Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#361)

  • Brookings releases new style guide with updates to racial and ethnic terms.
  • Buttigieg's white-paper cites a few think tanks, including CAP and Third Way.
  • Lee Fang: Think tank CSIS celebrates climate strike with ritzy event funded by BP.
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: Amazon should stop funding climate denying think tanks like CEI.
  • Andrea Baertl on think tanks and the private sector.
  • Pic: Working at the Urban Institute.
  • Modi's foreign minister's son sent to head newly opened DC branch of Indian think tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF).
  • Hewlett Foundation: Can African think tanks help strengthen gov't use of data and evidence?
  • ExxonMobil funding Democratic think tank Progressive Policy Institute (PPI).
  • ThinkProgress was always doomed?
  • Pic: Exclusive footage of scenes at certain Washington think tank over firing of John Bolton.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Google Defends Funding of Climate Change-Denying Think Tanks

Here is more from The Verge:

Google makes “substantial” donations to climate change-denying Washington think tanks, according to a new report from The Guardian on Friday. The revelation comes only a few weeks after Google announced its support for political action to fix the climate crisis.
Google contributes to conservative political organizations and lobbies that are in support of regulatory efforts that benefit the company. Defending the donations to organizations like the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) that were cited in the report, Google said that it might not endorse every policy position of an organization when it makes a contribution.
“We’re hardly alone among companies that contribute to organisations while strongly disagreeing with them on climate policy,” a Google spokesperson told The Verge.
According to people at Google, The Guardian said that people at the company said that it makes these donations in hopes of influencing conservative lawmakers and pushing forward a deregulatory agenda, something that has become ever more important in recent months as Congress works to craft data privacy legislation.

Google funding is very important to many think tanks, and policy shops will often go out of their way to defend the search giant's contributions.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Volker Resigns as Head of McCain Institute

Here is more from Politico:

Kurt Volker, the president’s former special envoy to Ukraine, has stepped down from yet another post, his executive directorship of the McCain Institute, amid the fallout from House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
Volker resigned from his role at the State Department a little over a week ago, and his resignation as the head of the D.C.-based think tank came days after he appeared as Democrats’ first witness in their widening impeachment probe, turning over damaging text messages that appeared to undermine President Donald Trump’s claims that he did not seek to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political opponents.
In a statement released Monday announcing his departure, Volker specifically referenced the growing Ukraine scandal and the ensuing media frenzy. 
“Today, I informed ASU President Crow and Mrs. McCain that I believe the recent media focus on my work as U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations risks becoming a distraction from the accomplishments and continued growth of the Institute, and therefore I am stepping down as Executive Director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership,” he said, referring to the wife of the late Sen. John McCain, for whom the think tank was founded, and the president of Arizona State University, which is a partner of the institute. 

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on Volker and the McCain Institute.

According to CNN, Volker told staff at the Institute last week that he had no plans to resign.

In a statement, Cindy McCain said the executive committee of the trustees has asked Fran Townsend to serve as trustee representative of the think tank to coordinate the transition to a new executive director.  In the meantime, Nick Rasmussen has been asked by ASU leadership to serve as acting executive director.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Atlantic Council Gets Tangled in Impeachment Probe

Here is an excerpt from Breitbart:

A staffer for Rep. Adam Schiff's House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence took a trip to Ukraine last month sponsored and organized by the Atlantic Council think tank.
The Atlantic Council is funded by and routinely works in partnership with Burisma, the natural gas company at the center of allegations regarding Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
The Schiff staffer, Thomas Eager, is also currently one of 19 fellows at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Congressional Fellowship, a bipartisan program that says it “educates congressional staff on current events in the Eurasia region.”
Eager’s trip to Ukraine last month was part of the fellowship program and included nine other House employees. The bi-partisan visit, from August 24 to August 31, was billed as a “Ukraine Study Trip,” and culminated in a meeting with former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
The dates of the pre-planned trip are instructive. Eager’s visit to Ukraine sponsored by the Burisma-funded Atlantic Council began 12 days after the so-called whistleblower officially filed his August 12 complaint about President Donald Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Kurt Volker, who has just resigned as the Trump Administration's special representative for Ukraine, is a senior advisor at the Atlantic Council and also heads the McCain Institute.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Ex-California Gov. & China Launch Think Tank to Fight Climate Change

Here is more from Bloomberg:

Two of President Donald Trump’s biggest foils are teaming up on an issue he loves to scoff at: climate change.
Former California Governor Jerry Brown and China’s chief climate official, Xie Zhenhua, are launching a think tank to push policymakers on both sides of the Pacific to jointly develop better ways to cut greenhouse gases. A key part of the effort, based at the University of California, Berkeley, is trying to block Trump’s plan to roll back vehicle emissions standards.
Brown, a Democrat, said one of his goals for the initiative, called the California-China Climate Institute, is to push China to toughen its own vehicle emissions standards. The move, he said, would make it “very likely” that automakers continue to make low-emission vehicles even if Trump succeeds in rolling back American standards.
The initiative at Berkeley will work with government agencies in California and China, as well as the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Here is a link to the think tank's new website.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#360)

