Meddling by hostile powers and the Left in American and South Korea elections

Editor’s note: The following are remarks delivered by Center President Fred Fleitz to an August 24, 2020 Korea Conservative Political Action Committee (KCPAC) conference on the alleged rigging of South Korea’s April 2020 national elections.

Thank you for inviting me to participate in this important conference on the integrity of one of the most important elements of democratic government: free and fair elections. This conference is being held in response to concerns about election fraud in South Korea’s April 15, 2020 national elections. These concerns mirror what we have been seeing in the United States on how fragile the democratic system of government is to manipulation, the determination by authoritarian powers to meddle in democracies, and the refusal of the mainstream media and liberal politicians and experts to acknowledge election fraud regardless of how clear and obvious the evidence may be.

Democracy survives and thrives when men and women of good will believe in it and are prepared to defend it. Democracy is vulnerable to manipulation because it puts trust and responsibility in the people.  Democratic systems are easy to manipulate and cheat because they lack the coercion and control of the people that one sees in authoritarian governments.  This means unscrupulous and selfish people who put themselves and their personal agendas ahead of the nation can all too easily manipulate elections and undermine democracy in other ways. Moreover, democratic states are vulnerable to manipulation by hostile authoritarian governments who will not hesitate to exploit the openness and freedom in these states to undermine them and promote their agendas.

There is no question that a wide range of authoritarian states are actively working to undermine democracies around the world. This includes Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. It is also very likely that Cuba is trying to meddle in America’s democratic system. These states devote substantial resources, including intelligence operations, propaganda, and social media to meddle in the elections of democratic states and sometimes promote their favorite candidates in elections.

Russia and China have been at the forefront of covert efforts to undermine democratic states because they would like to replace the current world order with one that they dominate.

As you know, allegations of foreign election meddling have plagued the United States since 2016. Claims appeared by mid-2016 that Russia was interfering in the presidential election, supposedly to ensure the election of Donald Trump. President Trump’s political opponents have tried to use these allegations to undermine his presidency.

Most experts believe that Russia did have a campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Although the mainstream media and most Democratic politicians agree with the U.S.  intelligence community that this interference was intended to help elect Trump, there is a growing body of evidence that the Russians probably meddled in the U.S. 2016 election to cause confusion and undermine America’s democratic system. There also is compelling evidence discovered by the House Intelligence Committee that the Russians may have meddled in the 2016 presidential election to help elect Hillary Clinton.  This story is complicated because of efforts by the Obama administration to use U.S. intelligence agencies, the FBI and the Justice Department against the Trump campaign for alleged collaboration with Russia and to task career government officers to continue to investigate these allegations after President Obama left office.  Ongoing investigations of this abuse of government agencies to investigate the Trump campaign and the Trump administration could eventually shed light on the actual nature of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

What most observers rarely mention is that attempts to interfere the 2016 U.S. presidential election by Russia, China and probably other states was expected by U.S. intelligence analysts because they knew that such interference has occurred for decades. However, the 2016 Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election differed from past interference because of new capabilities to influence voters and affect election integrity through electronic means, the Internet and social media. Authoritarian powers can now have a huge effect in manipulating elections in democratic states from abroad and anonymously by sabotaging equipment and software and using social media.  We must recognize that manipulation of these new technologies represents serious new threats to democracies around the world.

Although much is been written about Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, little has been said about Chinese efforts. President Trump warned before the 2018 midterm elections that China was among several states planning to interfere with this election. Trump and other U.S. officials never explained this claim.  U.S. intelligence agencies recently determined that China, Russia and Iran hope to influence the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, with China and Iran wanting Joe Biden to win and Russia favoring Trump.  Democratic Congressmen briefed on this intelligence claim China and Iran only expressed a preference for Biden and do not plan to do much to help him win the election while Russia is engaged in an active campaign to reelect Trump.

As a former CIA intelligence analyst, I question these conclusions. First, I believe it is certain that all of America’s enemies and adversaries – including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea – desperately want to see Donald Trump lose the 2020 presidential election. But more important, and this directly touches on the alleged interference in April 2020 South Korean general election, China probably has launched a campaign to affect the outcome of the U.S. presidential election to ensure the election of Joe Biden.

Further complicating this situation is the how the American Left is increasingly putting its pursuit of power ahead of democratic principles.  There is no longer a loyal opposition in the United States. The Democratic Party and the mainstream media consistently look the other way when clear evidence of election fraud appears if it favors the Democrats. This has become a major problem with mail-in ballots and is likely to seriously undermine the integrity of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Efforts by China and North Korea – and possibly Russia –to meddle in South Korea’s democracy is intended to undermine freedom in the Asia-Pacific, weaken an important ally of the United States and convert South Korea into a client state.  China strongly supports President Moon Jae-in’s efforts to bring about détente with North Korea and eagerness to make concessions because these efforts undermine President Trump’s Maximum Pressure strategy against North Korea and help ensure the country will not collapse.

There is no question that China is a major threat to South Korea’s democracy. From promoting propaganda through the Internet related to the election, running intelligence operations and colluding with South Korean nationals, Beijing is certain to have committed huge resources to meddle in South Korean politics and interfering in its elections.

The alleged rigging of the April 2020 South Korean national elections must be viewed in this light. The abnormalities in this election should not be written off as coincidences or minor errors given the efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to destroy democracies as part of its effort to establish a new China-led world order.  This significant number of election issues strongly suggests a coordinated campaign by a foreign power to influence the election outcome.  There should be an extensive investigation of the election abnormalities and possible Chinese meddling to assure the South Korean people of the integrity of their elections.

Unfortunately, it seems clear this will never happen. The South Korean government does not want an investigation and may be sabotaging attempts to open one.  South Korean mainstream media and experts are dismissing the idea that the election was rigged.  This mirrors what is happening in the United States – the Left has no interest in investigating incidents that appear to undermine democracy if they favor the Left. The American Left, like the South Korean Left, is dangerously naive about the threat from China and dismiss those who warn about it as war mongers and conspiracy theorists.

This is why today’s program is so important. By highlighting the large number of irregularities in the April 2020 national elections and why they almost certainly were part of a deliberate campaign to rig the vote, you are doing the job that the South Korean government and media should be doing.  But more important, you are defending South Korea’s democracy.

About Fred Fleitz

Fred Fleitz is President and CEO of the Center for Security Policy. He recently served as a Deputy Assistant to President Trump and Chief of Staff to National Security Adviser John Bolton. He previously worked in national security positions for 25 years with CIA, DIA, the Department of State and the House Intelligence Committee staff. Follow Fleitz on Twitter @fredfleitz.