Foreign Agents Registration Act
The Foreign Agents Registration Act is a United States law (22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq.) passed in 1938 requiring that agents representing the interests of foreign powers be properly identified to the American public. The act was passed in response to German propaganda in the lead-up to World War II. The Foreign Agent Registration Unit within the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice is charged with handling the enforcement of the law.
Scope of the Act
The act requires people and organizations who are under foreign control ("agents of a foreign principal") to register with the Department of Justice when acting on behalf of foreign interests. This law defines the agent of a foreign principal as someone who:
- Engages in political activities for or in the interests of a foreign principal;
- Acts in a public relations capacity for a foreign principal;
- Solicits or dispenses any thing of value within the United States for a foreign principal;
- Represents the interests of a foreign principal before any agency or official of the U.S. government.
The Department of Justice has found that most violations of this law are unintentional and is attempting to work out problems without legal action.
Although the act was designed to broadly apply to any foreign agent (and was first used against German National socialist and Soviet propagandists), in practice FARA is frequently used to target countries out of favor with an administration (such as Venezuela or Iraq during the George W. Bush administration).
In the 1960s, the American Zionist Council was found to be engaged in massive violations of FARA by being funded by and acting on behalf of Israel and was ordered by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to register as a foreign agent. The DOJ reversed those enforcement efforts under pressure from both the Israel lobby and the Johnson administration during its reelection bid. Controversy regarding lobbying on behalf of Israel continued after the American Zionist Council was reorganized as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), with former Senator William Fulbright and former senior CIA official Victor Marchetti calling for registering the lobby. The issue was renewed in 2004 by the AIPAC espionage scandal.
Samir Vincent, An Iraqi-American businessman who admitted helping Saddam Hussein's government in the oil-for-food scandal was fined $300,000 and sentenced to probation. He was charged, among other counts, with conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of a foreign government.
The Foreign Agent Registration Unit is heavily underfunded despite an increase in the number of foreign lobbyists in Washington, as well as higher spending. In June 2004, the Justice Department claimed that the Unit's database for tracking foreign lobbyists was in disrepair and claimed that much of its data could be lost unless the database was backed up.
- U.S. Department of Justice, FARA Index and Act
- The Israel Lobby Archive, The Institute for Research Middle Eastern Policy, Washington, DC.
- Grant F. Smith, Philip Weiss. America's Defense Line: The Justice Department's Battle to Register the Israel Lobby as Agents of a Foreign Government, Institute for Research, 2008, ISBN-13: 9780976443759
- Ori Nir, Leaders Fear Probe Will Force Pro-Israel Lobby To File as ‘Foreign Agent’, The Forward, December 31, 2004.
- Larry Neumeister, Oil-for-Food Witness Receives Lenient Sentence, Associated Press, April 25, 2008.
- United States vs. Samir A. Vincent documents.
- Kevin Bogardus, Foreign Lobbyist Database Could Vanish; Justice Department claims merely copying its foreign agents database could destroy it, at PublicIntegrity.org, July 28, 2004.