  • Suspected North Korean cyber campaign targets think tanks. 
  • John Bolton slams Trump's North Korea policy at think tank CSIS.
  • Brookings among the think tanks receiving Chinese money.
  • It must be said (get the think tank's name right). 
  • Jeet Heer: In an age of policy boldness, think tanks have become timid.
  • The Nation: How far-right operatives manufactured the "crisis" of free speech with think tanks.
  • Chinese Embassy working with consultants to embrace think tanks.
  • Rocky Mountain Institute offers prize to encourage engineers to build a more efficient air conditioner.
  • ReFED: A think tank that works to reduce food waste.
  • Data & Society Research Institute: "A think/do tank in New York City dedicated to addressing social, technical, ethical, legal, and policy issues that are emerging because of data-centric technological development.”

Monday, September 30, 2019

Head of McCain Institute Steps Down as Envoy to Ukraine

Here is more from the Arizona Republic:

Kurt Volker, executive director of the Arizona-based McCain Institute, resigned Friday as the Trump administration's special envoy to Ukraine amid questions over his dealings with the president's attorney and ahead of a congressional interview stemming from the impeachment inquiry.
Volker quit the unpaid position with the State Department, according to Arizona State University President Michael Crow, who told The Arizona Republic his staff discussed the matter with Volker.
Volker will remain with ASU's McCain Institute for International Leadership, said Luke Knittig, an institute spokesman.

Volker has headed the McCain Institute since its founding in 2012.  He has been a Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University and a Senior Advisor at the think tank Atlantic Council since 2009.

Here is his biography from the McCain Institute.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Largest Consumer of Think Tank Reports in the White House

Stephen Miller, a senior advisor for policy for President Donald Trump, may be the largest consumer of think tank reports in the entire White House.  Here is more from the Washington Post:

[Stephen] Miller often launches into pedantic arguments with others in the White House, citing lengthy, arcane statistics that he mentally stores like munitions.  He reads "every economic analysis, every think tank paper, every Wall Street Journal editorial on immigration," said a colleague.

That appears to be the opposite of President Trump, who is not the biggest fan of think tanks.

Monday, September 16, 2019

CFR Flags Fake Think Tanker

Here is what Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) scholar Robert Knake unearthed:

Despite what his profile says, Sean Brown does not work at the Council on Foreign Relations. I know this because I work there. But LinkedIn doesn’t actually know that either.
Sean Brown in fact appears not to exist. The photo does not match any existing photos that Google’s photo search picture could identify. Analysis by fotoforensics, if I’m interpreting the analysis correctly, suggests that the image has been heavily photoshopped. Sean Brown is likely one of the accounts created by foreign intelligence agencies for recruitment as documented recently in the New York Times.
I reported the account as fake about a week ago, as did CFR’s CIO. But Sean Brown’s profile is still up, and he is slowly building connections. Right now, a lot of people are likely suspicious of the request to connect given his low number of connections. But as a few at a time connect, his profile will soon seem very real.

The profile has now been removed, although many other fake profiles are out there.

Think Tank Watch has written extensively about fake think tanks and fake think tank scholars.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#359)

  • Stock image sites don't know what a think tank is. 
  • WaPo: Women are mysteriously missing from DC think tanks' foreign policy panels.
  • CSIS finds new military technology being developed by North Korea.
  • Think tank warning from Pew: A majority of Americans (58%) say they trust scientific findings less if they know the research was funded by industry groups.
  • Japanese think tank estimate of cost of Fukushima disaster drastically different from government estimate.
  • Name a job that you can completely suck at and still keep your job.  Max Blumenthal: Beltway think tank senior fellow.
  • Dr. James McGann releasing new think tank book: "Think Tanks: The New Knowledge and Policy Brokers in Asia."
  • Bernie Sanders slams think tanks again.
  • Some people not happy at think tank jobs.
  • Eleanor Barkhorn observation: Many fitness trainers in DC work as think tankers.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

BBC Updates Editorial Guidelines to Improve Scrutiny of Think Tanks

Here is more from DeSmog UK:

The BBC has altered its editorial guidelines after persistent calls for the organisation to improve transparency around the commentators to which it gives a platform.
The broadcaster has now added “think tanks” to a list of groups that it says presenters and producers should “not automatically assume … are unbiased”.  “Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context,” the guidelines say.
The change could have significant ramifications for representatives of anti-regulation, pro-Brexit think tanks and campaign groups based in and around offices at 55 Tufton Street, including the UK's principal climate science denial campaign group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, on which DeSmog has extensively reported.
This follows pressure from journalists including the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr. She has long fought for the funding and ideology of groups including Vote Leave, Leave.EU, the Institute of Economic Affairs, Taxpayers’ Alliance, and other Tufton Street groups to be made clear when they appear on the BBC’s programmes.

