Foreign electoral intervention
Foreign electoral interventions are attempts by governments, covertly or overtly, to influence elections in another country. There are many ways that nations have accomplished regime change abroad, and electoral intervention is only one of those methods.
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Theoretical and empirical research on the effect of foreign electoral intervention had been characterized as weak overall as late as 2011; however, since then a number of such studies have been conducted. One study indicated that the country intervening in most foreign elections is the United States with 81 interventions, followed by Russia (including the former Soviet Union) with 36 interventions from 1946 to 2000—an average of once in every nine competitive elections.
A 2016 study by Dov H. Levin found that, among 938 global elections examined, the United States and Russia (including its predecessor, the Soviet Union) combined had involved themselves in about one out of nine (117), with the majority of those (68%) being through covert, rather than overt, actions. The same study found that "on average, an electoral intervention in favor of one side contesting the election will increase its vote share by about 3 percent," an effect large enough to have potentially changed the results in seven out of 14 U.S. presidential elections occurring after 1960. According to the study, the U.S. intervened in 81 foreign elections between 1946 and 2000, while the Soviet Union or Russia intervened in 36. A 2018 study by Levin found that the electoral interventions determined in "many cases" the identity of the winner. The study also found suggestive evidence that the interventions increased the risk of democratic breakdown in the targeted states.
In a 2012 study, Corstange and Marinov theorized that there are two types of foreign intervention: partisan intervention, where the foreign power takes a stance on its support for one side, and process intervention, where the foreign power seeks "to support the rules of democratic contestation, irrespective of who wins". Their results from 1,703 participants found that partisan interventions had a polarizing effect on political and foreign relations views, with the side favored by the external power more likely to favor improvements in relations between the two, and having the converse effect for those opposed by the power.
In 2018, Jonathan Godinez further elaborated on Corstange and Marinov's theory by proposing that interventions can be specified as globally-motivated intervention, where "a country intervenes in the election of another country for the interests, betterment, or well-being of the international audience," and self-motivated intervention, where "a country intervenes in the election of another country to further the interests, betterment, or well-being of themselves."
Godinez further theorized that the vested interest of an intervening country can be identified by examining a "threefold methodology": the tactics of intervention, stated motivation, and the magnitude of the intervention.
- Agents of interference: each with a descending effect on resentment caused by their intervention, these being nations, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and finally individuals.
- Partisanship of interference: whether foreign actors intervene to affect institutions and process broadly, or intervene primarily to favor one side in a contest
- Salience of interference: consisting of two elements. First, "how obvious and well-known is the interference", and second, "how clear and understandable is the intervention?"
Additionally, they theorized that national similarities between the foreign and domestic powers would decrease resentment, and may even render the interference welcome. In cases where national autonomy are of primary concern to the electorate, they predicted a diminished effect of the similarity or dissimilarity of the two powers on resentment. Conversely, they predicted that in cases where national identity was a primary concern, the importance of similarity or dissimilarity would have a greater impact.
Bolivian election (U.S., 2002)
In the Bolivian elections of 2002, the U.S., which had been financing the eradication of coca farms, instructed Ambassador Manuel Rocha to warn Bolivians against voting for socialist candidate Evo Morales, stating that doing so could "jeopardize American assistance and investment." USAID also create the "political party reform project" in Bolivia in 2002, whose aim was to "help build moderate, pro-democracy political parties that can serve as a counterweight to the radical MAS or its successors". The move largely backfired, increasing support for Morales, who finished second in the election.
1970 election (U.S.)
According to information released as part of the findings of the Church Committee, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency supported the kidnapping of the Chilean Army Commander-in-Chief General René Schneider in an attempt to prevent the congressional confirmation of Salvador Allende. The attempt failed and Schneider was shot in the process. He died three days later from his wounds. Thereafter, the U.S. continued a vigorous overt and covert campaign to undermine Allende's Presidency, which may have created the conditions for Allende's overthrow in a violent coup, although the U.S. was not directly implicated in the coup. American official Henry Kissinger was quoted by Newsweek in 1974 saying this about Chile: "I don't see why we have to let a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people".
