“The U.S. is no stranger to interfering in the elections of other countries.” One professor’s
database cites 81 attempts by the United States to influence elections in other countries,
notably in Iran, Guatemala and Chile. By Nina Agrawal, December 21, 2016
The CIA has accused Russia of interfering in the 2016 presidential election by hacking into
Democratic and Republican computer networks and selectively releasing emails. But critics
might point out the U.S. has done similar things.
The U.S. has a long history of attempting to influence presidential elections in other countries –
it’s done so as many as 81 times between 1946 and 2000, according to a database amassed by
political scientist Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon University.
That number doesn’t include military coups and regime change efforts following the election of
candidates the U.S. didn’t like, notably those in Iran, Guatemala and Chile. Nor does it include
general assistance with the electoral process, such as election monitoring.
Levin defines intervention as “a costly act which is designed to determine the election results [in
favor of] one of the two sides.” These acts, carried out in secret two-thirds of the time, include
funding the election campaigns of specific parties, disseminating misinformation or propaganda,
training locals of only one side in various campaigning or get-out-the-vote techniques, helping
one side design their campaign materials, making public pronouncements or threats in favor of or
against a candidate, and providing or withdrawing foreign aid.
In 59% of these cases, the side that received assistance came to power, although Levin estimates
the average effect of “partisan electoral interventions” to be only about a 3% increase in vote
The U.S. hasn’t been the only one trying to interfere in other countries’ elections, according to
Levin’s data. Russia attempted to sway 36 foreign elections from the end of World War II to the
turn of the century – meaning that, in total, at least one of the two great powers of the 20th
century intervened in about 1 of every 9 competitive, national-level executive elections in that
Italy’s 1948 general election is an early example of a race where U.S. actions probably
influenced the outcome.
“We threw everything, including the kitchen sink” at helping the Christian Democrats beat the
Communists in Italy, said Levin, including covertly delivering “bags of money” to cover
campaign expenses, sending experts to help run the campaign, subsidizing “pork” projects like
land reclamation, and threatening publicly to end U.S. aid to Italy if the Communists were
Levin said that U.S. intervention probably played an important role in preventing a Communist
Party victory, not just in 1948, but in seven subsequent Italian elections.
Throughout the Cold War, U.S. involvement in foreign elections was mainly motivated by the
goal of containing communism, said Thomas Carothers, a foreign policy expert at the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace. “The U.S. didn’t want to see left-wing governments elected,
and so it did engage fairly often in trying to influence elections in other countries,” Carothers
This approach carried over into the immediate post-Soviet period.
In the 1990 Nicaragua elections, the CIA leaked damaging information on alleged corruption by
the Marxist Sandinistas to German newspapers, according to Levin. The opposition used those
reports against the Sandinista candidate, Daniel Ortega. He lost to opposition candidate Violeta
In Czechoslovakia that same year, the U.S. provided training and campaign funding to Vaclav
Havel’s party and its Slovak affiliate as they planned for the country’s first democratic election
after its transition away from communism.
“The thinking was that we wanted to make sure communism was dead and buried,” said Levin.
Even after that, the U.S. continued trying to influence elections in its favor.
In Haiti after the 1986 overthrow of dictator and U.S. ally Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the
CIA sought to support particular candidates and undermine Jean-Bertrande Aristide, a Roman
Catholic priest and proponent of liberation theology. The New York Times reported in the 1990s
that the CIA had on its payroll members of the military junta that would ultimately unseat
Aristide after he was democratically elected in a landslide over Marc Bazin, a former World
Bank official and finance minister favored by the U.S.
The U.S. also attempted to sway Russian elections. In 1996, with the presidency of Boris Yeltsin
and the Russian economy flailing, President Clinton endorsed a $10.2-billion loan from the
International Monetary Fund linked to privatization, trade liberalization and other measures that
would move Russia toward a capitalist economy. Yeltsin used the loan to bolster his popular
support, telling voters that only he had the reformist credentials to secure such loans, according
to media reports at the time. He used the money, in part, for social spending before the election,
including payment of back wages and pensions.