BBC's guidelines concerning impartiality, including those related to think tanks, can be found here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#358)

  • Inside a Trump-era purge of military scientists at a legendary think tank (Jason).
  • How a trio of conservative think tanks rewired American political thought.
  • Therapist: What mental goals do you set for yourself?  Me: I start every day out by unsubscribing from at least three think tank email lists.
  • Knight Foundation invests $6 million in three think tanks to support research on the future of US technology policy.
  • FBI Director: Need help of think tanks to raise US's resilience. 
  • Thread from Justin Logan (formerly of Cato) about think tank ethics.
  • Jessica Trisko-Darden, former model and beauty queen who is a fellow at AEI, joins GWU Program on Extremism.
  • CGSS: The role of think tanks in nation-building.
  • JPMorgan Chase Institute brings think tankers together for second annual Conference on Economic Research.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan to Join AEI

Politico is reporting that former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is joining the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow in the practice of public policy.

There had been many rumors that Ryan would become president of the conservative think tank after Arthur Brooks left, but instead, Robert Doar was tapped for that position.

It was recently reported that Ryan is leaving his home of Janesville, Wisconsin to rent a house in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC.  Politico also noted that Ryan has some type of new think tank-like entity called the American Idea Foundation that will remain in Wisconsin.

Update: Here is a press release from AEI.

Monday, September 9, 2019

CFR Used to Promote Dubious Philanthropy?

Think tanks are often used by companies and other entities to promote an idea, proposal, or philosophy.  Other times, they are used for more nefarious reasons.  Here is more from the New York Times:

In 2014, Ghislaine Maxwell spoke at a Council on Foreign Relations event in Washington, D.C. She was there in her capacity as the founder of the TerraMar Project, an oceanic conservation group she started in 2012, according to a C.F.R. spokeswoman.
The C.F.R. is one of the world’s most prestigious nonprofit think tanks. Among its officers and directors then were David Rockefeller, one of the modern era’s most revered philanthropists; Colin Powell; and Robert Rubin, the secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton.
The TerraMar Project was an organization with an opaque website and a founder who happened to be the ex-girlfriend of Jeffrey Epstein, the mysterious money manager who — in addition to being one of the C.F.R.’s “Chairman’s Circle” donors for at least six years — had pleaded guilty in 2008 to state charges of soliciting prostitution from a minor.

The article goes on to note that in 2013, Ms. Maxwell went to Iceland for a conference about the Arctic Circle, an event attended by Scott Borgerson, a onetime CFR fellow.  He reportedly appeared with Ms. Maxwell at the 2014 talk at CFR and became her boyfriend.

Update: The Washington Post has reported that in his 15 years as a member of CFR, Epstein attended only two events but had given the think tank $350,000 in the group's top-level donor category, the Chairman's Circle.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Iran Sanctions Think Tank FDD and US Think Tankers Fight Back

In a rare move, Iran has sanctioned a little-known US think tank that has played an outsized role in imposing US sanctions on Iran.  Here is more:

Iran has blacklisted the US-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies and its chief Mark Dubowitz on accusations of being behind “economic terrorism” against the Islamic Republic.
The Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement issued late Saturday that it had “added the so-called Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and its director to the sanctions list.”
“The American institution with the deceitful name” and Dubowitz were accused of being involved in “designing, imposing and intensifying the impacts of economic terrorism against Iran,” it said, without detailing the specific alleged actions.

Here is a statement on the sanctions from Iran's Tasnim News Agency.

In response, 70 think tank scholars have come out in support of FDD.  All the signatories can be found here.

How did a small think tank get so famous in Iran?

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on how FDD sank the Iran nuclear deal.

Here is WaPo's Jason Rezaian in a piece entitled "Death to think tanks?  The latest in Iran's pointless campaign."

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and its ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, have close ties to FDD.

In related news, Negar Razavi writes that there is a systematic problem of Iran expertise in Washington think tanks.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#357)

  • Is Washington more of a college town than a think tank town?
  • Prospect think tank awards have arrived.
  • How Tope Folarin of Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) went from policy wonk to novelist.
  • New CNAS study: China's military power close to parity with US.
  • Alice Rivlin spent much of her career bouncing back and forth between Brookings and top government posts. 
  • What does a libertarian think tank art show look like?
  • Why crowded think tank conferences make you so tired.
  • Victoria Nuland, former US Assistant Secretary of State, joins Brookings, and so does former prime minister of Italy, Paolo Gentiloni.
  • Carnegie Endowment launches new cybersecurity tool; Hewlett Foundation gives Carnegie $2 million for work on international cyber policy.
  • Richard Fontaine becomes executive director of Trilateral Commission.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Think Tank Unirule Cracks Under Chinese Pressure

