A foreign agent is anyone who actively carries out the interests of a foreign country while located in another host country, generally outside the protections offered to those working in their official capacity for a diplomatic mission. Foreign agents may be citizens of the host country. In contemporary English, the term has a generally pejorative connotation.
A covert foreign agent, also known as a secret agent of a foreign government, may in some countries be presumed to be engaging in espionage. Some countries have formal procedures to legalize the activities of foreign agents acting overtly. An example is the 1938 United States law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), the governing statute of which contains a wide-ranging and detailed definition of "foreign agent."
Laws covering foreign agents vary widely from country to country, and selective enforcement may prevail within countries, based on perceived national interest. For example, FARA is sometimes accused of being used to target countries out of favor with an administration.
Under the 2012 Russian foreign agent law, nongovernmental organizations have to designate themselves "foreign agents" in all external communication if they engage in "political activity" and receive any foreign funding.
- U.S. Code Title 22 Chapter 11 Subchapter II § 611: Definitions
- James Shanahan, Propaganda without propagandists?: six case studies in U.S. propaganda, Hampton Press, 2001, p 108: "The DOJ's search for those who fail to disclose accurately their relationship with foreign groups and enforcement of FARA is selective."
- Russia: Government against Rights Groups Human Rights Watch 2015