In the Middle East, the U.S. has aimed to bolster candidates who could further the IsraeliPalestinian peace process. In 1996, seeking to fulfill the legacy of assassinated Israeli Prime
Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the peace accords the U.S. brokered, Clinton openly supported
Shimon Peres, convening a peace summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik to boost his
popular support and inviting him to a meeting at the White House a month before the election.
“We were persuaded that if [Likud candidate Benjamin] Netanyahu were elected, the peace
process would be closed for the season,” said Aaron David Miller, who worked at the State
Department at the time.
In 1999, in a more subtle effort to sway the election, top Clinton strategists, including James
Carville, were sent to advise Labor candidate Ehud Barak in the election against Netanyahu.
In Yugoslavia, the U.S. and NATO had long sought to cut off Serbian nationalist and Yugoslav
leader Slobodan Milosevic from the international system through economic sanctions and
military action. In 2000, the U.S. spent millions of dollars in aid for political parties, campaign
costs and independent media. Funding and broadcast equipment provided to the media arms of
the opposition were a decisive factor in electing opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica as
Yugoslav president, according to Levin. “If it wouldn’t have been for overt intervention …
Milosevic would have been very likely to have won another term,” he said.
published in Rolling Stone on October 20, 1977: THE CIA AND THE MEDIA
How Americas Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the CIA & Why
the Church Committee Covered It Up, BY CARL BERNSTEIN
More than 400 US journalists in the past twenty‑five years have secretly carried out assignments
for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters.
Many executives lent their cooperation to CIA (including William Paley of CBS, Arthur
Hays Sulzberger of the New York Times). Other organizations which cooperated with the CIA
include ABC, NBC, and the Associated Press. The most valuable association, according to CIA
officials, has been with the NY Times, CBS & Time Inc.
The CIA’s use of the American news media has been much more extensive than Agency
officials have acknowledged publicly or in closed sessions with members of Congress.
During the 1976 investigation of the CIA by the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by
Senator Frank Church of Idaho, the dimensions of the Agency’s involvement with the press
became apparent to members of the Committee, but top officials of the CIApersuaded the
committee to restrict its inquiry into the matter and to deliberately misrepresent the actual scope
of the activities in its final report. The final report contains nine pages in which the use of
journalists is discussed in deliberately vague and sometimes misleading terms. It makes no
mention of the actual number of journalists who worked for CIA. Nor does it adequately describe
the role played by newspaper and broadcast executives in cooperating with the Agency.
■ The New York Times. The Agency’s relationship with the Times was by far its most
valuable among newspapers, according to CIA. From 1950 to 1966, about 10 CIA employees
were provided Times cover under arrangements approved by the newspaper’s late publisher,
Arthur Hays Sulzberger. The general Times policy—set by Sulzberger—was to provide
assistance to the CIA whenever possible. Sulzberger was especially close to CIA chief Allen
Dulles. “There was an agreement in principle that, yes indeed, we would help each other.”
COLBY CUTS HIS LOSSES
THE CIA’S USE OF JOURNALISTS CONTINUED VIRTUALLY unabated until 1973 when,
in response to public disclosure that the Agency had secretly employed American reporters,
William Colby began scaling down the program. In his public statements, Colby conveyed the
impression that the use of journalists had been minimal and of limited importance to the Agency.
He then initiated a series of moves intended to convince the press, Congress and the public
that the CIA had gotten out of the news business. But according to Agency officials, Colby had
ordered his deputies to maintain Agency ties with its best journalist contacts while severing
formal relationships with many regarded as inactive, relatively unproductive or only marginally
In 11/73, after many such shifts had been made, Colby told reporters and editors from the NY
Times & the Washington Star that the Agency had “some 3 dozen” US newsmen “on the CIA
payroll.” Yet even while the Senate Intelligence Committee was holding its hearings in 1976,
according to high‑level CIA sources, the CIA continued to maintain ties with 75-90 journalists of
every description. According to an unpublished report by the House Select Committee on
Intelligence, chaired by Representative Otis Pike, at least 15 news organizations were still
providing cover for CIA operatives as of 1976.
