Outrage is shaking Washington as members of Congress compete to demonize Russia for its alleged interference in America’s recent presidential election. “Any foreign intervention in our elections is entirely unacceptable,” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has asserted. Russian actions, according to other legislators, are “attacks on our very fundamentals of democracy” that “should alarm every American” because they “cut to the heart of our free society.” This burst of righteous indignation would be easier to swallow if the United States had not itself made a chronic habit of interfering in foreign elections.

One of our first operations to shape the outcome of a foreign election came in Cuba. After the United States helped Cuban rebels overthrow Spanish rule in 1898, we organized a presidential election, recruited a pro-American candidate, and forbade others to run against him. Two years later, after the United States annexed Hawaii, we established an electoral system that denied suffrage to most native Hawaiians, assuring that only pro-American candidates would be elected to public office.

During the Cold War, influencing foreign elections was a top priority for the CIA. One of its first major operations was aimed at assuring that a party we favored won the 1948 election in Italy. This was a multipronged effort that included projects like encouraging Italian-Americans to write letters to their relatives warning that American aid to Italy would end if the wrong party won. Encouraged by its success in Italy, the CIA quickly moved to other countries.