DOJ IG Calls for More Aggressive FARA Enforcement

IG Report: Main Findings

  • The eight-person FARA team is poorly funded and lacks power to compel possible violators to produce information, relying instead on voluntary disclosure.
  • 62 percent of new registrants filed documents late; 50 percent of registrants failed to file required supplemental statements; 15 percent of active registrants “had ceased filing altogether or were over six months delinquent.” The IG concluded that “these compliance rates are unacceptable.”
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) counterintelligence agents, prosecutors, and DOJ’s National Security Division (“NSD”) officials have different understandings of what factually constitutes a “FARA case.”
  • The IG made 14 recommendations, which include: (1) expanding information sources to help DOJ identify potential or delinquent foreign agents; (2) strengthening DOJ’s tracking system for registration files and timely compliance by foreign agents; and (3) coordinating FARA enforcement with DOJ’s national security initiatives.

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Justice Department Records Show Dramatic Rise in FARA Enforcement

But in recent years, Justice’s prosecution of individuals for failing to register under FARA has made headlines (this is separate from the increase in FARA audits described above). In an interview with The Hill, Kelner said Justice has been using FARA as “a convenient tool in espionage and terrorism cases.” And many of the recent cases appear to support that.

The statute has been used against suspected Russian spies, a nonprofit allegedly directed and financed by Pakistan’s spy service, and a Syrian accused of videotaping protests in the U.S. on behalf of Syrian intelligence. All of whom did not register under FARA.    

The distinction between spies and lobbyists may not be so clear, however. A July 2010 article in Intelligence Online, a publication devoted exclusively to covering the public and private intelligence world, suggested that the line between espionage and foreign lobbying has been blurring. The article asserted that foreign governments are now using lobbyists to gather background intelligence on other governments, a function that was traditionally carried out by spies.

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