After Colby left CIA in January 1976, and was succeeded by George Bush, the CIA announced a new policy: “Effective immediately, the CIA will not enter into any paid or contractual relationship with any full‑time or part‑time news correspondent accredited by any U.S. news
service, newspaper, periodical, radio or television network or station” At the time of the
announcement, the Agency acknowledged that the policy would result in termination of less than
half of the relationships with the 50 U.S. journalists it said were still affiliated with the Agency.
The text of the announcement noted that the CIA would continue to “welcome” the voluntary,
unpaid cooperation of journalists. Thus, many relationships were permitted to remain intact.
ROLE OF THE CHURCH COMMITTEE
Despite the evidence of widespread CIA use of journalists, the 1975 Senate Committee decided
against questioning any of the reporters, editors, publishers or broadcast executives whose
relationships with the Agency are detailed in CIA files. According to sources in the Senate and
the Agency, the use of journalists was 1 of 2 areas of inquiry which the CIA went to
extraordinary lengths to curtail. The other was the Agency’s continuing and extensive use of
academics for recruitment and information gathering purposes.
In both instances, the sources said, CIA officials were able to convince committee members
that full inquiry or even limited public disclosure of the dimensions of the activities would do
irreparable damage to the nation’s intelligence‑gathering apparatus, as well as to the reputations
of 100s of individuals. Colby was reported to have been especially persuasive in arguing that
disclosure would bring on a latter‑day “witch hunt.”
RESCUING BORIS time.com, by Michael Kramer, June 24, 2001
*Note: The author is pro-capitalist and anti-communist and this reflects his bias
Voters in the final round of Russia’s presidential election in June 1996 (the first such election
since the fall of the communist USSR in 1991) preferred Boris Yeltsin to his Communist rival
Gennadi Zyuganov by a margin of 13 percentage points. In the end the Russian people chose to
reject the past. By re-electing Yeltsin, the Russians defied predictions that they might willingly
resubmit themselves to communist rule.
Last winter Yeltsin’s approval ratings were in single digits. Then, for four months, a group of
American political consultants came to Russia to clandestinely guide Yeltsin’s campaign.
It all began in December 1995. Felix Braynin sat before a television set in the living room of
a government guest house in Moscow. He saw returns from the elections for the Duma, Russia’s
lower house of parliament, and the Communists were on their way to controlling the body; but in
six months Russians would vote for President, and Yeltsin’s standing in the polls was abysmal, a
reflection of his brutal misadventure in Chechnya, his increasing authoritarianism, and his
economic “reform,” which has brought about corruption and widespread suffering. Braynin, a
close friend of some of Yeltsin’s top aides, thought that something radical had to be done.
Braynin began a series of confidential discussions with President Yeltsin’s aides, who
instructed him to “find some Americans” but to proceed discreetly. Braynin contacted
Republicans who were experts on US campaigns. They enlisted Richard Dresner, a New Yorkbased consultant who had worked with them. In the early ’80s, Dresner had joined with Dick
Morris to help Bill Clinton get elected Governor of Arkansas. As Clinton’s current political guru,
Morris became the middleman on those few occasions when the Americans sought the
Administration’s help in Yeltsin’s re-election drive. So while Clinton was uninvolved with
Yeltsin’s recruitment of the American advisers, the Administration knew of their existence–and
although Dresner denies dealing with Morris, three other sources have told Time that on at least
two occasions the team’s contacts with Morris were “helpful.”
Yeltsin was favored by only 6% of the electorate and was “trusted” as a competent leader by
an even smaller proportion.
Dresner met with Soskovets, the First Deputy Prime Minister. Dresner had prepared a fivepage proposal that called for the Americans to “introduce your campaign staff to sophisticated
methods of message development, polling, voter contact and campaign organization.”
To preserve security, a contract was drawn between the International Industrial Bancorp Inc.
and Dresner-Wickers, Dresner’s consulting firm. The Americans would work for 4 months,
beginning March 1. They would be paid $250,000 plus all expenses and have an unlimited
budget for polling, focus groups and other research. A week later, they were working full time,=.
