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US Cracks Down on RT Trampling Core American Values

Washington D.C. (SCF) – RT America, the American arm of the state-owned Russia Today, has been notified by the Department of Justice (DOJ) that it must register as a foreign agent that is disseminating propaganda in the United States under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Otherwise, it might face restrictions that would make it unable to continue work in the country.

Passed in 1938, FARA requires those who represent the interest of foreign powers to disclose their relationship along with information about related activities and finances. The DOJ is also investigating Sputnik, another Kremlin-controlled media organization, which could also be compelled to register under FARA.

The law normally applies to political consultants and those working in lobbying or public relations. The enforcement of FARA has been weak historically. There are 401 entities in the active FARA register that include tourist boards and lobbyists. Normally, media organizations have been exempted from the law. After all, RT and Sputnik are legitimate news outlets no different than the BBC or Germany’s Deutsche Welle, neither of which is subject to FARA. The legal pressure upon them has grave implications for freedom of speech.

RT America can continue to operate in the United States but it will have to regularly submit the information about its sources of foreign government-tied revenue and the contacts it made the US. Any news product must be labeled as being influenced or financed by the Russian government. The broadcaster might be asked to provide the list of all the employees, their salaries, home addresses and telephones.

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Earlier this year, a Democratic senator and two congressmen from both parties introduced a bill called the Agents Registration Modernization and Enforcement Act, which would broaden the scope of FARA. They specifically named RT as a target of the legislation.

RT and Sputnik were identified in a US intelligence report in January as being arms of Russia’s “state-run propaganda machine” that served as a “platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences.” The report states that the outlets played a role in Russia’s “influence campaign” to back Donald Trump and attack Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign. According to it, RT “actively collaborated with WikiLeaks” during the presidential election. The paper asserts that Sputnik and RT “consistently cast President-elect Trump as the target of unfair coverage from traditional US media outlets that they claimed were subservient to a corrupt political establishment.”

According to RT editor- in-chief Margarita Simonyan, the registration “may entail restrictions that will simply not allow us to work in” the United States. She pointed out that a campaign to “ruin the reputation” of RT was followed by “people being put under critical pressure so that they won’t appear on air and stopped giving us interviews.” On September 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin told a Security Council meeting that Russian media outlets abroad were facing increasing and “unacceptable” pressure. That statement followed an accusation the previous day by the Russian Foreign Ministry that the United States was placing “unwarranted pressure” on Russia’s RT television network by compelling it to register as a foreign agent. The Ministry said that every move in relation to a Russian media will have a relevant response.

The recent attack against RT and Sputnik is part of a broader picture. The US countermeasures aren’t limited to those stemming from Mueller’s probe. The Department of Homeland Security has said all government agencies must stop using Kaspersky Lab products within 90 days, fearing that the Moscow-based cybersecurity company might be susceptible to Kremlin influence.

It makes spring to mind the hysteria over the activities of former Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak, who was accused of attempts to influence the presidential election and other wrongdoings just because he met some people, which is part of his job. The NATO-linked Atlantic Council went as far as Poland to include RT into the list of targets for cyberattacks!

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35 Russian diplomats were expelled from the US in late 2016. In early September, three Russian diplomatic outposts – the consulate in San Francisco and trade offices in Washington and New York – were seized after it was confirmed that the Russian staff had complied with the administration’s order to get out within two days. It was done in open violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Article 17 of which states that «the receiving State shall, even in case of armed conflict, respect and protect the consular premises, together with the property of the consular post and the consular archives». The same way the attacks against the media outlets violate the universally accepted norms of freedom of speech.

Actually, the US itself is involved in activities it tries to put the blame on Russia for. The government spends budget money on involvement in other states internal affairs and propaganda efforts. In 2008, the State Department created the Digital Outreach Team to engage on Internet sites, including on blogs, news sites and discussion forums. Formally, its mission is to “explain US foreign policy and to counter misinformation”.

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Jürg Vollmer / Maiakinfo

It was the British Guardian, not a Russian newspaper, that published the story about the Pentagon’s Operation Earnest Voice (OEV) program. The aim of the initiative is to develop software that would allow to secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda. The publication said the US military was developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as “sock puppets”. Each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details able to operate false identities from their workstations “without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries”.

The Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014 envisaged providing funds “to strengthen democratic institutions and political and civil society organizations in the Russian Federation.” As part of anti-Russian sanctions, the US State Department allocated $60 million to ‘Russian democratic and civil organizations for the support of media and free internet in Russia’ from 2016 to 2018. The State Department is to allocate $20 million annually for these purposes, acting both directly and via Soros’s National Endowment for Democracy.

The list can go on. The hunchback does not see his own hump. Looks like the US administration under pressure from Congress is doing its best to thwart any attempts to ease the tensions between the two countries. It does not hesitate to use any methods to achieve the goal, including trampling on the core America value such as freedom of speech.

This post by Andrei Akulov originally ran on Strategic Culture.