On the 10th of December, the CIA announced its its report stating that it was “highly likely” that Russia had covertly influenced the U.S. elections in favour of Donald Trump.
However, what is remarkably absent from the condemnation of Russia within the West, is any reference to the fact that the US has itself influenced elections abroad, overthrown governments it does not like, protected unpopular regimes from the wrath of its people, and colluded with individual parties to restrict much-needed reforms.
Firstly, it is widely acknowledged by historians that the U.S. national security council authorised U.S. intelligence services under NSC 10/2 to conduct:
“propaganda; economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, …assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas…indigenous anti-Communist elements in threatened countries of the free world. War torn Italy was a target of communist infiltration, therefore “between 1948 and 1975, over $75 million was spent by the CIA on Italian elections on propaganda and aid and other projects”
Fast forward to 2004, the NSA carried out extensive surveillance on UN delegates to influence a resolution vote on Iraq. It gathered the thoughts, mood, and the lines of division amongst diplomats at the UN due to cast their votes on resolutions concerning the Iraq war. According to one document obtained by the Intercept “Once again SIGINT has made a crucial difference in the U.S.’ ability to shepherd a UN Security Council Resolution through the UNSC” (UN Security Council).
The US went on to emphasise how critical this was by stating that
“I don’t think any of us should overlook – or underestimate – the critical role [NSA] played in
getting us to the finish line. The timely products that you provided to us in a constant stream
were critical in shifting the balance, particularly with the Chinese and Russians, and allowed us
to make tactical decisions real time with Secretary Powell that had the effect of isolating the
French and Germans as we saw the others peel off one by one.
Furthermore, In 2014, the USAID ‘Zunzeneo’ program was exposed as a clumsy attempt to create a Cuban twitter-like app to sway public perception on the Cuban regime without Cubans knowing it was funded by the US government. During a subcommittee hearing in Congress, Senator Patrick Leahy referred to this discrete program as a “cockamamie idea” [ridiculous idea], to which the USAID spokesman replied that it was simply a means to create ‘open communication’ only.
The same past and present juxtaposition can be done with Britain and its own interference with foreign affairs. Aside from the fact that Britains intelligence service, The information Research Department (IRD) colluded with the C.I.A in its anti communist campaign in Italy, according to David Easter’s Archival scholarship, the IRD actively directed and introduced propaganda into the Indonesian crisis in which the military was responsible for the deaths of “500,000” people from 1965-66. The propaganda introduced undermined the democratically elected president Sukarno and his communist PKI party, as the U.S. feared a communist expansion throughout South East Asia based on the model of Indonesia.
Fast forward to the 21st century, Britain’s Joint threat research intelligence group (JTRIG) a sub unit of the Government Communication Head Quarters (GCHQ) was tasked with gathering online HUMINT of Argentina in order to influence opinion on the Falklands island dispute. According to one leaked Snowden documents “GCHQ has consistently underperformed on Brazil, with growing concerns that Sth [South] American attitudes on the Falklands are swinging behind Argentina”. As a result, in 2009 a “significant amount of prep work” and “the planning phase of Op QUITO, an effects op to support FCO’s goals relating to Argentina and the Falkland Islands, is almost complete. The plans are due to go to submission in the next month, and then this will hopefully lead to a long-running, large scale, pioneering effects operation”.
Highlighting these examples is not to expose double standards for the purpose of promoting a free-for-all in electronic surveillance to influence populations, but to bring critical thought to this debate that paints a ghastly simplistic image of a reckless Russian bear bent on destroying the western world.
To this end many will inevitably ask, what is the solution to this problem? The reality is it is a Pandora’s box. Quantum computers will soon dominate the intelligentsia and think-tanks as a point of focus regarding government cyber security. However this will only make it more difficult for states to hack each other. What is to stop another future Snowden who has access to a system to steal files move country and periodically leak information? Essentially, influence is inexorably bound to communication.
Communication is at the heart of human evolution and modern technological apparatus, and is the foundation upon which propaganda is built on. If we are to combat social-engineering by states aimed at securing crude political aims, then it is up to us as citizens to search for alternative views, real views, and not depend on media outlets that sing from the same hymn sheet. By enriching ourselves with conceptual restraint when reading or viewing hacked information we will be better equipped to make rational judgements on domestic and foreign policy.