Lost in the media frenzy surrounding the arrest of twelve Russian spies by the FBI in June 2010 was the fact that the spies were arrested – not for stealing state secrets or trading technology – but for failing to register with the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA,” 22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq.). This statute requires U.S. persons to register when they engage in certain political or quasi-political activities on behalf of “foreign principals.” The media’s obsession with Anna “Sexy” Chapman aside, the real lesson from the recent arrests is that U.S. persons – including trade associations, charities and other nonprofits – that engage in political or quasi-political activities on behalf of foreign principals must comply with FARA or risk similar public embarrassment and possibly criminal penalties.
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