A popular video on Facebook is not “proof” of American interference in Bulgarian elections

  • It is misleading to claim that this video is an “acknowledgment” by the US or evidence of US interference in elections in foreign countries, including Bulgaria.
  • The video is from March 2018 and does not refer to recent events.
  • Stephen Kinzer is a journalist and can freely express his opinion, but this cannot be interpreted as a “recognition” by the US, nor as evidence of interference.

A video allegedly proving US interference in the elections in Bulgaria is actively spreading among Bulgarian Facebook users.

The most popular post on Facebook is from February 22 and has over 7,000 interactions (shares and likes).

The video is also shared in a Bulgarian subreddit in the online platform Reddit.

The video is an excerpt from the American TV show Democracy Now! from March 12, 2018. It is shared on social media in Bulgaria without making it clear that it is from five years ago and it is suggested that it is about recent events.

The original interview is 8 minutes long, and the one shared on Facebook is 4 minutes and 39 seconds long. The excerpt is additionally edited. In the authentic version, Bulgaria is mentioned in the course of the conversation, and in the video, which is distributed on Facebook, the sentence with Bulgaria is cut out and placed at the front.

In the manipulated version of the interview, the context of the conversation is not clear. In fact, the subject is US interference in the electoral processes of other countries historically, and the occasion is the ongoing investigation into possible Russian interference in the US elections in 2016. The conversation also discusses the heated debates in the Congress, given the upcoming midterm elections in the autumn of 2018.

Further confusion comes from the fact that two people are speaking in the clip – the interview is with writer and journalist Stephen Kinzer, but the conversation begins with a recording of former CIA Director James Woolsey’s appearance on Fox News a month earlier. Asked if the US tried to interfere in elections in foreign countries, Woolsey confirmed and gave as an example “Europe in 47’, 48’ and 49’”. He explained that the goal was to prevent the communists from coming to power. When asked if this still happens now, Woolsey does not answer directly, but makes it clear that he probably thinks so and adds “Only for very good cause and in the interests of democracy”. Here the excerpt ends and Stephen Kinzer is asked to comment on Woolsey’s words.

Stephen Kinzer is a writer and journalist who has worked for The New York Times for over 20 years, most of them as a foreign correspondent. He was invited because the topic of potential US interference in foreign elections is a special focus of his work. Already in 2007, he published his book Overthrow, in which he tells about coups, revolutions and invasions, through which, according to him, the US caused a change of political regime in a total of 14 countries. Kinzer’s examples range from the abolition of the Hawaiian Monarchy in 1893 to the 2003 Iraq War.

Kinzer came out publicly to speak on this topic in 2017, when discussions began to emerge about possible attempts by Russia to influence the results of the 2016 US presidential election. Then, in an op-ed to The Boston Globe, Kinzer writes:

“Over a period of more than a century, American leaders have used a variety of tools to influence voters in other countries. We have chosen candidates, advised them, financed their parties, designed their campaigns, bribed media outlets to support them, and intimidated or smeared their rivals”, Kinzer said in his op-ed.

Against this background, it is not difficult to guess what the position he advocates in the March 2018 interview will be. What is puzzling, however, are the examples Kinzer gives:

“Yes, it’s true, we are still intervening in foreign elections. And I think the ones he’s (James Woolsey) been thinking about are recent elections in Bulgaria, in Mongolia, in Slovakia.”

The most recent elections in Bulgaria that took place before the interview (March 2018) were the early parliamentary elections of March 2017, and before them the presidential elections at the end of 2016. In Slovakia, these are the parliamentary elections in 2016. In Mongolia, parliamentary elections are held in 2016, and presidential elections in 2017. Kinzer does not provide evidence for his claims, nor does he explain exactly what he means by intervention. In the interview, he sometimes talks about “interference in elections”, other times about “interference in politics”.

The reports of the OSCE, which observed parliamentary elections in Bulgaria (2017), Slovakia (2016) and Mongolia (2016), have no facts to support Kinzer’s claims.

Kinzer also emphasizes the work of the National Endowment for Democracy – an American non-governmental organization established in 1983 with the aim of promoting the development of democracy around the world. The organization receives congressionally appropriated government funding through the State Department and enjoys the support of both major parties in the United States.

In the interview, Kinzer explains that the Fund was created to take over the functions of the CIA, which at the time was rocked by scandals. The fund, Kinzer explains, sends money and advisers to other countries and teaches them “how to make computer lists, how to organize demonstrations, how to make political meetings, how to start a newspaper.” According to him, these “tools” are used in countries whose governments the US does not approve of. He specifically states that after it was banned in Russia, the fund started working “in all the countries around Russia: Kosovo, Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus” in order to “create anti-Russian movements” and eventually receive the “big prize”: to turn Russia into a “state would be subservient our wishes”.

What does it mean to be a “foreign agent” in Russia?

The organization does work in the listed countries (as well as many others), although it is obvious that Kosovo and Serbia are not located “around Russia”. Kinzer does not explain why the organization’s activities are interpreted as “interference” in the electoral process, nor on what basis he compares them to the subversive activities of the CIA during the Cold War.

Fact checked:

The personal opinion of the American journalist Steven Kinzer that the USA interfered in the politics of Bulgaria, Mongolia and Slovakia cannot be interpreted as a “recognition” on the part of Washington or as evidence of American interference in the elections of other countries.

The video being circulated is an edited excerpt from a broadcast dated March 2018 in which former CIA Director James Woolsey implied that the US was meddling in elections in foreign countries, citing only historical examples from the beginning of the Cold War without mentioning Bulgaria. This is what Stephen Kinzer does in his commentary on what he heard, naming Bulgaria along with Mongolia and Slovakia as countries where elections have recently been held, but adds nothing more on the matter.

Translated by Vanessa Nikolova


As Ex-CIA Head Admits to U.S. Meddling in Elections, Is Outrage over Russian Interference Overblown?, transcript: https://www.democracynow.org/2018/3/12/as_ex_cia_head_admits_to

Международна мисия за наблюдение на изборите от март 2017 г., докалд: https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/a/4/307596.pdf

James Woolsey on the Russians’ efforts to disrupt elections: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpWai3kZ-gM&t=3s

As Ex-CIA Head Admits to U.S. Meddling in Elections, Is Outrage over Russian Interference Overblown?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LRArfyjK1Y

Stephen Kinzer, bio: http://stephenkinzer.com/photosbio/

We’ve been hacking elections for more than a century: https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2017/01/08/been-hacking-elections-for-more-than-century/okjziXPQDiegx53ABtpUOO/story.html

RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE IN 2016 U.S. ELECTIONS, FBI: https://www.fbi.gov/wanted/cyber/russian-interference-in-2016-u-s-elections

OSCE, Mongolia, Parliamentary Elections 2016: https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/9/a/271821.pdf

OSCE, Slovak Republic, Parliamentary Elections 2016: https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/c/1/235591.pdf

National Endowment for Democracy is first ‘undesirable’ NGO banned in Russia: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/28/national-endowment-for-democracy-banned-russia

Публикацията е създадена с подкрепата на Европейския съюз. Отговорността за съдържанието е изцяло на Factcheck.bg.

Vanessa Nikolova
Vanessa Nikolova
Vanessa Nikolova graduated in journalism from the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski". She has worked as an editor and translator in print and online media. She is interested in topics related to the Western Balkans and the Far East, including the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. She is passionate about astronomy and astrophysics, and one of her goals as a journalist is to make science more accessible and interesting for the average reader. Works with English, Spanish, Italian, French, Russian, Serbian and Korean languages.

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