Yeltsin’s campaign manager, who was really in charge, was Yeltsin’s daughter Tatiana
Dyachenko, 36, a computer engineer with no previous political experience.
The Americans lived in a fancy hotel and were provided with a car, a former KGB agent as a
driver, and two bodyguards. They were told they should assume that their phones and rooms
were bugged, that they should leave the hotel only infrequently, and that they should avoid the
campaign’s other staff members.
Yeltsin’s staff brought a set of potentially disastrous biases to the campaign. They thought
the polls they read in the papers were good enough to determine strategy, and they believed
political advertising was useless in Russia. But the polling was inaccurate and unsophisticated
and thus virtually useless in determining how to guide the effort. The pollsters asked questions
like, “If Yeltsin were a tree, what kind of tree would he be?” One of the Republican advisers
worried that things “had to be explained to a group of people who were trapped in a classic
Soviet mind-set. They thought they could win simply by telling big shots like the directors of
factories to instruct their employees how to vote.”
Yeltsin simply refused to believe that the voters would elect his opponent. The Yeltsin
campaign was in disarray (JS=disorganized). And there was no clearly focused Yeltsin message,
just a melange (JS=mix) of ideas—and even then, no disciplined plan for their delivery or
appreciation of the need for such a plan. Most Russians, the polls and focus groups found,
perceived Yeltsin as a friend who had betrayed them, and who had become imperial. “Stalin had
higher positives and lower negatives than Yeltsin,” says Dresner. “We actually tested the two in
polls and focus groups. More than 60% of the electorate believed Yeltsin was corrupt; more than
65% believed he had wrecked the economy. We were in a deep, deep hole.”
The US advisers summed up the situation: “Voters don’t approve of the job Yeltsin is doing,
don’t think things will ever get any better and prefer the Communists’ approach. There exists
only one very simple strategy for winning: first, becoming the only alternative to the Communists; and second, making the people see that the Communists must be stopped at all costs…
Stick with Yeltsin and at least you’ll have calm, so the drumbeat about unrest kept pounding till
the end of the run-off round, when the final TV spots were about the USSR’s repressive rule.”
The advisers planned to hold a Clinton-Yeltsin summit meeting in mid-April where Clinton
would swallow hard and say nothing as Yeltsin lectured him about Russia being a “great power.”
“The idea was to have Yeltsin stand up to the West, just like the Communists insisted they would
do if Zyuganov won,” says a Clinton Administration official. “By having Yeltsin posture during
that summit without Clinton’s getting bent out of shape, Yeltsin portrayed himself as a leader to
be reckoned with. That helped Yeltsin in Russia, and we were for Yeltsin.”
Beginning in April, Russia’s television became a virtual arm of the Yeltsin campaign, a
crucial change that actually came fairly easily. Most Russian journalists came to regard Yeltsin
as the only effective bulwark against the Communists—thus the best guarantor of their careers.
A bit of relief came when a CNN correspondent reported that “the only thing voters we’ve
spoken with like less than Yeltsin is the prospect of upheaval.” Dresner howled. “It worked,” he
shouted. “The whole strategy worked. They’re scared to death!”
“Democracy” triumphed in Russia—and along with it came the tools of modern campaigns,
including the trickery and slickery Americans know so well.
time.com, “Rewriting Russian History: Did Boris Yeltsin Steal the 1996 Presidential
Election?” By Simon Shuster, February 24, 2012
Behind closed doors on Monday, during a meeting with opposition leaders, Russian president
Medvedev reportedly offered another take on the official story of Yeltsin’s victory in Russia’s
1996 presidential election. According to four people who were in the room, Medvedev stated,
like a bolt from the blue, that Russia’s first President did not actually win re-election in 1996 for
his second term. The second presidential vote in Russia’s history, in other words, was rigged.
thenation.com, 8/9/17, “A New Report Raises Big Questions About Last Year’s DNC
Hack…Former NSA experts say it was an inside job by someone with access to the DNC’s
system. By Patrick Lawrence
In January 2017 the US intelligence-community said the Russia, on orders of President Putin,
interfered in the US 2016 presidential election, which reflects …
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