Administration of Foreign Agent Registration

Gao ID: 112952 August 6, 1980

More attention needs to be directed toward registration of and reporting requirements for foreign agents. It is apparent to the Department of Justice officials who directly administer registration activities that persons are acting as foreign agents without registering. A GAO review found that registered agents were not fully disclosing their activities and that officials in the executive branch were often unaware of the requirements of the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938. This statute was enacted to identify agents engaged in political activities on behalf of foreign principals and to publicly report their activities and finances. In the 1960's, attention shifted from the concern with subversive activities to the use of agents to influence governmental policies and programs to a particular foreign principal's satisfaction. While not intended to prohibit any activities on behalf of foreign principals, the act requires agents to register with, and periodically report their activities to, the Justice Department. Justice officials believe that there are more active agents than the approximately 650 registered. The Attorney General should seek legislative authority to: (1) give the Justice Department additional enforcement measures, such as administrative subpoena powers, a schedule of civil fines for minor violations, and increases in existing fines; and (2) require written notification to the Justice Department of all exemption claims prior to any agent activity. He should also survey the public users of foreign agent files to determine their opinions on whether disclosure information is adequate and whether additional information might be useful. Further, he should provide specific guidance to agents and agency personnnel on their responsibilities under the act and revise the registration and reporting forms for better reflection of the act's requirements as well as the results of the user survey. Also, he should establish a more permanent inspection capability with scheduled inspections for and emphasis on the more important type of agents. The Secretary of State should resolve with the Attorney General who qualifies for diplomatic exemptions and, in the future, provide whatever assistance the Attormey General requests to administer the act effectively.

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