Executive Sessionby Senator Jeanne Shaheen
Posted on 2017-04-04
SHAHEEN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order
for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
FOREIGN AGENTS REGISTRATION MODERNIZATION AND ENFORCEMENT ACT Mrs. SHAHEEN. Mr. President, last month I introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Todd Young of Indiana to create greater transparency about foreign individuals and organizations that are operating in the United States to advance the interests of foreign governments, including governments that are hostile to the United States.
In particular, our bill will give the Department of Justice new and necessary authority to investigate potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act by RT America, the U.S. branch of RT News or Russia Today News.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act was passed back in the late 1930s in response to concerns about Nazi propaganda being disseminated in the United States without people knowing what it was. It is absolutely appropriate today for us to take a look at what Russia and other countries may be doing to our news.
RT America, which broadcasts from studios here in Washington and is available on cable TV across the United States and across the world, for that matter, is one of the most high-profile assets in Vladimir Putin's vast $1.4 billion propaganda machine. According to the U.S. intelligence community, the Kremlin selects the staff for RT and closely supervises RT's coverage, including disinformation and false news stories designed to undermine our democracy.
Here we have a photo that shows exactly what I believe seems to be happening with RT. This photo was taken from a declassified U.S. intelligence report, and it shows RT's editor-in-chief--and former Putin campaign staffer, by the way--Margarita Simonyan briefing Putin on RT's facilities. So clearly he is interested.
Well, I believe the American people have a right to know if a Russian Government entity is exploiting our first amendment freedoms to harm our country. It is galling that RT news has publicly--publicly--boasted that it can dodge our laws by claiming to be financed by a nonprofit organization and not the Russian Government.
Well, what my bill--our bill--would do is strengthen the Foreign Agents Registration Act by giving the Department of Justice authority to compel foreign organizations to produce documentation to confirm funding sources and foreign connections. This is investigative authority that has been recommended by the Department of Justice inspector general, the Government Accountability Office, and the Project on Government Oversight. Our bill would create transparency by giving Justice the authority it needs to investigate RT America and publicly expose its ties to the Kremlin.
The audacity of Russia's interference in Western democracies, including extensive meddling in our 2016 Presidential election, is deeply alarming, and we have learned that Russia's influence campaign reaches tens of millions of unsuspecting Americans. False news stories can end up on our Facebook timelines and our Twitter feeds. They shape the political conversations that we have with our friends at the supermarket and our colleagues at work.
These are just a few of the headlines from RT. This one is actually from Sputnik, which is another Russian news outlet. They show the extent to which these false news stories are being spread around. This one talks about how ``1,000s Turkish forces surround NATO's Incirlik air base for `inspection' amid rumors of coup attempt,'' which suggests that we were involved in that coup attempt.
``FBI wiretapped Trump Tower in search of `Russian mobster.' '' ``Spying on Trump: CIA Whistleblower Points Finger at Clapper, Brennan, Comey.'' ``Ukrainian Su-25 fighter detected in close approach to MH17 before crash.'' You will remember that this was the plane crash over Ukraine-- that the Russians shot down.
During our Presidential campaign in 2016, dozens of narratives and false news stories originated in Russia--for instance, this one, the baseless story that the Obama administration launched a coup against the Turkish Government from the U.S. airbase in that country.
Earlier, RT News ran numerous reports on supposed U.S. election fraud and voting machine vulnerabilities, claiming that the results of the U.S. elections could not be trusted and did not reflect the people's will.
Well, researchers have traced these and other stories to a common source: the Kremlin's sophisticated, multifaceted propaganda empire, which reaches some 600 million people across 130 countries and in 30 languages.
If you watch RT News, you will agree that it is not clear whether you are watching a U.S. news station or a Russian station because it has slick production values. It is arguably the jewel in the crown of this propaganda empire.
According to the U.S. intelligence community report declassified in January: The Kremlin has committed significant resources to expanding the [RT News'] reach, particularly its social media footprint. . . . RT America has positioned itself as a domestic US channel and has deliberately sought to obscure any legal ties to the Russian government.
A prime objective of this propaganda barrage is to influence U.S. and European public opinion, create confusion, and shape election outcomes.