Here is more from Bloomberg:

One of China’s most prominent independent think tanks will cease operations after years of attempts by government officials to silence it.
The Unirule Institute of Economics, which advocated free-market economic theories and is well known in U.S. academic circles, has decided to shut down after district officials in Beijing declared that it was operating without authorization, the organization said in a statement dated Aug. 26. Although Unirule said it intends to fight the government determinations, it will nonetheless halt its activities and stop updating its website apart from notices relevant to the winding-down process.
The end of Unirule closes down one of the last venues for open debate on economic issues in China. Founded in the early 1990s by a pair of celebrated Chinese economists, Mao Yushi and Sheng Hong, Unirule once enjoyed a broad following in business and political circles, producing widely read analyses of government policies and financial issues. But that changed dramatically under President Xi Jinping, who has implemented a broad crackdown on dissent since taking power in 2012.

Here is how the Wall Street Journal reported on Unirule's closing, and here is what The Economist had to say.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Members of Congress Advising Epstein-Connected Think Tank

Here is more from the conservative Daily Caller:

Democratic representatives Adam Schiff, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Maxine Waters are just three elected officials who sit on the congressional advisory board of a foreign policy think-tank led by Jeffrey Epstein’s brother, Mark Epstein.
Co-founded by socialite heiress Constance Milstein in 1988, the Humpty Dumpty Institute works closely with the United Nations, the State Department, and “various countries” to “put the pieces back together” in parts of the world ridden with conflict.
Mark Epstein has played a significant role in this mission. According to the organization’s website, Jeffrey Epstein’s brother serves as Humpty Dumpy’s vice chairman, and has represented the group abroad on delegations alongside members of Congress and U.N. dignitaries.
While Humpty Dumpty lists over thirty elected officials on their advisory board, only four are Republicans.

Did Jeffrey Epstein give millions of dollars to think tanks?

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Mike Gravel Wraps Up Presidential Bid and Forms New Think Tank

Here is more from ABC News:

Long-shot Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Gravel -- an 89-year-old former Senator from Alaska whose quirky campaign is spearheaded by a group of teenagers running his feisty Twitter account -- is about to call it quits.
And while the campaign may be coming to an end, the teens running the campaign already have their eyes set on another related venture: The Gravel Institute.
The Gravel Institute, campaign staffers said, will be a “leftist think tank” which will focus on “ending the American empire,” “reforming our Democracy,” and “direct action by elected officials to end injustice and suffering.”
On Gravel's Twitter feed, the staffers offered a glimpse into the types of action they foresee the institute calling for.
“As an example, the Chair of House Oversight could subpoena every migrant in detention -- throwing a massive wrench in an inhuman and decrepit immigration machine and single handedly forcing change,” the campaign tweeted.

Think Tank Watch will closely track the new think tank once it officially launches.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#356)

  • Jeffrey Epstein gave millions to think tanks?
  • Washingtonian interviews Robert Doar, the new head of AEI; so does WaPo.
  • What is the East-West Center and why are taxpayers giving it $16.7 million a year?
  • What is a think tank, how do they work, and are they a nonprofit?
  • New technology and "old" think tanks.
  • Her think tank helped forge the Texas miracle.
  • Can the new Quincy Institute put a stop to endless war?  Can billionaires buy world peace?
  • Think tanks are hiring sci-fi writers to predict the future.
  • Why have think tanks failed to figure out why infrastructure is so expensive?
  • Polish officials meet leading US think tanks.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Only 9% of Americans Can Name a Think Tank

A new poll from UK-based consultancy We Are Flint that was conducted online by YouGov shows that only 9 percent of Americans can name a think think, and 36% don't know what a think tank is.

Of the half of the population (55%) who claim to know what a think tank is but cannot name one:
  • Close to half associate think tanks with lobbying (46%).
  • Over one third believe think tanks are manipulative (34%).
  • One quarter claim they do backroom deals and are corrupt (28% and 22%).
  • Just 21% say think tanks are innovative.

The Heritage Foundation (5.7%) is the only think tank that more than 5% of the population could name, followed by Brookings Institution (3.9%), Cato Institute (3.0%), RAND Corporation (2.2%), American Enterprise Institute (1.4%), Center for American Progress (1.2%), Hoover Institution (1.1%), and Council on Foreign Relations (0.6%).

Another recent We Are Flint poll found that less than 4% of the UK public can name a think tank.

Watch this video of Americans being asked to try to explain what a think tank is.

