What it means to be a “foreign agent” in the United States

The Ministry of justice: government and the American people need to know about the sources of information and persons attempting to influence the authorities and society of the country

Register as a “foreign agent” in the United States is in accordance with the provisions of the act, more commonly known by the abbreviation – FARA.

It all started with the attempts to confront the propaganda machine of Adolf Hitler. The scale of the Nazi propaganda in the United States, the increase in the number of organizations that are secretly funded by Berlin, and theft of American technological secrets of the German spies led to the fact that Congress decided to intervene.

It was assumed that FARA will regulate the situation with the publication of Nazi propaganda in the United States. The right to Express any point of view protected by the Constitution, so the law only provided that the organisation or individual involved in performing any tasks of a foreign state must officially inform and be properly registered first in the state Department, later the Ministry of justice.

To identify these organizations and individuals, the law uses the word “agent,” which in the English language – in contrast to the Russian – has no negative connotations.

During the Second world war, American courts considered 23 cases on which the defendants were charged with violating FARA. In 1966 the law was changed. Congress decided that in addition to dealing with the propaganda of hostile regimes, it should regulate the activities of foreign lobbyists. Then the text of the law is missing the word “propaganda” was replaced by “informational materials”.

The U.S. Department of justice explains that FARA is necessary for the U.S. government and the people of the United States was informed about the sources of information (propaganda) and the identity of people trying to influence public opinion, policy and laws of the United States.

Under the law enters any structure, organized under the laws of a foreign country or having its principal place of business in a foreign country.

The act also requires that informational materials of a foreign agent contained a warning that they apply in the interests of the foreign customer. The law applies to informational service only in the case where their editorial policy is controlled by a foreign government.

That is why in the United States operate without registration British “Bi-Bi-si” and the German “Deutsche Welle”, as the state media independent from the government of their States.

“RT has only one feature in common with Western broadcasters, such as the bi-Bi-si and “Voice of America” – state funding. The latter are managed in a transparent structure that ensures editorial independence, responsibility and quality. (…) RT has nothing to do with the basic values of journalism such as objectivity and the search for truth”, – says the expert of the Washington-based Brookings institution James Kirchik.

According to the assessment of the intelligence community of the United States, RT and Sputnik are part of “Russian state propaganda machine”, and therefore they fall under FARA.

In the framework of this law at the time they registered the main mission of the Soviet media Agency, TASS, Newspapers “Pravda” and “Izvestia”. And when in 2010, the FBI uncovered a network of Russian spies, among whom was the notorious Anna Chapman, they were also charged with violation of the law FARA: because they secretly carried out the orders of Moscow.

According to the latest report of the Ministry of justice, at the beginning of 2017 as foreign agents was the Chinese newspaper China Daily, Japanese broadcaster NHK Cosmomedia and South Korean KBS.

Registration under FARA does not prevent foreign media companies doing business in the U.S. and does not involve any requirements of the distributed information. The law provides for a number of conditions: information on sources of financing (quarterly), annual grant of common informational materials (e.g. broadcasting network list of programs) and a message stating that this media acts in the interests of a particular government – it is enough to place one offer relevant content on the official website.

In Russia in 2013 adopted its own law on foreign agents, under which were many human rights organizations. The Russian leadership has traditionally used FARA – way, incorrectly describing its essence – to justify its attack on human rights.