The Associated Press has identified a building in Moscow where an estimated 400 internet trolls--fluent in English and well-versed in American politics--work 12-hour shifts, creating false narratives and fake news stories. These stories are then seeded on the internet, they get validated, and they get passed on by popular websites and eventually end up on our radios, TVs, and smartphone screens.
In an incident earlier this month, a discredited former CIA employee went on RT News to charge that President Obama had asked British intelligence to spy on Donald Trump. Well, this false news story was then spread by legal commentator Anthony Napolitano on the FOX News show ``Fox and Friends,'' which is regularly watched by the President. The claims were then cited by President Trump and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to defend the President's claims that his predecessor had wiretapped Trump Tower.
Well, we know that during testimony before Congress 2 weeks ago, the NSA Director, ADM Michael Rogers, agreed with our British allies that the original RT News story was utterly ridiculous.
At an Armed Services Committee hearing last month, Gen. Philip Breedlove, Retired, the former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, told us that when Russian-backed forces shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine in 2014, the Russians put out four stories within two news cycles placing the blame on the Ukrainian Government and others. This is the headline that we see from RT. The general said it took 2 years for [[Page S2188]] the West to finally debunk these false news stories.
We know that Russia interfered in our 2016 Presidential election. We know that a Russian influence campaign was one aspect of that interference. Our intelligence community has concluded that RT America is an arm of the Russian propaganda juggernaut, operating openly in our country and taking full advantage of our First Amendment freedoms.
I am sure we would all agree that everyone in the United States, in every organization, has a right to speak, write, and broadcast freely. That is what our First Amendment says. We are a resilient democracy. We are confident that our values and institutions will prevail in the free marketplace of ideas. Our Constitution protects the right of individuals and organizations to spread those Russian viewpoints, disinformation, and even outright lies, but the American people have a right to know if RT America is a Russian propaganda organ that takes its direction from the Kremlin. They have a right to know who is funding their operations.
RT has publicly boasted that it uses a shell nonprofit corporation to dodge U.S. laws. This legislation, the Foreign Agents Registration Modernization and Enforcement Act, would put an end to that charade. The legislation Senator Young and I recently introduced would give the Department of Justice the authority it needs to request documentation from RT News on funding sources and foreign connections.
As we see here, clearly the legislation has hit a nerve because Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov defended RT News, and Russia's State Duma is considering measures to retaliate.
What RT says about our legislation is that ``US senator wants to probe RT as a `foreign agent' . . . What's next, public executions''? Well, that is ridiculous. The editor-in-chief at RT News has said that my legislation is a ``persecution of dissenting voices.'' As I said, that is just nonsense. I welcome dissenting voices. That is what our First Amendment and the United States are all about. But it is not reasonable or acceptable for an individual or organization working in the United States on behalf of a hostile foreign government to conceal funding and direction that it receives from that government.
Vladimir Putin is not going to stop us from enforcing our laws and protecting our country. We have a responsibility to expose RT News, RT America, and the entire panoply of tactics that Russia has used to interfere in our 2016 election and that they continue to currently use to sow confusion and distrust and spread around stories which pretend to be news but which are not accurate.
Make no mistake, the Kremlin's influence campaign is an ongoing enterprise, and to the extent that it is successful, that it can operate under the radar screen, it will become even more brazen and more aggressive in the future.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last December, Dr. Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution said that Russia's broader objective is to subvert Western democracies, and we see that going on now in Europe. He said: ``For the United States to ignore this Russian tactic, and particularly now that it has been deployed against the United States, is to cede to Moscow a powerful tool of modern geopolitical warfare.'' That was a direct quote.
This is a profound test for our country. Our democracy has been attacked and continues to be under attack from this kind of news that is being put out by a Kremlin-funded organization which is a hostile foreign power. We need to understand the Kremlin's tactics, and we need to expose this propaganda here in the United States, including RT America. To that end, I urge my colleagues to support the Foreign Agents Registration Modernization and Enforcement Act. Let's give the Department of Justice the tools it needs to investigate and expose RT America.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Montana.
Nomination of Neil Gorsuch