FARA in Focus: What Can Russia’s Foreign Agent Law Tell Us About America’s?


In 2012, Russia passed its first-ever Foreign Agent Law, which western analysts described as an attempt to stymie civil society. Russia argued that it modeled its Law after the American Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Samuel Rebo describes how on their face the laws seem similar, while their implementation has differed. While Russia has actively used its Law, the US launched only a single criminal FARA prosecution from 1990 to 2010. However, since Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, DOJ prosecutors have brought more FARA cases (2016-2019) than they had in the past 50 years combined.

Comparing FARA to its Russian counterpart, Rebo notes that the Russian law contains significantly more substantive limitations on the functioning of “foreign agents” than does FARA. However, both laws are broad and can sweep in legitimate civil society groups. Thus, DOJ discretion is the main barrier stopping America from replicating Russia. Rebo argues that, given the First Amendment rights at stake, this reliance on the DOJ is insufficient, and Congress should amend FARA to narrow its breath and clarify its scope.

By Samuel Rebo

Samuel Rebo is a federal law clerk and a former Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard National Security Journal. He has previously served as a Law Clerk on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and a Legal Intern in the U.S. Navy JAG Corps. Prior to law school, he worked for former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul at Stanford University and at the Eurasia Group political risk consultancy in Washington, DC. He holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a B.A. from Stanford University in International Relations.

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