Russia Probably Did Interfere With The U.S. Election, But The U.S. Does That To Other Countries All The Time

CIA officials met with a group of “key senators” last week in a closed-door briefing to share the agency’s assessment that concludes that Russia did interfere in this year’s presidential elections, The Washington Post reports.

In the months leading into Election Day, there were widespread rumors and speculation that Moscow was working behind the scenes to help sway the election in favor of Republican candidate Donald Trump. The CIA now believes it is “quite clear” that Moscow wanted Trump elected and may have helped in making that come to pass.

“Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials,” the Post reports. “Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.”

Citing “individuals with connections” to the Russian government as conclusive evidence is problematic for several reasons, but it appears that the CIA is nevertheless convinced that Moscow itself is to blame.

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” one senior U.S. official briefed on the intelligence presentation told the Post. “That’s the consensus view.”

Despite its confidence that Russia did in fact interfere in the U.S. elections, the CIA acknowledges some gaps in its assessment.

“The CIA presentation to senators about Russia’s intentions fell short of a formal U.S. assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies,” the Post notes. “A senior U.S. official said there were minor disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered… For example, intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin ‘directing’ the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks.”

Those suspected of hacking, handing emails over to WikiLeaks, or otherwise interfering in the election were “one step” removed from the Russian government, the Post explains. None of the actors were actually employed by the Russian government. However, it is common for governments to use middleman in such operations in order to maintain plausible deniability.

Even if there is no direct connection between the Russian government and those who supposedly acted to interfere in the U.S. elections, it makes perfect sense that Moscow might have been orchestrating such a scheme from behind the scenes. There’s one simple reason to assume this: It’s common for governments to interfere with elections in other countries. The governments of Russia, the United States, and several other nations do so all the time.

In his book The Very Best Men: The Daring Early Years of the CIA, historian and journalist Evan Thomas looks at how the CIA funneled $1 million into the Indonesian elections of 1955 in a failed effort to get President Sukarno voted out of office. The CIA had orchestrated a coup to oust Jacobo Arbenz, the democratically elected president of Guatemala, just a year before.

It’d would be easy to dismiss such actions as ancient history, at least in political terms, if it weren’t for the fact that the U.S. still regularly participates in such activities.

In 2006, Time reported on a leaked classified document that outlined the CIA’s plans to oust Syrian president Bashar Assad.

“Parts of the scheme are outlined in a classified, two-page document that says that the U.S. already is ‘supporting regular meetings of internal and diaspora Syrian activists’ in Europe,” Time reported. “The document bluntly expresses the hope that ‘these meetings will facilitate a more coherent strategy and plan of actions for all anti-Assad activists.'”

There’s nothing particularly sinister there, but the document continues.

“The document says that Syria’s legislative elections, scheduled for March 2007, ‘provide a potentially galvanizing issue for… critics of the Assad regime.’ To capitalize on that opportunity, the document proposes a secret “election monitoring” scheme, in which ‘internet accessible materials will be available for printing and dissemination by activists inside the country [Syria] and neighboring countries.’ The proposal also calls for surreptitiously giving money to at least one Syrian politician who, according to the document, intends to run in the election. The effort would also include ‘voter education campaigns’ and public opinion polling, with the first poll ‘tentatively scheduled in early 2007.'”

Now we’re getting into some pretty heavy-handed election interfering.

To be clear, it’s not just regimes that the U.S. views as undemocratic that become the targets of its efforts to sway elections.

In July, The Washington Times reported on the State Department funneling money to a group who used it to campaign against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Some $350,000 was sent to OneVoice, ostensibly to support the group’s efforts to back Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement negotiations,” the Times reports. “But OneVoice used the money to build a voter database, train activists and hire a political consulting firm with ties to President Obama’s campaign — all of which set the stage for an anti-Netanyahu campaign, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said in a bipartisan staff report.”

It could be said that OneVoice’s use of the funds were “one step” removed from the State Department’s intentions. It could also be said that because OneVoice was directly receiving funds from and was in direct contact with the State Department, their agents could easily be considered as “individuals with connections” to the U.S. government.

These are just a few examples of the United State’s long history of interfering with elections, orchestrating coups, and, when all else fails, pursuing regime change through military intervention or outright invasion. The U.S. is not alone in such history.

Russia probably did interfere, or at least try to interfere, with the U.S. elections in some way. That’s not a good thing, but it is also not an uncommon thing.

[Featured image by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]