Think Tank Watch analysis: 9 percent sounds quite high, and we wonder what the figure would have been if the poll was actually conducted in person rather than online.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Russia Bans Major US Think Tank Atlantic Council

Here is more from the Salt Lake Tribune:

The Russian government has banned a U.S.-based think tank previously headed by Jon Huntsman, a former Utah governor who is now serving as America’s top envoy in Moscow.
The Russian Justice Ministry declared the Atlantic Council as “undesirable,” essentially barring it from working in the country, according to the Russian government-controlled Tass news outlet.
“On July 29, the Russian Justice Ministry has placed the Atlantic Council of the United States on the list of foreign and international nongovernmental organizations, whose activities are declared undesirable on the Russian territory,” the Justice Ministry said.

Here is an official statement from Atlantic Council.

Last year, the Atlantic Council, which supports close US-EU relations and NATO ties (the think tank actually receives funding from NATO), held an event meant as a protest to President Donald Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Among other things, Atlantic Council is working with Facebook to fight election disinformation.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Pro-Saudi Think Tank Arabia Foundation Shuts Down

Here is more from The National:

The board of the Arabia Foundation, a think tank based in Washington, has decided to shut down operations immediately.
The National was first to report the decision on Tuesday, and was told by a source that the think tank’s board members decided to shut down “due to differences of opinion among its donors".
Later on Tuesday, the institute's founder Ali Shihabi confirmed the news.
“It is with regret that I confirm that the board of directors of the Arabia Foundation decided today to close down the foundation," he tweeted.
"This is due to ongoing differences among our donors that made continued operations difficult.”
The Arabia Foundation was founded in 2017, with a goal of covering Middle East politics and socio-economics, with a particular focus on the Arabian Peninsula.

The Washington Times adds more juicy gossip to the news:
Concurrent to Arabia ceasing operations is a lawsuit filed by Ola Salem by her attorneys, Gerstman Schwartz LLP, alleging sexual harassment and other types of abuse while she was employed by Mr. Shihabi.
The lawsuit alleges slander and defamation, invasion of privacy, intentional emotional distress, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, retaliation and more. Salem even alleges she was prevented from gaining employment after leaving Arabia.

Here is more from the Middle East Eye.
After the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a number of think tanks who had been taking Saudi money were pressured to stop accepting those funds, and those with close ties to Saudi Arabia were scrutinized closely.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#355)

  • 2020 presidential candidate Mike Gravel bashes Brookings.
  • In 2011, Michael Mann took climate change denial think tank to court and now they apologize.
  • Atlantic Council and Wilson Center connected to Brazil's Lava Jato scandal?
  • RAND Corp. researcher Pam Mueller earned more than $215,000 on Jeopardy.
  • Australia Institute shaping Australia. 
  • C4ADS report using Palantir data: How North Korea gets its luxury goods. 
  • Heritage Foundation invited to White House social media summit. 
  • Brookings contacted by lobbyists representing Saudi Arabia (MSL/Qorvis) for meetings.
  • Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker appointed by Trump to the board of Wilson Center. 
  • Grattan Institute looking for a new leader.
  • The rise and fall of America's "policy entrepreneurs."

Monday, July 29, 2019

Think Tankers Who Signed "Never Trump" Letters Remain Shut Out of Trump Administration

Here is more from the Washington Post:

Two and a half years into President Trump’s tenure, the Republican national security heavyweights blacklisted from his administration for signing a pair of “never Trump” letters in 2016 face a crossroads — remain opposed or support him in 2020.
While some have become prominent figures of the anti-Trump resistance — denouncing him in op-eds and on cable news — others have offered policy advice from outside perches, and a select few have quietly, though mostly unsuccessfully, angled for administration jobs, hopeful that a mea culpa could end their days in purgatory.
“I’m not comfortable with letters anymore,” said Patrick Cronin, head of the Asia-Pacific security program at the Hudson Institute, who signed the first letter, which called Trump “fundamentally dishonest” and “utterly unfitted to the office.” In March 2017, Cronin was forced to withdraw from a new position overseeing a Pentagon think tank after Trump allies blasted his appointment by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Of the 149 experts who signed at least one of the two letters warning that Trump was unfit for office — the first published on the War on the Rocks website during the 2016 GOP primaries and the second on the New York Times’s site during the general election campaign — just one has been hired by the Trump administration. James Jeffrey, a Middle East expert who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, was named the State Department’s special representative for Syria last summer and in January was given the additional role of special envoy to counter the Islamic State.

