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Professor Levin: U.S. Ambassadors and the CIA changed governments in the Balkans

From what I found in my research these kinds of interventions are done following orders in this regard from the highest levels of the U.S. government- i.e. the White House/senior cabinet secretaries. Within the U.S. government different bodies have been used for different types of interventions. For example, officials from the State Department (such as the local embassy staff and ambassadors) have been used for many of the public threats, and the CIA has been frequently used for the provision of campaign funding and dirty tricks of various kinds, Levin said in an interview with Republika weekly

The U.S. has a long history of attempts to influence the election processes and the election results in other countries, according to a research by Professor Dov Levin, Post Doctoral Fellow in the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pennsylvania. In an interview with ‘Republika’ Levine says his archive has registered 81 cases of “foreign intervention in elections” by Washington in the period between 1946 and 2000. This figure does not include the military coups and the attempts at regime change after elections in which the candidates that won the elections are not dear to the United States. The Professor defines the interventions that are the subject of his research as “expensive acts that are designed to influence the election results in favor of one of both sides.” These acts, according to Levin, have been implemented covertly (without the knowledge of the public in those countries) in two-thirds of the cases, and interventions included financing the campaigns of particular parties, spreading misinformation and propaganda against the enemies, techniques for training only one side of the local population in various campaigning or techniques for persuading voters to vote, helping only one side in the preparation of campaign materials, public statements or threats for or against certain candidates and providing or withdrawing foreign aid. His study has found that in 59% of cases the assisted party by the U.S. managed to come to power, although the Professor has calculated that the average effect of electoral intervention is only about 3 percent increased rating. Data from Levin’s archive show that the U.S. is not the only country that tried to influence elections in other countries. Russia did 36 interventions in elections in foreign countries in the same period from the end of World War II to 2000. It is interesting to note that the U.S. intervened in ten electoral processes in the Balkans, and in all Balkan countries – Yugoslavia, Greece, Bulgaria, Albania and Romania.

In recent months the world media wrote extensively about the U.S. influence in the outcome of another country’s election. Some media claim that this policy of Washington is nothing new and it cited your historical database that tracks US involvement in meddling with foreign elections over the years. What is your research about exactly and what did you find out on this issue? Do you have information about US influence in the election process in South East Europe and the Balkans?

LEVIN: My current research is on the causes and effects of interventions of this kind (which I call partisan electoral interventions) as done both by the U.S. as well as by the Soviet Union/Russia. Basically such interventions are defined in this dataset (called PEIG), as attempts by foreign powers to intervene in elections in other countries in order to help or hinder one of the candidates or parties using costly means of various kinds. I constructed PEIG in order to study these questions in a scientific manner.

I found that both the U.S. and the Soviet Union/Russia intervened in elections in this manner very frequently, intervening in 117 different elections between 1946 to 2000- or in other words in one of every nine competitive elections during this period.

Do you have information about US influence in the election process in South East Europe and the Balkans? The front page of your paper listed several countries -Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania …

LEVIN: As for South East Europe and the Balkans, none of the countries in this region had of course competitive elections, with the exception of Greece and Turkey, until the end of the Cold War. As a result, such interventions were not feasible (except in those two countries) until the early 1990s. Taking that into account, South East Europe and the Balkans have nevertheless been frequent targets of such interventions, with the U.S. intervening in ten elections in this region between 1946 and 2000.

My research on this topic is still ongoing but I have found so far that electoral intervention by either intervener can have significant effects on election results. First, I find that electoral interventions in general can have a significant effect in this regard, increasing the vote share of the assisted candidate or party by about 3% on average. Second, I find that public or overt electoral interventions are significantly more effective than covert interventions are in helping the preferred side.


How many electoral interventions has the U.S. and how many the Soviet Union/Russia?

LEVIN: The U.S. did 81 interventions of this kind between 1946 and 2000. The USSR/Russia did 36 interventions of this kind during this period.

How the U.S. is doing those interventions? They are using CIA, secret agents, NGO’s, embassy stuff…? And, how did you come to the conclusion that the U.S. government influenced the results of elections? Please explain me the procedure.

LEVIN: Such American interventions have used since 1946 a variety of methods for this purpose, including public threats or promises, the secret provision of money to the preferred party or candidate’s campaign, “dirty tricks” such as the release of true (or false) damaging information about the undesired side, training in various advanced campaigning methods and campaigning advice, or an increase in foreign aid or other assistance before election day or withdrawing this kind of aid.

From what I found in my research these kinds of interventions are done following orders in this regard from the highest levels of the U.S. government- i.e. the White House/senior cabinet secretaries. Within the U.S. government different bodies have been used for different types of interventions. For example, officials from the State Department (such as the local embassy staff and ambassadors) have been used for many of the public threats, and the CIA has been frequently used for the provision of campaign funding and dirty tricks of various kinds. In a few cases since the end of the Cold War, NGO’s fully funded and directed by the US government (like the IRI and NDI) have been used to assist the preferred side through, for example, training in campaigning methods etc.. However, just to make this absolutely clear these are the rare exceptions. More than 99%+ of the work of these U.S. government funded NGO’s work in most times and countries is either completely neutral in nature, in other words all major parties on the left and right are offered the assistance of these NGO’s, or their work has nothing whatsoever to do with national elections in that country.

