President Richard Nixon held the top office of the United States while the Cold War with the Soviet Union was in full swing. As speculation rages today about just how much the Russian government interfered in the latest U.S. elections, it’s important to look back at how each nation’s primary intelligence agencies — the C.I.A. and the K.G.B. respectively — worked to influence each other’s political spheres.
In the case of former president Nixon, there’s documentation directly from the mouth of a former Soviet operative. Moscow’s ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin, published a detailed memoir In Confidence in 1995 where he stated that Richard’s anti-communist rhetoric stoked fears with the Soviet government.
Sensing the possibility that Nixon could triumph in the 1968 presidential elections, Dobrynin was instructed to offer financial help to his opponent, Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey. Much to the ambassador’s relief, he declined to accept the offer of assistance in a battle he would eventually lose to Richard. As New York Times noted, this intervention was far from an isolated case.
“To try to bring about change that suited Moscow’s interests, the K.G.B. set up a special department dedicated to ‘active measures.’ This unit went beyond collecting intelligence and embraced measures aimed at changing the course of events around the world. These included disinformation and subversion, often involving various front organizations and Moscow-funded fringe parties that worked to shape the politics of foreign countries.”
Of course, these revelations should be taken into account with the U.S. government long history of intervention in other foreign elections. During Richard’s time in office, the former president worked alongside his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to fight against the spread of Communism and, in turn, Russian influence across the globe.
One of the best-documented cases of this policy of intervention took place in Chile, where Nixon and Kissinger first led a counter-campaign to prevent the election of socialist Salvador Allende. When they failed to keep him out of office, Allende fell prey to Operation Condor — an overarching effort through South America to install military governments in place of democratically elected left-wing leaders. Chile would spend nearly two decades under authoritarian rule, something that Kissinger appeared to have in his sights from C.I.A. documents later declassified by the Clinton administration.
“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”
The foreign meddling, of course, should come as no surprise: Richard’s name is closely associated with the Watergate scandal that ousted him from office. What Nixon had no problem doing domestically to assure he remained president was, unsurprisingly, unchanged when it applied to global rivalries.
It is, therefore, easy to dismiss such Russian action against President Richard Nixon as the act of a bad man being beaten at his own tricks. Yet considering the uncommon circumstances with which K.G.B. efforts to influence the 1968 election were revealed — a memoir written by the actor who attempted to carry it out — it seems unlikely that election manipulation card is off the table even fifty years later for Vladimir Putin; but, then again, the same could be said for the United States — a country that hardly has a moral high ground when it comes to letting democracy speak for itself.
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