The Russia Question: Stop the whining. Everybody does it

By David T. Jones on March 30, 2018

Washington, DC ~ If truth is the first casualty in war, perspective is the first casualty in politics.

Indeed, the ongoing frenzy of what Russians did when, where, how, and with whom during the 2016 U.S. presidential election is an illustration of disingenuous naiveté. One would conclude that the U.S. political structure was the equivalent of a convent of innocent religious refugees savaged by a barbarian horde.

The longstanding historical reality is that “everybody does it.”  

And thus the question arises, “Do you remember Philip Agee?”  In 1974, Agee—a 12-year veteran of the CIA—published Inside the Company, a massive “Tell All” about USG activities in numerous Latin American countries.  It was a devastating exposition of thousands of CIA sponsored activities, notablly in Ecuador, Uruguay, Mexico, and Columbia.  According to Agee, the CIA suborned the presidents of Costa Rica, Mexico, and Columbia as well as countless other officials.  

Throughout this period, the CIA generated thousands of newspaper and media stories designed to influence readers/government officials through bribery, intimidation, bugging, and forgery.  They reportedly created labor organizations by the dozen to compete with leftist organizations and influence the working class.  “Fake news” anyone?

And, as a special addendum, Inside the Company included a 23-page appendix with 250 alleged CIA officers and agents.  As one consequence, the Department of State stopped publishing its unclassified Biographic Registry (as CIA agents with “State cover” could be identified).

Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning were traitors-come-lately in comparison with Agee.

Separately, in 1954 USG CIA operations effectively undermined the government in Guatemala and deposed the democratically elected Guatemalan President Jacobo Árbenz  It installed the military dictatorship of Carlos Castillo Armas, the first in a series of U.S.-backed authoritarian rulers—action that were tactically successful but ultimately counterproductive.  Our foreign policy in Latin America does not pass the democratic “hands off” sniff test.

But these operations were really in second tier states.  Immediately after World War II, we confronted surging communism throughout Europe. With Eastern Europe under Moscow’s control and communist seizure of Czechoslovakia in February 1948, we were desperate to push back in key states such as Italy, facing elections later that year.  To counter a powerful leftist coalition, Washington pulled out all the stops.  Substantial economic aid combined with intense propaganda, e.g. 10 million letters from Italian Americans urging Italians not to vote communist; numerous USG short-wave propaganda radio broadcasts and books and articles, warning the Italians of the perceived consequences of a communist victory.  Reportedly, CIA also funded center-right political parties and was accused of publishing forged letters to discredit Italian communist leaders. 

A success; we fended off Italian communists for over a generation.  Retrospectively, the thought of an Italian communist state still chills.

But sometimes “success” can prove worse than failure.  In 1953, in support of the shah of Iran, a CIA-organized coup ousted Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh.  Mossadegh was a complex Iranian nationalist whose true objectives were murky. His principal error, however, was taking action to nationalize massive, foreign-owned petroleum operations.  

Thus, although the shah was a useful regional ally when, “come the revolution” in 1979, hatred for the United States was a significant driver for the uprising.  Nor has this animosity abated and, at almost the 40-year mark, bilateral relations remain colder than frigid.

Short term success; long term not.

And we have engaged in Russian elections.  One documented effort in the 1996 Russian presidential election involved USG promotion of a $10 billion IMF loan to shore up the Yeltsin government and a team of U.S. advisors to provide political support/guidance.

Thus, there is good reason to believe the USG provided surreptitious support in the 2012 presidential election to Putin’s competitors.  Probably not with expectation that Putin would be defeated but to attempt to bolster democratic alternatives through NGOs being crushed by Putin’s political repression.

Assuming such—and identifying then-Secretary Clinton as the point person for these activities—there is reason to appreciate Putin’s intense distaste for Clinton.  And, hence, Russian action during the U.S. 2016 presidential election targeting Clinton was simply “payback.”  KGB agents are not of a forgiving nature and dismissed “reset” with the Obama administration.

Interestingly, the 2016 Russian actions were “traditional” in the sense of creating “fake news,” manipulating media to parrot its views, suborning potential Clinton supporters, featuring her critics, revealing internal campaign contradictions, etc.  The difference was that “social media” permitted these traditional devices to be expanded 100-fold to generate maximum confusion.  

And deny/deny/deny is the universal reaction.


David Taylor Jones was formerly senior counselor at the American Embassy in Ottawa


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