A number of think tankers recently divided themselves on China policy, with some supporting President Trump's policies and tactics and others calling for a new strategy.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Think Tankers Help Resurrect Group to Warn Against China's Rise

Here is more from the New York Times:

The Committee on the Present Danger, a long-defunct group that campaigned against the dangers of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, has recently been revived with the help of Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, to warn against the dangers of China.
Once dismissed as xenophobes and fringe elements, the group’s members are finding their views increasingly embraced in President Trump’s Washington, where skepticism and mistrust of China have taken hold. Fear of China has spread across the government, from the White House to Congress to federal agencies, where Beijing’s rise is unquestioningly viewed as an economic and national security threat and the defining challenge of the 21st century.
An increasing number of people in Washington now view the decoupling of the two economies as inevitable — including many of the members of the Committee on the Present Danger. At an inaugural meeting in April, Mr. Bannon, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, and others issued paeans to Ronald Reagan — a former member of the group — and were met with standing ovations as they called for vigilance against China.
The committee’s two earliest iterations, in the 1950s and again in the 1970s, called for an arms buildup to counter the Soviets. The second iteration, formed over a luncheon table at Washington’s Metropolitan Club in 1976, issued documents warning against Soviet expansionism, with titles like “Is America Becoming Number 2?”
The group was briefly active again starting in 2004, this time to warn against the threat of Islamic extremism. The committee’s vice chair, Frank Gaffney, is the founder of the Center for Security Policy, a think tank that argues that mosques and Muslims across America are engaged in a “stealth jihad” to “Islamize” the country by taking advantage of American pluralism and democracy.
The group’s activity largely died down until concern over China rekindled interest.

Other think tankers on the committee include Mark Stokes of Project 2049 Institute, Richard Fisher of the International Assessment and Strategy Center, and Mark Helprin of the Claremont Institute.  Besides Frank Gaffney, others from his think tank on the committee include Clare Lopez, Michael Waller, and Robert McEwen.  A full list of members can be found here.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Think Tankers Divide Themselves on China and Trump

Here is more from Reuters:
Scores of Asia specialists, including former U.S. diplomats and military officers, want President Donald Trump to rethink policies that “treat China as an enemy,” warning the approach could hurt U.S. interests and the global economy, according to a draft open letter reviewed by Reuters on Saturday.
The letter recently appeared in the Washington Post.  Signatories from the think tank world include:

  • James Acton, co-director, Nuclear Policy Program and Jessica T. Mathews Chair, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Andrew Bacevich, co-founder, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
  • Jeffrey A. Bader, former senior director for East Asia on National Security Council 2009-2011 and fellow, Brookings Institution
  • C. Fred Bergsten, senior fellow and director emeritus, Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Richard Bush, Chen-Fu and Cecilia Yen Koo Chair in Taiwan Studies, Brookings Institution
  • Toby Dalton, co-director, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Robert Daly, director, Kissinger Institute on China and the U.S., Wilson Center
  • David Dollar, senior fellow, Brookings Institution
  • Robert Einhorn, senior fellow, Brookings Institution; former assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, 1999-2001
  • David F. Gordon, senior advisor, International Institute of Strategic Studies; former director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department, 2007-2009
  • Philip H. Gordon, Mary and David Boies Senior Fellow in U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations
  • Lee Hamilton, former congressman; former president and director of the Wilson Center
  • Yukon Huang, senior fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Marvin Kalb, nonresident senior fellow, Brookings Institution
  • Charles Kupchan, professor of International Affairs, Georgetown University; senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
  • Nicholas Lardy, Anthony M. Solomon Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Chung Min Lee, senior fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Cheng Li, director and senior fellow, John L. Thornton China Center, The Brookings Institution
  • Jessica Mathews, distinguished fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Alice Lyman Miller, research fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University
  • Moises Naim, distinguished fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Douglas Paal, distinguished fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Jonathan D. Pollack, nonresident senior fellow, John L. Thornton China Center, Brookings Institution
  • Richard Sokolsky, nonresident senior fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Graham Webster, coordinating editor, Stanford-New America DigiChina Project

In response, an open letter was written by China scholars who support President Trump's China policy.  Here is more from Free Beacon:

An open letter to President Trump urged the president to stay the course on dealing with the Chinese government, which the letter states is in opposition to the values and strategic interests of the United States.
The letter was written by retired Navy Captain James E. Fanell, a former director of Intelligence and Information Operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The letter is a response to an open letter published by the Washington Post on July 3 titled "China is not an enemy."
Fanell's letter has 130 signatories, including veterans and former U.S. military officials, scholars and professors, think tank members, and other China watchers.

Think tankers who have signed that letter include Ian Easton and Mark Stokes of Project 2049 Institute, Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, and John Tkacik of the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#354)

  • Michael Ledeen: The End of the Think Tank Era.
  • Did Mike Pompeo secretly discuss his presidential ambitions with Sen. Tom Cotton at AEI's annual retreat on Sea Island, Georgia?
  • New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs (NYCFPA) hires lobbying firm Van Aucker Group. 
  • Director of GWU's Program on Extremism, Lorenzo Vidino, held positions at RAND and USIP; part of "close-knit terrorism research community which includes academic centers and think tanks."
  • NYT talks to Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), a military think tank in Russia. 
  • "Carbon transition" think tank The Shift Project says online video causing climate crisis. 
  • Breitbart: Google-funded Heritage Foundation decries "Heavy-Handed" Tech Regulations. 
  • Bryan MacDonald: Dearth of genuine Russia expertise at DC think tanks. 
  • Think tank finds 100 Huawei employees have education/work experience linked to Chinese military or intelligence agencies? 
  • RAND Corp. announces Korea policy chair.
  • Pic: Flood in front of Brookings Institution.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Think Tank CEI Partying Big With Big Donor Money