1964 election (U.S., U.S.S.R)
Between 1960 and 1969, the Soviet government funded the Communist Party of Chile at a rate of between $50,000 and $400,000 annually.:32 In the 1964 Chilean elections the U.S. government supplied $2.6 million in funding for candidate Eduardo Frei Montalva, whose opponent, Salvador Allende was a prominent Marxist, as well as additional funding with the intention of harming Allende's reputation.:38–9 As Gustafson phrased the situation:
It was clear the Soviet Union was operating in Chile to ensure Marxist success, and from the contemporary American point of view, the United States was required to thwart this enemy influence: Soviet money and influence were clearly going into Chile to undermine its democracy, so U.S. funding would have to go into Chile to frustrate that pernicious influence.:33
French election (Libya, 2007)
According to French newspaper Mediapart, Nicolas Sarkozy's presidential campaign received 50 million Euros in donations from the Libyan leader, colonel Muammar Gaddafi, which is over twice the French limit for individual campaign donations of 22 million Euros. After Sarkozy's victory, Gaddafi went on a 5-day state visit to France, during which the Libyan government purchased military equipment, including 14 Rafale fighter jets. Ziad Takieddine, a French-Lebanese businessman with close ties to Libya, admitted to Mediapart that he had made three trips from Tripoli to France to deliver suitcases filled with 200 and 500 euro notes to Sarkozy. After the election, Gaddafi was invited. In March 2018, Sarkozy was held in custody over these allegations. He was interrogated for 25 hours by the police, during which he denied any wrongdoing, before being released under special judicial supervision.
German election (Turkey, 2017)
In August 2017, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called for all his "countrymen" in Germany to vote against the CDU/CSU, the SPD and the Green Party in the upcoming German federal election. Erdoğan called these parties, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, "enemies of Turkey". Merkel condemned these statements, and responded that all Germans had to right to vote freely without foreign meddling in the electoral process. German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel affirmed Erdoğan's segments were an "unprecedented act of interference in the sovereignty of our country." There are at least 4 million people of Turkish origin in Germany, most of whom customarily align with the SPD or the Green Party politically.
Guinean election (France, 2010)
Vincent Bolloré, a French billionaire close to then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy, allegedly gave financial support to presidential candidate Alpha Condé in the 2010 Guinean presidential election. He is suspected of having offered Condé discount on advertisements from his ad agency, which he didn't equally offer to his opponent Cellou Dalein Diallo. Condé went on to become Guinean president and gave Bolloré's company port concessions. Bolloré formally denies any wrongdoing.
Iranian election (U.S., 1952)
Historian Ervand Abrahamian, in an interview with Democracy Now!, said U.S. State Department documents declassified in 2017 reveal that the U.S. strategy was to undermine Mohammad Mosaddegh through parliament and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) spent lot of money to get their 18 favorable candidates elected.
Irish abortion referendum (various, 2018)
It has been alleged that the No vote was supported by a number of accounts the majority of which were not based in Ireland, with one, Save the 8th managed by 14 people located in Hungary, the UK and two other countries not listed by Facebook. Whilst most Yes support pages were based in Ireland.
2016 election (U.S.)
During the administration of President Barack Obama, the U.S. State Department sent nearly $350,000 to an Israeli non-profit organization, OneVoice. Allegations arose claiming the funds were intended to try to oust Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The State Department did give a grant to OneVoice. $233,500 went to OneVoice Israel, and $115,776 went to OneVoice Palestine. The goal of this non-profit organization is to encourage a two state solution, and the grant money was intended to fund local activists promoting such a solution in both Israel itself, and in Palestine. Palestinians cannot vote in Israeli elections, therefore at best $233,550 could have been spent on Israeli election interference. The grant money was spent by November 2014, before Netanyahu announced new elections, however. In addition, at the time Netanyahu had been in support of a two state solution. The Obama administration did view a two state solution as a priority in Israel
In early 2015, OneVoice partnered with a new organization, V15, which had the stated aim of "disrupting the status quo" and putting a center left government in power. Netanyahu was not the specific target, but the effect was the same. V15 wanted a new government to negotiate a two state solution, and mobilized voters in an effort to bring that about. V15 was advised by a former Obama campaign strategist, however it is unclear that the Obama administration had any direct or indirect role in affecting the outcome of the 2015 Israeli election. Netanyahu was reelected.
