On December 8, the US House of Representatives passed an annual intelligence policy authorization bill (H.R.6480). The measure contains a provision establishing an interagency committee to counter «active measures by Russia to exert covert influence». The document says it takes the form of «media manipulation», «misinformation», «forgeries», «assassinations», «terrorist acts» etc. No Russian diplomat has ever been accused of «assassinations», «terrorist acts» but that is the language the authors of the bill used.
The measure restricts the movements of Russian diplomats in the United States. It reads, «The Secretary of State shall, in coordination with the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Director of National Intelligence, establish a mandatory advance notification regime governing all travel by accredited diplomatic and consular personnel of the Russian Federation in the United States and take necessary action to secure full compliance by Russian personnel and address any noncompliance». The Secretary of State, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Director of National Intelligence shall develop written mechanisms to share information. The previous version of the document (H.R. 6393) passed on November 30 said the permitted travel distance was 25 miles (40.23 km) from the diplomats’ official posts. The new text does not contain this provision.
It should be noted that, as a general rule, members of foreign embassies and consular posts are permitted to travel freely around the United States.
The bill also envisions the creation of a presidentially-appointed group – a powerful new committee across the security services – to counter «active measures by Russia to exert covert influence, including by exposing falsehoods, agents of influence, corruption, human rights abuses, terrorism, and assassinations carried out by the security services or political elites of the Russian Federation or their proxies».
The committee would also investigate the funding of front groups or cover organizations for Russian operations. The new committee is to meet on a regular basis. Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of the Act, and annually thereafter, the committee is to submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report describing steps being taken to counter «active measures by Russia to exert covert influence».
This new body is to be modeled after its Cold War predecessor – the Active Measures Working Group, which operated at the height of the Cold War, when some mid-level officials in the US State Department sought a more robust effort to counter «aggressive Soviet propaganda».
The new measure looks like a «witch hunt» launched by the outgoing Obama administration against Russia. It brings to memory the days of McCarthyism – a shameful period of recent American history.
The bill also limits funds that the Defense Department can dedicate to enable confidence-building measures, such as surveillance flights by Russia over US territories or anywhere covered by the Open Skies Treaty. The Defense Department would have to provide Congress with a «specified certification and report» to allow Moscow a surveillance flight or certification event of an aircraft equipped with an upgraded sensor.
The US intelligence community blames Russia for the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other organizations aligned with Democrats. President-elect Donald Trump has rejected suggestions that Moscow tried to help his campaign. It’s important to note that Mr. Trump expressed his doubts about the Russia’s involvement after receiving personal intelligence briefing on the alleged Russia’s role. The US intelligence community has failed to convince the president-elect. It confirms the fact that there was no solid evidence to go upon.
The scandalous bill passed through the Senate committee in May. Now it must be passed by the full Senate. If the Senate votes for the bill before the end of the year, President Obama will have plenty of time to bring it into law. Donald Trump would likely be less inclined than Obama to sign it if it ends up on his desk.
«We are ready to answer with a ‘symmetrical’ response to the travel restrictions imposed on Russian diplomats in the US», Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Moscow on Dec. 7. According to her, «They (the US authorities) should keep in mind that diplomacy is based on the principle of reciprocity. Put simply, American diplomats in Russia will be treated in the same way».
The bill is part of a broader picture. According to the 2015 Intelligence Authorization Act, all Russian nationals holding supervisory positions at US embassy and consulates in Russia were replaced with American citizens. It required US diplomatic centers in Russia, and any other country that shares a land border with the Russian Federation, to have a «sensitive compartmented information facility». The male embassy employees, including Marines guarding the embassy, were forbidden to make acquaintances with Russian women! Sounds ridiculous, but that’s what it said.
Before the November 8 elections, Russian diplomats had been warned of criminal charges to be brought against them if they appear at polling stations to get acquainted with US election process. Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana turned down the request from the Russian consulate in Houston. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the effort to send diplomats was a «PR stunt».
For comparison, the Russian Federation sent personal invitations to US monitors asking them to observe the September parliamentary elections, and 63 accepted the offer. In total, 774 monitors from 63 nations received accreditation to observe Russia’s parliamentary elections. In addition, US representatives visited Russia earlier as part of an OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights’ monitoring mission.
There have been other cases when Congress was trying to prevent any positive changes in US foreign policy on Russia before Donald Trump takes office. For instance, on December 3, the House of Representatives approved the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), voting against military partnership with Moscow. The bill, which must be endorsed by the Senate, conditionally prohibits spending money for any cooperation with Moscow, until it fulfills a number of conditions, including the improvement of relations with NATO.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) has promised to introduce comprehensive legislation to strengthen sanctions against Russia. The move is supported by senior Republican lawmakers.
The US lawmakers are obviously trying to prevent a potential thaw in the Russia-US relationship. The goal is to obstruct any steps Donald Trump might take to normalize the bilateral ties with the country that US foreign policy guru, Henry Kissinger, considers to be «an essential element of any new global equilibrium».