Here is more from Politico about a recent Competitive Enterprise Institute's (CEI) party to celebrate its 35 years in existence:

The Competitive Enterprise Institute celebrated its 35th anniversary with a “Game of Thrones”-themed dinner at the Marriott Marquis in downtown D.C. Pool report: “Guests were able to take pictures on the Iron Throne, and ‘Red Wedding’ and ‘Wildfire’ cocktails were served into glasses through an ice luge. Author, lecturer and documentary filmmaker Johan Norberg received CEI’s Julian Simon Award, and Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist and author Dave Barry gave the keynote.”
SPOTTED: Fred and Fran Smith, Kathy Kraninger, Andrew Wheeler, C. Boyden Gray, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Luther Strange, Paul Teller, Jim Neill, Alexa Walker, Dan Huff, Matt Leopold, Mike Rose, Kevin Madden, Gregg Keller, Paul Atkins, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Byron Tau, Mike Bastach, Chris Bedford, Doug Domenech, Lawson Bader, Andrew Grossman, Melissa Holyoak, Syvlie Légère, Emily Domenech and Bridgett Wagner.

After the party, the New York Times wrote a piece about about CEI funders after finding out various donors to the gala.  Here is more:

It’s difficult to figure out who’s funding climate denial, because many of the think tanks that continue to question established climate science are nonprofit groups that aren’t required to disclose their donors. That’s true of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market research organization in Washington that disputes that climate change is a problem.
So, the program for a recent gala organized by the institute, which included a list of corporate donors, offered a rare glimpse into the money that makes the work of these think tanks possible.
Among the sponsors for the Game of Thrones-themed gala were groups that have long been aligned with fossil fuel interests, including the Charles Koch Institute and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. The fuel and petrochemical group, which lobbies for gasoline producers, pushed to weaken car fuel economy standards, one of the Obama administration’s landmark climate policies.
But the program for the event, obtained by The New York Times and verified by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, also included major corporations, like Google and Amazon, that have made their commitment to addressing climate change a key part of their corporate public relations strategies.

Here is a link to a 20-page pamphlet from the gala, listing the dinner menu, drink menu, and various sponsors for the event, including: Marathon Petroleum, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, Credit Union National Association, DCI Group, the Heritage Foundation, PhRMA, T-Mobile, Distilled Spirits Council, Amazon, American Beverage Association, Consumer Technology Association, Juul, Syngenta, Verizon, Altria, Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Phillip Morris International, Uber, AT&T, BNSF Railway, CSX Corporation, National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific Corporation.

Monday, July 15, 2019

White House Turning to Climate Skeptical Think Tank to Overrule NASA Climate Concerns

Here is more from the Associated Press:

Once a skeptic about climate change, Jim Bridenstine came around to the prevailing view of scientists before he took over as NASA administrator. That evolution did not sit well with a Trump environmental adviser, nor a think-tank analyst he was consulting, according to newly disclosed emails that illustrate how skepticism of global warming has found a beachhead in the Trump White House.
“Puzzling,” says the May 2018 exchange between William Happer, now a member of President Donald Trump’s National Security Council, and Thomas Wysmuller of the Heartland Institute, which disavows manmade climate change. Their exchange calls scientifically established rises in sea levels and temperatures under climate change “part of the nonsense” and urges the NASA head — who was copied in — to “systematically sidestep it.”
It cannot be discerned whether it was Happer or Wysmuller who put that pressure on the new NASA chief. Their exchange is included in emails from 2018 and 2019 that were obtained by the Environmental Defense Fund under the federal Freedom of Information Act and provided to The Associated Press.

The Trump Hotel recently hosted the Heartland Institute's annual climate conference.

Heartland has been working for years to unravel environmental rules. The think tank has also played a major role in staffing various EPA posts within the Trump Administration.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Russian Think Tank With Links to Infamous Troll Farm Says 2 Employees Detained in Libya

Here is more from the Associated Press:

Two people with links to an infamous Russian troll farm have been arrested in Libya, their employer, who has been put on the U.S. sanctions list, said on Friday.
The Foundation for the Protection of Traditional Values said in a statement that its employees, including well-known spin doctor Maxim Shugaley, have been kept in custody in Libya since May. It said that it has been working behind closed doors to secure the men's release.
The obscure think-tank did not explain the charges the men are facing but insisted that its employees did not interfere in any elections in Libya.
Shugaley and the think-tank are connected to the infamous Russian troll farm that featured prominently in the probe by U.S. special investigator Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The think-tank is chaired by Alexander Malkevich who until earlier this year also edited the English-language website USA Really which is part of a media empire reportedly run by Russian President Vladimir Putin's ally Yevgeny Prigozhin. The magnate reportedly finances the Internet Research Agency, better known as the "troll factory."