Italian election (U.S., U.S.S.R., and Vatican's role, 1948)
In the 1948 Italian elections, described as an "apocalyptic test of strength between communism and democracy," the administration of Harry Truman, allied with the Roman Catholic Church, funneled millions of dollars in funding to the Christian Democracy party and other parties through the War Powers Act of 1941 in addition to supplying military advisers, in preparation for a potential civil war. At the advice of Walter Dowling, the U.S. also invited Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi on an official visit and made a number of related economic concessions.:107–8
Conversely, the Soviet Union funneled as much as $10 million monthly to the communists and leveraged its influence on Italian companies via contracts to support them. However, many of their efforts were ad hoc in comparison, and the Christian Democrats eventually won in a landslide.:108–9
Japanese elections (U.S., U.S.S.R., 1950s–60s)
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan received secret American funds during the 1950s and 1960s. According to former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Douglas MacArthur II, "the Socialists in Japan had their own secret funds from Moscow", and funding the LDP helped to "project American power".
Korean election (U.N., U.S.S.R., 1948)
The 1948 Korean elections were overseen primarily by the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea, or UNTCOK. The United States planned to hold separate elections in the south of the peninsula, a plan which was opposed by Australia, Canada and Syria as members of the commission. According to Gordenker, the commission acted:
Conversely the Soviet Union forbade such elections in the north of the peninsula all together. Faced with this, UNTCOK eventually recommended the election take place only in the south, but that the results would be binding on all of Korea.
Palestinian election (U.S., Israel, 2006)
During the 2006 Palestinian elections, Israel hoped that Fatah would prevail over Hamas, the latter being a Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organization. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wanted to halt the elections if Hamas ran candidates. However, U.S. President George W. Bush objected to such election interference, and Hamas won, despite millions of clandestine dollars flowing from the Bush administration to Fatah during the closing weeks of the campaign. Then-Senator Hillary Clinton commented at the time: "we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win."
Philippines election (U.S., 1953)
The United States Government, including the Central Intelligence Agency, had a strong influence on the 1953 elections, and candidates in the election fiercely competed with each other for U.S. support. CIA agent Edward Lansdale purportedly ran the successful 1953 presidential campaign of Ramon Magsaysay.
Russian election (U.S., 1996)
A team of private US citizens, campaign experts organized by Felix Braynin, provided assistance to the Yeltsin campaign. The team consisted of Steven Moore, Joe Shumate, George Gorton and Richard Dresner, who worked in Russia four months and received $250,000, plus payment of all costs and unlimited budget to conduct surveys and other activities.
Simultaneously the US administration ensured a US$10.2 billion IMF loan to Russia as it was drowning in the economic and social disaster, to keep the national economy and pro-Western liberal government afloat. The loan funds were fraudulently misused by Yeltsin's inner circle, and the IMF knowingly turned a blind eye to these facts. Although the aggressive pro-Yeltsin campaign boosted his approval rate from an initial 6% to the 35% that he got during the first round of elections, and later made him win the second round against the Communist competitor, Gennady Zyuganov, with 54% to 41%, there were wide speculations that the official results were rigged.
Taiwanese election (China, 2018)
Taiwan's leaders, including President Tsai Ing-wen and Premier William Lai, have repeatedly accused China of spreading fake news via social media to influence voters and support candidates more sympathetic to Beijing ahead of the 2018 Taiwanese local elections.
Togolese election (France, 2010)
Vincent Bolloré, a French billionaire close to then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy, allegedly gave financial support to presidential candidate Faure Gnassingbé in the 2010 Togolese presidential election. He is suspected of having offered Gnassingbé discount on advertisements from his ad agency, which he didn't equally offer to his opponent Jean-Pierre Fabre. Gnassingbé went on to become Togolese president and gave Bolloré's company port concessions. Bolloré formally denies any wrongdoing.
2004 election (Russia)
The Russian government publicly attempted to influence the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election. Russian President Vladimir Putin gave public support for candidate Viktor Yanukovych and made public visits to Ukraine on his behalf. According to Kempe and Solonenko, "The overall interest of the Russian elite was to keep Ukraine as a reliable neighbor and partner." This was accomplished by channeling Russian funding and expertise directly into the campaign of Yanukovych or the government of Ukraine, in an effort described as "nakedly partisan". Meanwhile, the U.S., Canada, Poland and Slovakia gave money to build political parties in Ukraine.