Have these methods also been used at interventions in the Balkan? How many of those interventions have been successful? Can you tell me are there any similar methods used in all these cases (in the Balkans), or at least most of them? (Could you please give me some details of these cases?)

LEVIN: It, of course, depends on how exactly you define success. If you define success as situations where the assisted side came or remained in power after the elections then the U.S. succeeded in five of these cases (both Soviet interventions under this criteria were unsuccessful).

As for the methods used in electoral interventions in the Balkans, all of these methods have, to the best of my knowledge, been used in these cases with each specific intervention case seeing a different mix of intervention methods.

An example of such a successful intervention occurring in the Balkans is the U.S. intervention in the 2000 Yugoslav election. In this case, the U.S. intervened in the elections in Yugoslavia in order to prevent the leader of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, from winning reelection. Milosevic was directly involved in major crimes against humanity both in Bosnia and Kosovo and his behavior was seen as destabilizing the Balkans. Accordingly the U.S. government was worried that if Milosevic remained in power he would continue doing such severe human rights violations and perhaps start new conflicts in the Balkans. So the U.S. decided to intervene in this election for the Serbian opposition and the main opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica.

So, for example, the U.S. government gave the Serbian opposition 5000 cans of graffiti spray- which the opposition used to spray anti-Milosevic propaganda on walls throughout the country. It also gave it 2.5 million stickers with various anti-Milosevic slogans- or in other words one campaign sticker for every three Serbians. The U.S. also trained 5000 members of the opposition in various campaigning and get out the vote techniques. It even sent some American campaign advisors who conducted polls for the opposition and gave them advice on campaign strategy.

Finally in the week before the election, in an attempt to further boost Kostunica’s chances, the U.S. government also publicly promised to remove U.S. sanctions on Yugoslavia if Milosevic would lose power in Yugoslavia. I estimate in my research that this American intervention for Kostunica played a key role in his victory in that election.

Are the results of your research credible? I mean, there are a lot of conspiracy theories out there… Why should people believe that your data base information is real?

LEVIN: The data in PEIG is based upon information I collected from various highly reliable sources. For example, in case of the American electoral interventions sources that I used included: declassified U.S. government documents, the results of investigations by the U.S. Congress into the activities of the U.S. government, and testimonies by former U.S. government officials who were involved in some way in a certain intervention. Only cases where such reliable sources were found confirming that an electoral intervention had indeed occurred were included in PEIG. Cases where such accusations were made but I was unable to find such reliable evidence for were excluded from PEIG.

Naturally as an academic I am trying to investigate partisan electoral interventions in a scientific manner – so I utilize in my research and the data collection processes the highest social science standards. Parts of this research have now come out in major peer reviewed academic journals in International Relations.

You said about one-third of the interventions were public, and two-third of them were covert. Please explain the difference.

LEVIN: Overt or public electoral interventions are situations where the acts done in order to influence the elections are known to the average voter in the affected country and were designed to be public. Covert electoral interventions are cases where the acts of intervention in favor of the preferred side were either not known to the public of the affected country before the election or they did not know the link between those acts and the intervener.

How would you say this interference worked in the Obama administration years? We know that Israel complained that the administration funded left wing groups to influence the elections, leading to a congressional inquiry.

LEVIN: Naturally the closer we are to the present the harder it is to know whether a partisan electoral intervention of the covert type had occurred. That is one reason why PEIG, and my data collection effort, had ended at 2000. Accordingly it is too early to tell how frequently the Obama administration had intervened in this way in foreign elections around the world during its term in office. The 2015 Israeli elections is a good example of a case where it is still too early to tell whether or not there was such an intervention by the U.S.. I know for sure that the Obama administration had intervened in at least three elections during its time in office: in Lebanon in 2009, in Afghanistan in 2009, and in Kenya in 2013.

Judicial Watch, famed for its dogged investigations of corruption under Mr. Obama, recently wrote analysis of the problem, reporting that “the U.S. government has quietly spent millions of taxpayer dollars to destabilize the democratically elected, center-­right government in Macedonia by colluding with left­-wing billionaire philanthropist George Soros.” The watchdog group contends that Jess L. Baily, Mr. Obama’s pick to be ambassador to Macedonia, has “worked behind the scenes with Mr. Soros’ Open Society Foundation to funnel large sums of American dollars for the cause, constituting an interference of the U.S. ambassador in domestic political affairs in violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.” So, whether promoting political parties or their coalitions by a U.S. ambassador and U.S. Government funded NGOs, and taking sides in election campaign can be considered as intervention on elections and election results?

LEVIN: Given how recent these events are, and from what information seems to be publicly available so far, it is simply too early to tell in the case of Macedonia. Hopefully the upcoming investigation will clarify things in this regard.

By: Nenad Mircevski