Here is another recent story about think tanks connected to the Mueller probe.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Papadopoulos Met Mysterious Professor Through Think Tank

Here is more from the Washington Post about George Papadopoulos, a former member of the foreign policy advisory panel to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign:

At the time, Papadopoulos, a young energy consultant from Chicago, was working for a startup think tank called the London Center for International Law Practice and had just been drafted to be an unpaid foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign.
On the day after he agreed to join the campaign, Papadopoulos said his boss at the London think tank offered to introduce him to “a very important person” who would be “very useful” in his new position.
This VIP, Papadopoulos wrote in his book “Deep State Target,” was [Josef] Mifsud.
Papadopoulos said he was told by Nagi Idris, the director of the London Center for International Law Practice, that a London attorney affiliated with the think tank named Arvinder Sambei would be setting up a meeting for Papadopoulos and Mifsud at an upcoming conference to be held at Link Campus University in Rome, a private university that was formerly affiliated with the University of Malta.
Sambei is a former government prosecutor in the United Kingdom who had for a time served as a liaison with the U.S. Justice Department on American extradition requests.
Trump allies have seized on her connection to the think tank where Papadopoulos worked as evidence that Mifsud was working with the British government.

The article also notes that Mifsud, who has been affiliated with various think tanks, connected Papadopoulos to a Russian think tank director with ties to the Russian Foreign Ministry and promised to help set up a meeting with the Russian ambassador.

The article also mentions another think tank, noting that CIA's Sherman Kent School for Intelligence Analysis organized a conference with the Gino Germani Institute, an Italian social sciences and strategic studies think tank which was affiliated at the time with Link Campus University.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about Papadopoulos's connection to the Hudson Institute.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Elizabeth Warren's Campaign Relying on More Non-Think Tankers

Here is more from Politico:

The 2020 hopeful has tapped deep into her former world of academia, going well beyond Beltway think tanks.
Behind Elizabeth Warren’s trust-busting, Wall Street-bashing, tax-the-wealthy platform is a brain trust that extends well beyond the Beltway thinkers who often rubber stamp campaign proposals.
Instead, the former Harvard professor and her tight team of policy advisers have waded deeper into the world of academia than is usual in presidential campaigns, according to interviews with more than a dozen people her campaign has consulted and a review of the scholarship underlying her plans.
Leafing through Warren's plans posted on Medium, voters will find links to obscure academic literature from places like the Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics, the Upjohn Institute, the Journal of Applied Business and Economics, and the American Journal of Sociology. 

Sen. Warren has not been hesitant to spar with Washington's think tank establishment, including ones from the liberal side of the aisle.  For example, she has been at war with the Brookings Institution for years, and in 2015 she sent a letter to the president of the think tank regarding its numerous financial conflicts of interest.

She has also criticized New America for the firing of one of its employees. The think tank Third Way has bashed Warren over the years but has now started to embrace here.

She has said that think tanks play a "critical role" in shaping policy, but their "credibility is jeopardized when decisions are based on funder preferences."

Before running for the Senate, Warren had considered launching what she called a Center for Middle Class Policy at the liberal think tank Roosevelt Institute, a policy shop that has been giving her lots of love recently.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Meet the World's First Fully Cloud-Operated Policy Think Tank

The think tank world in changing rapidly, with a number of new think tank concepts that are changing the way ideas and policies are shaped and distributed.

The latest example is the Gagra Institute (website here), the world's first digital and fully cloud-operated independent policy think tank.  Gagra says it is based on the concept of an "officeless office."

Gagra was founded in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2018 and focuses largely on European and transatlantic security issues.

Its website lists five experts at the think tank, including Beka Kiria, the founder and former official at Georgia's Ministry of Defense.

Donations to the think tank can be made in cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and ZCash.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#353)

  • Australian think tank: Climate change could pose existential threat by 2050.
  • Economist: Can think tanks survive a post-fact world? 
  • Fed Chair Jerome Powell speaks at Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
  • Iran's Foreign Minister Zavad Zarif to miss his access to think tanks in New York?
  • Mexico's foreign minister calls think tanks "think thanks," and Spanish translation follows.
  • Dr. Lyall Swim: Can think tanks create the inevitable?
  • Hal Brands: America needs to reboot the university programs and think tanks that helped win the Cold War.
  • CAP has proposed the creation of an independent agency at the Dept. of Agriculture dedicated to maintaining competitive markets and protecting farmers from the effects of consolidation and will shop the idea on Capitol Hill.
  • New IRI report: China increasing efforts to shape perceptions through ties with and funding for think tanks. 
  • Cory Booker aide heads to Economic Innovation Group (EIG), a think tank started by early Facebook investor Sean Parker.