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FBI: Pakistan Spent Millions To Influence U.S. Politics

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The FBI says it has uncovered a 20-year-long plot to influence U.S. foreign policy in favor of Pakistan. Authorities have arrested Syed Fai, and accused him of breaking a law that requires agents of foreign governments to report their activities to the Justice Department.

As NPR's Carrie Johnson reports, Fai allegedly accepted more than $4 million from Pakistan, and then donated the money to American lawmakers and presidential candidates.

CARRIE JOHNSON: The law at the center of the Fai case, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, has a long and storied history. Congress passed the law in 1938 to counteract a blitz of propaganda from Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

Mr. BILL ALLISON (Editorial Director, Sunlight Foundation): I'm Bill Allison and I'm editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation.

JOHNSON: Allison has studied the law for years, and he says there is a simple idea behind it.

Mr. ALLISON: That agents of those foreign governments should have to disclose their activities. And this is whether they are contacting individual lawmakers; whether they're sponsoring conferences or publishing papers, or op-eds in newspapers. All that information is supposed to be disclosed and made available at the Department of Justice.

JOHNSON: Allison says these days, about 400 lobbying firms are registered with the Justice Department, and prosecuting people for failing to register is rare. But authorities say this week's case against Syed Fai stood out for a few reasons. Here's why.

First, FBI agents had visited Fai several times over the past four years, hearing him deny he was working on behalf of Pakistan or taking money from people there. Second, right under the nose of the Justice Department, Fai and his handlers in Pakistan's government and military intelligence service allegedly talked; not just occasionally, but more than 4,000 times over the last few years.

Finally, the indictment says, Fai prepared reports filled with details about how much money he needed and how he intended to use it.

Virginia U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride is leading the case.

Mr. NEIL MACBRIDE (U.S. Attorney, Virginia): Mr. Fai has been accused by the Justice Department of a decades-long scheme with really one central purpose, and that's to hide the Pakistanis' involvement behind his efforts to influence U.S. government positions on Kashmir and Pakistan.

JOHNSON: Pakistan's government says it doesn't know anything about Fai. He's a U.S. citizen who's lived in Northern Virginia for decades. And American prosecutors say Republican and Democratic candidates who receive money from Fai didn't know those donations may have actually come from Pakistan.

The investigation continues. Authorities are taking a closer look at people in the U.S. who agreed to donate money allegedly funneled from Pakistan.

NPR couldn't reach a lawyer for Fai but he's due in court again Thursday, when a judge will decide whether he's a flight risk between now and his trial.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.