FBI prob­ing Rus­sian me­dia groups

Marlborough Express - - WORLD -

UNITED STATES: The FBI is in­ves­ti­gat­ing two Rus­sian govern­ment-funded me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions that op­er­ate in the US, af­ter ac­cu­sa­tions that they were part of a mas­sive Krem­lin op­er­a­tion to help swing last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in favour of Don­ald Trump.

Rus­sia To­day, Moscow’s flag­ship English-lan­guage tele­vi­sion broad­caster, and Sput­nik News, a ra­dio and wire ser­vice funded by the Krem­lin, claim to be le­git­i­mate news-gath­er­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions, no dif­fer­ent from the BBC. But the FBI is ex­plor­ing whether they should be re­quired to reg­is­ter as for­eign agents, in­vok­ing a US law orig­i­nally passed be­fore World War II to pre­vent the spread of and help­ing Trump win Novem­ber.

Some for­mer em­ploy­ees of the Rus­sian me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions, which op­er­ate from sep­a­rate of­fices sev­eral blocks from the White House, agree with that as­sess­ment.

Sput­nik ‘‘is not a news agency. It’s meant to look like one, but it’s pro­pa­ganda’’, said An­drew Fein­berg, a for­mer White House cor­re­spon­dent for Sput­nik. He said FBI agents in­ter­viewed him for two hours last month about the Rus­sian govern­ment’s in­flu­ence over the op­er­a­tion.

Fein­berg said that dur­ing his five months at Sput­nik, his ed­i­tors were in­ter­ested al­most ex­clu­sively in sto­ries about po­lit­i­cal con­spira- last cies, and made it clear that the or­gan­i­sa­tion took or­ders from Moscow.

‘‘They al­ways wanted to make the US govern­ment look stupid. I was con­stantly told, ‘Moscow wanted this or Moscow wanted that’.’’

The ques­tion of who dic­tated ed­i­to­rial de­ci­sions was of par­tic­u­lar con­cern to the FBI agents who ques­tioned him, Fein­berg said. ‘‘They wanted to know, ‘Did they get their di­rec­tion from Moscow,’ and of course the an­swer was yes.’’ He said he gave the FBI thou­sands of emails to and from ed­i­tors from his time at Sput­nik.

Min­dia Gavasheli, the Sput­nik bureau chief in Wash­ing­ton, de­clined to com­ment.

RT said on its web­site it had re­ceived a let­ter from the US De­part­ment of Jus­tice re­quest­ing it to reg­is­ter as a for­eign agent. The com­pany did not say if it would com­ply.

‘‘The war the US es­tab­lish­ment wages with our jour­nal­ists is ded­i­cated to all the starry-eyed ide­al­ists who still be­lieve in free­dom of speech,’’ RT edi­tor-in-chief Mar­garita Si­monyan said. ‘‘Those who in­vented it have buried it.’’

It is not clear if the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion is part of the much broader in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­ing led by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller into whether Trump’s aides il­le­gally co­op­er­ated with Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties be­fore or af­ter last year’s elec­tion. Trump and Rus­sia’s govern­ment have de­nied im­proper deal­ings.

The For­eign Agents Reg­is­tra­tion Act (FARA), passed in 1938, re­quires any­one in the US who acts ‘‘at the or­der, re­quest, or un­der the di­rec­tion or con­trol’’ of a for­eign govern­ment to reg­is­ter with the Jus­tice De­part­ment and to dis­close fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion. It pro­vides an ex­cep­tion for ‘‘any news or press ser­vice’’ as long at its cov­er­age is not di­rected by a for­eign govern­ment.

FARA ex­perts say that if RT and Sput­nik refuse the re­quests to reg­is­ter, they could face civil or crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion. The law car­ries penal­ties of up to five years in prison and fines of up to US$10,000. - LA TImes

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