From: The New York Times

March 31, 1997

 

Foreign Taint on National Election? A Boomerang for U.S.


Related Articles Index of Articles on Political Fund-Raising


By JOHN M. BRODER

WASHINGTON -- Members of both political parties express horror at accusations that the Chinese may have tried to use covert campaign donations to influence American policy, but the United States has long meddled in other nations' internal affairs.

Congress routinely appropriates tens of millions of dollars in covert and overt money to use in influencing domestic politics abroad.

The National Endowment for Democracy, created 15 years ago to do in the open what the CIA has done surreptitiously for decades, spends $30 million a year to support things like political parties, labor unions, dissident movements and the news media in dozens of countries, including China.

The endowment has financed unions in France, Paraguay, the Philippines and Panama. In the mid-1980s, it provided $5 million to Polish emigres to keep the Solidarity movement alive. It has underwritten moderate political parties in Portugal, Costa Rica, Bolivia and Northern Ireland. It provided a $400,000 grant for political groups in Czechoslovakia that backed the election of Vaclav Havel as president in 1990. For the Nicaraguan election of 1990, it provided more than $3 million in "technical" assistance, some of which was used to bolster Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, the presidential candidate favored by the United States.

And the endowment spent $1.6 million last year for political "institution building" programs in China, said Louisa Coan, the endowment's program officer for East Asia. That was in addition to millions of dollars spent on Chinese-language broadcasts by the Voice of America and cultural exchanges designed to improve the image of the United States in Asia.

Those are among the more benign American efforts to intervene in the domestic politics of nations around the globe, activities that have been revealed in declassified documents, memoirs and records of congressional hearings.

Since the end of World War II, the United States, usually acting covertly through the CIA, has installed or toppled leaders on every continent, secretly supported political parties of close allies like Japan, fomented coups, spread false rumors, bribed political figures and spent countless billions of dollars to sway public opinion.

"If the Chinese indeed tried to influence the election here last year, the United States is only getting a taste of its own medicine," said Peter Kornbluh, a researcher at the National Security Archive, an organization affiliated with George Washington University that monitors intelligence and foreign policy.

"China has done little more than emulate a long pattern of U.S. manipulation, bribery and covert operations to influence the political trajectory of countless countries around the world," Kornbluh said.

Ms. Coan said the endowment's efforts were not comparable to what China is suspected of doing: funneling money to one political party in a contested election.

"We support people who otherwise do not have a voice in their political system," she said. "The entire point of the endowment is to aid citizens of countries where governments or other social forces prevent open and peaceful political processes."

Even those who support American efforts to influence the internal politics of other countries acknowledge that it has been carried to murderous extremes in the past and has to be carefully monitored.

"With the end of the cold war, a lot of the justification for these activities has fallen away," said Michael Beschloss, a historian who has written several volumes about U.S. policy in the Cold War. "It's always going to be a struggle between ends and means, but the burden of proof is now much greater. But when you're a country in the custom of trying to influence other countries' politics -- even if for noble motives -- it's a habit that is very hard to break."

Presidents from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton have justified American political interference abroad as necessary to promote democracy or combat the spread of communism, totalitarianism or mere anarchy.

When the CIA was established 50 years ago, Allen Dulles, one of its founders, said that the United States and other democratic nations must "fight fire with fire" to respond to the threat of expansionist communism.

But over the years, other nations have learned from the United States that national self-interest can often be used to justify ignoble means.

The CIA's earliest political activities -- considered by many agency veterans to be its greatest successes anywhere -- were in France and Italy in 1947 and 1948, when aggressive and well-financed Communist Parties and communist labor unions came close to winning power.

The United States poured millions of dollars into both countries to support center-right parties and conservative unionists, forestalling the Communist advance. The Italian effort was supervised by James Jesus Angleton, who gained notoriety later as the CIA's chief of counterintelligence for his paranoia about Soviet penetration of the agency.

The CIA grew more ambitious in the 1950s, helping to overthrow leaders in Iran and Guatemala that the United States considered too leftist and replacing them with friendly dictators.

More subtly, it secretly manipulated elections in the Philippines, Lebanon and Nepal with large amounts of covert cash.

Edward Lansdale, the legendary CIA operative, essentially ran the successful presidential campaign of Defense Minister Ramon Magsaysay in the Philippines in 1953.

At one point in the campaign, Dulles, then the director of central intelligence, offered Lansdale $5 million to use in the operation. The CIA officer cabled back that he could sway the election for $1 million.

The agency money was supplemented by secret donations from U.S. corporations doing business in the Philippines, including Coca-Cola.

Investigators looking into accusations that China funneled money into last year's American political campaigns suspect that some of the money came from state-owned Chinese companies or from entrepreneurs with business projects in China.

In Lebanon in 1957, the CIA supported Christian parties with U.S. government money and donations by American oil companies that wanted to insure a friendly government in Lebanon, a pivotal Middle Eastern country.

Wilbur Crane Eveland, a CIA officer, later described driving his gold and white DeSoto onto the grounds of President Camille Chamoun's residence in Beirut and delivering political payoffs.

"Throughout the elections, I traveled regularly to the presidential palace with a briefcase full of Lebanese pounds, then returned late at night to the embassy with an empty twin case" to be replenished with CIA money, Eveland wrote in "Ropes of Sand" in 1980, a history of American policy failures in the Middle East.

Countries that were supposed to be allies were not immune to American meddling. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the United States secretly supported Japan's Liberal Democratic Party and cultivated its rising political figures.

A recently declassified State Department cable recounts a conversation among American diplomatic, military and intelligence officers about the most effective way to insure the victory of friendly politicians in a 1965 election in Japan's Ryukyu Islands, including the important U.S. military outpost of Okinawa.

The American officials unabashedly discussed the mechanisms of covert financial support for candidates of the Liberal Democratic Party, debating only how to do it, not whether. America's right to interfere in the election was assumed by all the participants.

Edwin Reischauer, then the U.S. ambassador to Japan, argued that it would be "much safer" to let national officials of the Liberal Democratic Party handle the money than to channel it directly to local candidates.

"Okinawa is a small place, like a small town in the U.S.," Reischauer said, according to a July 16, 1965, memorandum that was declassified in September. "Okinawa is also like a small country prefecture in Japan, where political maneuvers -- particularly involving money -- are well known.

"The Japanese conservatives are going to be involved with funds and other activities in the Ryukyuan elections anyway, and it would be a perfect cover to simply add to their resources rather than trying to carry it out directly in the Ryukyus."

The CIA carried out dozens of covert political operations through the 1960s and early 1970s in Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

The agency spent $4 million to help Eduardo Frei Montalva defeat Salvador Allende Gossens in Chilean elections in 1964. Nine years later, it inspired a coup that toppled Allende, who had won power legitimately in 1970.

The worst abuses were chronicled by the Senate's Church committee in the mid-1970s amid revulsion over revelations of foreign assassination plots and spying on domestic dissidents.

The committee, led by Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, concluded that many of these activities were counterproductive as well as wrong. The toppling of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran and Jacobo Arbenz Guzman in Guatemala in the early 1950s brought decades of repression and growing anti-American sentiment, the committee found.

"We're more than a little hypocritical about these issues," said Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., who was staff director of the committee. "The United States has certainly engaged in these things, but we get all up in arms when someone else does."

"The things the CIA cited as successes really weren't successes," added Schwarz, now a lawyer at the firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York. "They were an arrogant exercise of our power to intervene in domestic affairs."

 

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