Q: Is Russia providing 15,000 troops to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency provide security for the U.S.?
A: No. A renewed agreement between the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry and FEMA only allows for the exchanging of emergency management experts, not security or military personnel.
Is this email I received accurate?
This viral email is an excerpt of a June 27 article posted on Whatdoesitmean.com, a news aggregating website known for publishing articles with sensational headlines and advancing conspiracy theories. The rumor quickly spread across the Internet from there.
The article twists the facts about a routine meeting between U.S. and Russian agencies to share information and expertise on emergency management situations such as earthquakes, floods, and acts of terrorism. It says "the Obama regime has requested at least 15,000 Russian troops trained in disaster relief and 'crowd functions' [i.e. riot control] be pre-positioned to respond to FEMA Region III during an unspecified 'upcoming' disaster." (FEMA Region III includes Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.)
What's the source of that claim? The article links to a story from the Russian news agency Ria Novosti, but that story doesn't mention a request or approval of 15,000 Russian troops to help protect the eastern United States during a disaster. Instead, it details a U.S.-Russia partnership "to improve protection against meteorites and other space threats."
Another highly cited article about Russian forces supposedly securing the U.S. was posted days later on Infowars.com, a site run by libertarian radio host, author and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
That July 1 article claims that "Russian officials will provide 'security at mass events' in the United States," as part of a joint agreement signed between FEMA and the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry. "This suggests that events designated as 'National Special Security Events,' by the Department of Homeland Security, which include the Super Bowl, international summits such as the G8 and presidential inaugurations, will now rely partly on Russian authorities to provide security," the article says.
But that, too, distorts the recent Russia-U.S. meeting on emergency management practices. The article cites a June 26 press release from the Russian government about the renewal of a long-standing agreement between the two agencies to "exchange experts during joint rescue operations in major disasters."
The press release, which was issued by the Ministry of the Russian Federation for Civil Defense, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters, said:
There was no mention of exchanging military personnel, let alone 15,000 Russian troops. Rather, the U.S. and Russia, once again, agreed to exchange information among emergency experts in several areas, including "provision of security at mass events." As was noted in the press release, the United States and Russia have been meeting for years to discuss the best ways to handle natural and man-made disasters.
In 1996, the U.S. and Russia signed a Memorandum of Understanding, creating the Joint U.S.-Russia Cooperation Committee on Emergency Situations. And, in 2009, President Barack Obama and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, created the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Working Group on Emergency Situations.
A FEMA spokesman told FactCheck.org that the June 25 meeting — which was the 17th for the Joint Committee on Emergency Situations and the 4th for the BPC Working Group on Emergency Situations — was merely a continuation of those long-standing partnerships.
"There will be no exchange of security or military personnel through this agreement," the spokesman said. "The agreement continues information-sharing meetings and observation opportunities with first responders and emergency managers."
After the second meeting of the BPC in 2011, for example, it was agreed that "the Emergency Situations Working Group will explore collaboration and joint projects between FEMA, the U.S. Geological Survey, and EMERCOM to share best practices in the preparation of rescuers, to develop volunteer firefighting teams, and to map hazards associated with floods, droughts, wildfires, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions." That is from the commission's 2012 report.
That report also said that, at the June 2011 meeting in Boston, "experts discussed a whole-community approach to disaster preparedness and response," and that they "held a panel discussion on lessons learned from recent international disaster responses, including the Haiti earthquake of 2010 and the Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011."
In May 2010, at the 14th meeting of the Cooperation Committee on Emergency Situations, representatives outlined an agenda for areas to work on in the future, including:
These are examples of some of the things that the groups have committed to working on in past years. And none of them involve exchanging security or military personnel.
The agenda and signed protocol from the most recent meeting in 2013 are not available online. We have requested those documents from FEMA and the BPC Working Group on Emergency Situations. If we receive them, we will update this article.
Factcheck.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. Based in Philadelphia, Factcheck monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. Its goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding. Find a list of Factcheck.org funders here.
Faal, Sorcha. "Obama Requests 15,000 Russian Troops For 'Upcoming' Disaster." Whatdoesitmean.com. 27 Jun 2013, accessed 9 Jul 2013.
Watson, Paul. "Russian Forces to Provide 'Security' At US Events." Infowars.com. 1 Jul 2013, accessed 8 Jul 2013.
"FEMA, Russian Ministry to Join Forces Against Space Threat." RIA Novosti. 26 Jun 2013, accessed 9 Jul 2013.
"No Russian Security Guards at American 'Mass Events' – US Agency." RIA Novosti. 2 Jul 2013, accessed 8 Jul 2013.
EMERCOM of Russia. "Several documents signed during joint work of Russian Emergency Ministry and FEMA." News release. 26 Jun 2013.
EMERCOM of Russia. "Head of Russian ministry of Emergency Situations satisfied with development of U.S.-Russian relationships in emergency prevention and response." News release. 25 Jun 2013.
Fisher-Thompson, James. "U.S., Russia Partner to Strengthen Emergency Disaster Management." IIP Digital. 21 Jun 2010.
U.S. Department of State. U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission: Spring 2012 Joint Report. 26 Mar 20102, accessed 15 Jun 2013.