow the Iranian government by bribing government officials, business leaders, and even criminals in the streets, enlisting the support of groups from all sectors of that society. Operatives fomented dissent in the streets by an intense campaign of propaganda and misinformation about the Mossadegh government and secured military and security forces. These groups would support the Washington-friendly government to be installed and would violently oppose the democratically elected prime minister at each stage of the coup.
US Backed Nazi Sympathizer
On August 19th, the CIA arrested members of the Mossadegh govenment and installed a man once arrested by the British government for attempting to establish a Nazi government, General Fazlollah Zahedi, as the new prime minister of Iran.
And for those who think US interventions into the internal goings on of foreign nations are a vestige of America’s Cold War past, consider the case of Iraq.
Beginning in 1994, the US intelligence service, the CIA, began to implement a secret plan, codenamed DBACHILLES, to topple the Saddam Hussein government by military coup. The plan involved subverting top military leaders against Hussein.
But as a result of poorly managing these assets on the ground, the secret military coalition was breached by loyalists to Hussein and his Ba’athist government, and the defections of Iraqi fighter forces never materialized. The plan failed miserably “in a blood bath in June of 1996,” in which many hundreds of civilians were killed.
In 2003, US forces plowed through Iraq again, eventually toppling the Hussein government, capturing Hussein himself, and ending his time in power. One of the reasons provided by the Bush administration for this war was that Hussein was connected to Al Qaeda and therefore to the 911 attacks. But this turned out to be a serious misrepresentation of the facts of intelligence reports. Further, the Bush administration asserted that Hussein had been stockpiling weapons of mass destruction since the first Iraqi war began back in 1991. As it turned out, this assessment too flew in the face of actual intelligence reports that said there was no basis for this claim.
While the truth is the reports about WMDs in Iraq were somewhat substantiated, the reports were terribly conflicted, with some disagreeing vehemently. But the expert government agencies on WMDs and nuclear weapons, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Department of Energy, offered significant “dissent.”
Misleading the People
In the end, we do not know why the Bush administration appeared to have lied about its motivations for invading Iraq, leaving room for serious question as to what led a US administration to further destabilize the region and cause a power vacuum there that would come to be filled by some of the very people launching terror attacks today all over the world, including here in the US. But when one considers America’s post WWII history of toppling governments and effecting military coups of democratically elected governments, one can only guess that oil and Russia are firmly embedded in the ultimate causes.
One thing is for sure: While there is little question that Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election is a very serious affair that must be firmly dealt with, the breaching of DNC servers by Russian hackers seems a much less odious and certainly less deadly act of meddling than the incredibly bloody history of US involvement in foreign nations across the globe.