The Unintended “Foreign Agents”

Published: March 2018

“Foreign agents” are suddenly in our midst – or so it seems. Paul Manafort was indicted, in part, for failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Last fall, RT and Sputnik registered as “foreign agents” under pressure from the Justice Department. And in January, seven U.S. Senators asked the Justice Department to ensure that Chinese state media organizations are properly registered under FARA.

This focus on implementation though has encountered a problem. FARA is so sweeping and vague that increasing enforcement, without also fixing the underlying Act, could unintentionally capture even routine activity of a significant number of nonprofits.

As the United States marks the 80th anniversary of FARA, ICNL’s Doug Rutzen and Nick Robinson argue in Just Security that reforms are needed to ensure that the dormant Act can be used to address inappropriate interference by foreign governments in the United States without unintentionally undercutting our democracy.