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Election Meddling Is Nothing New in Russian-US Relations

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By James Lint
Senior Editor for InCyberDefense and Contributor, In Homeland Security

It is odd that we are surprised by Russia’s interference in our 2016 presidential elections. The Russians have a long history of meddling in the affairs of other nations, whether that interference comes from subterfuge or military action.

The American public is familiar with the skills of Russian Intelligence organizations and their cyber capabilities. Russia’s excellence in cyber espionage enabled this latest interference to occur, as revealed by Mueller’s grand jury indictment handed down last week against 13 Russians and three Russia-based organizations.

US Media Portrays Russian Election Interference as a New Event

Many U.S. media sources made the indictment appear as if Mueller had uncovered something new. Here are some samples of the press coverage:

CNBC: Special counsel Mueller: Russians conducted ‘information warfare’ against US during election to help Donald Trump win

USA Today: Indictment: Russians also tried to help Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein presidential campaigns

New York Times: 13 Russians Indicted as Mueller Reveals Effort to Aid Trump Campaign

“The U.S. and Russia have a history of interfering in each other’s political affairs that dates back to the 18th century, when Catherine the Great indirectly helped American colonists win the Revolutionary War,” Bianna Golodryga wrote in the Huffington Post.

Election Meddling Roots Date Back to Post-World War II Era

In Slate magazine, Joshua Keating recalled how Dov Levin, a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Politics and Strategy, showed just how common Kremlin election meddling has been. “Using declassified documents, statements by officials, and journalistic accounts, Levin has found evidence of interference by either the United States or the Soviet Union/Russia in 117 elections around the world between 1946 and 2000, or 11.3 percent of the 937 competitive national-level elections held during this period.”

Keating also noted that there were “reports about the Soviets involved in the elections of Truman 1948 and Reagan in 1984. Both times, the Soviets side failed to win.”

Presidential Candidate Adlai Stevenson Targeted by Russians for His Anti-Nuclear Stance

According to the Smithsonian Magazine website, Democratic nominee for president in 1952 and 1956 Adlai Stevenson was accused of being soft on national security issues because he favored ending nuclear tests.

Stevenson’s attitude toward nuclear devices led the Soviets to believe that he might be someone they could work with. On January 16, 1960, Soviet Ambassador Mikhael Menshikov gave Stevenson a message from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, encouraging him to seriously consider another run for president in 1960. “The Soviets offered the former presidential candidate propaganda support if he ran in 1960, an offer he politely declined,” the Smithsonian article said.

KGB Engaged in Active Measures to Weaken Other Nations

When CNN interviewed Soviet defector and former KGB General Oleg Kalugin in 1998, he discussed the Kremlin’s information operations in those years. Kalugin said the purpose of the KGB’s information operations was subversion. The operations were “active measures” to:

  • Weaken the West
  • Drive wedges in the Western community alliances of all sorts, particularly NATO
  • Sow discord among allies
  • Weaken the United States in the eyes of the people in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America
  • Prepare the ground in case war really occurs
  • Make America more vulnerable to the anger and distrust of other peoples

Kalugin described the Soviets’ activities as “really a worldwide campaign, often not only sponsored and funded, but conducted and manipulated by the KGB. And this was again part and parcel of this campaign to weaken [the] military, economic and psychological climate in the West.”

No One Should Be Surprised by Russia’s Activities

With all of the Russian interference with American political affairs, Americans should not be naive or surprised that the Russians were involved in meddling in the 2016 elections or in previous presidential campaigns. So why are we surprised now by the indictment?

As the writer and philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

About the Author

James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. James has been involved in cyberespionage events from just after the turn of the century in Korea supporting 1st Signal Brigade to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis as the first government cyber intelligence analyst. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contracting and civil service.

Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded its 49th scholarship for national security students and professionals. James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. He has also served in the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office after his active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba, in addition to numerous CONUS locations. In 2017, he was appointed to the position of Adjutant for The American Legion, China Post 1. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” a book published in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea,” and a new book in 2017 Secrets to Getting a Federal Government Job.”

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