2014 election (Russia)
Pro-Russian hackers launched a series of cyberattacks over several days to disrupt the May 2014 Ukrainian presidential election, releasing hacked emails, attempting to alter vote tallies, and delaying the final result with distributed denial-of-service attacks. Malware that would have displayed a graphic declaring far-right candidate Dmytro Yarosh the electoral winner was removed from Ukraine's Central Election Commission less than an hour before polls closed. Despite this, Channel One Russia "reported that Mr. Yarosh had won and broadcast the fake graphic, citing the election commission's website, even though it had never appeared there." According to Peter Ordeshook: "These faked results were geared for a specific audience in order to feed the Russian narrative that has claimed from the start that ultra-nationalists and Nazis were behind the revolution in Ukraine."
United Kingdom elections
Brexit referendum (Russia, U.S., Saudi Arabia, 2016)
In May 2017, it was reported by the Irish Times that £425,622 had potentially been donated by sources in Saudi Arabia to the "vote leave" supporting Democratic Unionist Party for spending during the referendum.
Some British politicians accused U.S. President Barack Obama of interfering in the Brexit vote by publicly stating his support for continued EU membership.
United States elections
2020 (Russia, China, Iran)
U.S. officials have accused Russia, China and Iran of trying to influence the 2020 United States elections.
2018 (Russia, China, Iran)
2016 (Russia, Ukraine, Gulf states)
2016 election (Russia)
In October 2016, the U.S. government accused Russia of interfering in the 2016 United States elections using a number of strategies including the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and leaking its documents to WikiLeaks, which then leaked them to the media. Russia has denied any involvement.
In response, on 29 December 2016, President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and broadened sanctions on Russian entities and individuals.
In January 2017, following a British intelligence tip-off, the U.S. Intelligence Community expressed "high confidence" that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign designed to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections, undermine confidence in the U.S. democratic process, harm Secretary Hillary Clinton's chances, and help Donald Trump win.
2016 election (Ukraine)
In July 2016, candidate Donald Trump was asked about the Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Trump's statement indicating that he would recognize Crimea as Russian caused alarm in Ukraine, with the Ukrainian Ambassador to the USA Valeriy Chaly writing an article critical of Trump for breaking from the Republican party platform. Other prominent Ukrainian politicians wrote highly critical social media posts, including former prime minister, Arseny Yatseniuk and interior minister Arsen Avakov.
In August 2016, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine and Ukrainian legislator Serhiy Leshchenko publicized ledgers alleging that Paul Manafort (Donald Trump's campaign manager) had received $12.7 million in illicit payments from Ukraine's pro-Russia Party of Regions. Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign shortly after. As part of Manafort's plea deal before his second trial in 2018, Manafort admitted to receiving over $60 million dollars from pro-Russia political groups for his work in Ukraine, laundering more than $30 million of it through foreign companies and bank accounts to hide it from the IRS, thereby avoiding liability for $15 million in taxes.
While it has been claimed that Ukraine appeared "to strain diplomatic protocol dictating that governments refrain from engaging in one another’s elections", there is no evidence of a top-down effort by Ukraine to influence the 2016 US Presidential Election.
2016 election (Saudi Arabia, UAE)
Special counsel Robert Mueller investigated a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and an emissary for two Gulf monarchies. In August 2016, Trump Jr. had a meeting with envoy representing Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman and Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates. The envoy offered help to the Trump presidential campaign, although it is unclear what form of help they provided to the Trump campaign if any. The meeting included Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, Joel Zamel, an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation, and Blackwater founder Erik Prince. Donald Trump also registered eight new businesses in Saudi Arabia during the election campaign.
2012 election (Israel)
In 2012, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to undermine President Barack Obama in favor of Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said that the interference cost Israel aid. Netanyahu has denied that. The accusations included claims that Obama had deliberately snubbed Netanyahu, and another implied that an appearance in a television advertisement was designed by Netanyahu to give support to Romney.
1996 election (China)
In February 1997, officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced they had uncovered evidence that the government of China had sought to make illegal foreign contributions to the Democratic National Committee. Despite the evidence, both the presidential administration and the Chinese government denied any wrongdoing.
1984 election (U.S.S.R.)
When Ronald Reagan was running for reelection as president, the Soviet Union opposed his candidacy and took active measures against it. Soviet intelligence reportedly attempted to infiltrate both the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee.
