On October 5th, the head of Russia’s government-owned RT international television network, their equivalent of America’s PBS and CNN International, and UK’s BBC, announced that, “We received a letter from the US Department of Justice, demanding that we register as a foreign agent. By October 17 we must ‘whip ourselves’ and say that we are a foreign agent,” and, “[our] lawyers tell us that if we [RT’s American branch] do not register as a foreign agent, arrests of our employees, seizure of property will follow – absolutely serious things.”
However, the U.S. Justice Department is taking this action even though the U.S. Senate hasn't yet so much as taken up consideration of the bill, put forth by New Hampshire’s Democratic U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (and cosponsored by three other Democrats and one Republican), to allow such action.
The bill is titled "S.625 – Foreign Agents Registration Modernization and Enforcement Act”, and was introduced in the U.S. Senate on March 14th. Its Section Five revises Section 12 of the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act, which had been passed in preparation for World War II. The bill would revise Section 12 to say as follows:
Sec. 12. The Assistant Attorney General for National Security, through the FARA Registration Unit of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, shall submit a semiannual report to Congress regarding the administration of this Act, including, for the reporting period, the identification of–
(1) registrations filed pursuant to this Act;
(2) the nature, sources, and content of political propaganda disseminated and distributed by agents of foreign principal;
(3) the number of investigations initiated based upon a perceived violation of section 7; and
(4) the number of such investigations that were referred to the Attorney General for prosecution.
So far as is known, only RT and Russia's radio equivalent, Sputnik, have been demanded by the Justice Department to register as “Foreign Agent.” UK's BBC has not. Turkey’s TRT World has not. Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabia has not. Qatar’s Al-Jazeera has not.
Iran’s equivalent, Press TV, was earlier removed not only in the U.S. but in Europe, and not under any law at all. Wikipedia states:
In July 2013 Press TV and other Iranian channels were removed from several European and American satellites (amongst others those of Eutelsat and Intelsat), allegedly because of the Iran sanctions, even though an EU spokesperson told the channel that these sanctions do not apply to media. In November 2012, the Hong Kong-based AsiaSat took Iranian channels off air in East Asia, and in October 2012 Eutelsat and Intelsat stopped broadcasting several Iranian satellite channels, though the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting managed to resume broadcasts after striking deals with smaller companies that are based in other countries.
Press TV was not restored to access to Western audiences after the economic sanctions against Iran were lifted following passage of the nuclear deal with Iran, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, entered into force on 14 July 2015. The West’s ban on Press TV continues unchanged into the present, and is a separate act of hostility by the U.S. and Europe against Iran, not connected at all to the supposed nuclear threat from Iran. And, so, since Iran is already gone from American telecasts, the Trump Administration can’t force it to register as a “Foreign Agent.”
However, obviously, Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions thinks that he can legally punish RT and Sputnik if they don’t register, like German and Japanese agents had to before and then during WW II. Then, in the Cold War against the Soviet Union, the FARA was used against that country (the U.S.S.R.). Then, the U.S. and its allies pretended to end the Cold War when the U.S. and Russia came to a verbal agreement in 1990 between the agents of George Herbert Walker Bush and of Mikhail Gorbachev to end the Cold War if the Soviet Union broke up and ended its communism and ended its Warsaw Pact military Alliance, even while America’s NATO military alliance would be allowed to continue on but not to expand, but Bush was lying and had no intention of NATO following through with that verbal promise not to take on new members. And, under U.S. President Barack Obama, starting in 2011, a plan was put into place for a coup to overthrow Ukraine’s democratically elected President and install an anti-Russian regime there in that nation which has the longest of all European borders with Russia, in order to allow U.S. missiles to be stationed there against Moscow; but, though the coup was successful, Ukraine hasn’t yet been admitted into NATO, which would be required in order to position those missiles there and maybe say “Checkmate!” to Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin. So: the U.S. rationale for its economic sanctions against Russia, and for the entire post-2013 escalation of America’s war against Russia (including this bill by Shaheen, and Trump’s premature implementation of it), is Russia’s response to the 2014 U.S. coup in Ukraine — America’s illegal overthrow and replacement of Ukraine’s democratically elected government.