1980 election (Iran)
Throughout the 1980 presidential election, negotiations were ongoing between the administration of Jimmy Carter and the government of Iran regarding 52 American citizens who had been taken hostage in November 1979. Although it was recognized that negotiations were nearing a successful conclusion, the government of Iran delayed their release until after the election, potentially in retaliation for the decision of Carter to admit the deposed Iranian leader Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to the United States for cancer treatment.
Opinions differ as to the intentional nature of the delay with regard to the outcome of the election. A ten-month investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives concluded that there was "virtually no credible evidence to support the accusations." However, former Iranian President Abolhassan Banisadr claimed there was a deal between Reagan and Iran to delay the release in exchange for arms.
1968 election (South Vietnam)
In the last months of the presidential election between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced an October surprise, intended to aid Humphrey, by declaring a cessation to bombing in the ongoing Vietnam War and a new round of peace negotiations. In response, Humphrey's popularity grew, eventually leading Nixon by three percentage points.
However, the South Vietnamese government, in consultation with the Nixon campaign, announced three days prior to the election that they would not be participating in the talks, and Nixon went on to win the vote by less than a percentage point.
1960 election (U.S.S.R.)
Adlai Stevenson II had been the Democratic presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956, and the Soviets offered him propaganda support if he would run again for president in 1960, but Stevenson declined to run again. Instead, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev backed John F. Kennedy in that very close election, against Richard Nixon with whom Krushchev had clashed in the 1959 Kitchen Debate. On July 1, 1960 a Soviet MiG-19 shot down an American RB-47H reconnaissance aircraft in the international airspace over the Barents Sea with four of the crew being killed and two captured by the Soviets: John R. McKone and Freeman B. Olmstead. The Soviets held on to those two prisoners, in order to avoid giving Nixon (who was the incumbent Vice-President of the United States) an opportunity to boast about his ability to work with the Soviets, and the two Air Force officers were released just days after Kennedy's inauguration, on January 25, 1961. Khrushchev later bragged that Kennedy acknowledged the Soviet help: "You're right. I admit you played a role in the election and cast your vote for me...." Former Soviet ambassador to the United States Oleg Troyanovsky confirms Kennedy's acknowledgment, but also quotes Kennedy doubting whether the Soviet support made a difference: "I don't think it affected the elections in any way."
1940 election (Nazi Germany)
In October 1940, seeking to derail the reelection of incumbent U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Nazis bribed a U.S. newspaper to publish a document that Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop hoped would convince American voters that Roosevelt was a "warmonger" and "criminal hypocrite". Leaking the captured Polish government document failed to have its intended effect, and Republican presidential nominee Wendell Willkie lost the election.
1940 elections (U.K.)
From 1940 until "at least 1944," the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) orchestrated what Politico's Steve Usdin described as an influence campaign "without parallel in the history of relations between allied democracies" to undermine U.S. politicians opposed to American participation in World War II—much of which was documented in a declassified history by William Stephenson, the head of the SIS front organization British Security Co-ordination (BSC). Usdin stated that "SIS ... flooded American newspapers with fake stories, leaked the results of illegal electronic surveillance and deployed October surprises against political candidates."
- Murchison letter regarding inadvertent British influence on the 1888 U.S. presidential election
- United States involvement in regime change
- United States involvement in regime change in Latin America
- Russia involvement in regime change
- Cambridge Analytica – British company worked in more than 200 elections around the world, including in Nigeria, the Czech Republic and Argentina.
- Internet Research Agency – Russian company, funded by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, was implicated in interference in several elections in Europe and North America.
- Fancy Bear, another Russian conduit for cyberwarfare implicated in interference in several elections in Europe and North America.
- CIA influence on public opinion
- State-sponsored Internet propaganda
- These covered the period between 1946 and 2000, and included 148 countries, all with populations above 100,000.
- This is, as the author points out, "Assuming, of course, a similar shift in the relevant swing states and, accordingly, the electoral college."
- Others, such as Corstange and Marinov, Miller, and Gustafson:49, 73–74 have argued that foreign electoral intervention is likely to have the opposite effect.
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Levin, Dov H. (June 2016). "When the Great Power Gets a Vote: The Effects of Great Power Electoral Interventions on Election Results". International Studies Quarterly. 60 (2): 189–202. doi:10.1093/isq/sqv016.
For example, the U.S. and the USSR/Russia have intervened in one of every nine competitive national level executive elections between 1946 and 2000.
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