It’s not at all clear that the U.S. can legally punish RT and Sputnik if they refuse the demand to register as “Foreign Agents” — meaning, actually, enemy agents.
Technically, however, a “Foreign Agent” isn’t necessarily an “enemy agent,” because the U.S. required agencies of Japan and of Germany to register as “Foreign Agents” even before the military hostilities in WW II began. No declaration of war was necessary.
But the argument that Russia is America’s “enemy” is a result from America’s coup overthrowing and replacing Ukraine’s Government, and the resulting breakaway from Ukraine of two regions that had voted over 75% for the President whom Obama’s operation overthrew, and Obama’s subsequent slapping on of sanctions against Russia for its defending the residents in those two breakaway regions against the new regime’s army. Such a formal designation as “Foreign Agents” would simply be adding insult to injury. And Congress hasn’t yet authorized this. At the very least, Trump is jumping the gun here. The bill hasn’t even been taken up yet by any Committee in the U.S. Senate, much less passed the Committee, much less passed by the full Senate, much less passed by both houses, much less signed into law by the President. But the President’s Administration is behaving as if it already had been passed into law.
In his foreign policies, Trump turns out to be just a more reckless version of his predecessor, Barack Obama. Though the domestic polices are different, both men are neoconservatives who had hidden that fact from the public in order to be able to win the White House. Whereas Obama waited to be re-elected to bare his fangs, Trump is doing it right away. He might as well be Hillary Clinton, the Obama Administration’s super-hawk, who lost to Trump partly because she had displayed her fangs proudly.
As regards the legality of what the U.S. Government is doing, Senator Shaheen says that what the Justice Department is doing is based upon Russia’s being an “adversary” of the United States. On Tuesday, September 12th, she praised the Trump Justice Department for declaring RT and Sputnik “foreign agents.” The Hill reported, on that day:
Shaheen on Monday lauded the Justice Department’s efforts to probe into Sputnik’s internal structure.
“I’m very encouraged that the FBI is investigating the Sputnik news agency, which is funded by the Russian government. We can’t allow foreign agents, particularly those working on behalf of our adversaries, to skirt our laws,” Shaheen said in a statement. “Every new revelation about Russia's use of propaganda to influence the 2016 election further highlights the need for the federal government to bolster its enforcement of FARA.”
She didn’t think that her proposed "S.625 – Foreign Agents Registration Modernization and Enforcement Act” would even need to be passed into law. The Republican Administration was already acting as if it had been passed, and she praised it for doing this. Perhaps “investigating the Sputnik news agency” is legal, but this wouldn’t necessarily mean that the Justice Department’s acting as if an investigation had been done would be legal. And the Justice Department is acting as if an investigation had been done, and some legal process had concluded from it that Sputnik is a “Foreign Agent.” So: Senator Shaheen was there also jumping the gun.
As regards the actual legality, however, there are many real problems, including not only the selectivity of which foreign news-operations in the U.S. are to be prosecuted in an instance where Congress hasn’t yet declared war against Russia, but even the provision of the existing FARA defining “Foreign Agent.” The existing FARA says:
(d) The term ‘‘agent of a foreign principal’’ does not include any news or press service or association organized under the laws of the United States or of any State or other place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, or any newspaper, magazine, periodical, or other publication for which there is on file with the United States Postal Service information in compliance with section 3611 2 of title 39, published in the United States, solely by virtue of any bona fide news or journalistic activities, including the solicitation or acceptance of advertisements, subscriptions, or other compensation therefor, so long as it is at least 80 per centum beneficially owned by, and its officers and directors, if any, are citizens of the United States, and such news or press service or association, newspaper, magazine, periodical, or other publication, is not owned, directed, supervised, controlled, subsidized, or financed, and none of its policies are determined by any foreign principal defined in subsection (b) of this section, or by any agent of a foreign principal required to register under this subchapter.
Regarding RT America, RT has not made clear what the owner of their network’s U.S.-based operation is, much less what the ownership-structure of it is.