Sunday, December 16, 2018

Iran Targets US Think Tanks

Here is more from Associates Press:

As U.S. President Donald Trump re-imposed harsh economic sanctions on Iran last month, hackers scrambled to break into personal emails of American officials tasked with enforcing them, The Associated Press has found — another sign of how deeply cyberespionage is embedded into the fabric of US-Iranian relations.

The AP drew on data gathered by the London-based cybersecurity group Certfa to track how a hacking group often nicknamed Charming Kitten spent the past month trying to break into the private emails of more than a dozen U.S. Treasury officials. Also on the hackers’ hit list: high-profile defenders, detractors and enforcers of the nuclear deal struck between Washington and Tehran, as well as Arab atomic scientists, Iranian civil society figures and D.C. think tank employees.
[One] Charming Kitten target was an intern working for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank that has been one of the Iran deal’s fiercest critics. How the intern — whose email isn’t public and whose name appears nowhere on the organization’s website — crossed the hackers’ radar is not clear.

Every major US think tank has faced various cyber attacks and hacking attempts from foreign government entities.  Many non-US think tanks have also been targeted by state actors.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Atlas Network Offering New Course on Think Tanks

Virginia-headquartered Atlas Network has just started offering "Think Tank Basics," a new two-hour online course that covers "the fundamental principles and concepts you need to understand before diving into the day-to-day work of a think tank."

According to Atlas, here is what you'll learn:
  • The important role of think tanks in society
  • The concept of the Overton Window and the role think tanks play in moving that window
  • The difference between mission and vision statements
  • The principles that guide the work we do at Atlas Network

The course is part of Atlas's Leadership Academy (ALA), which offers a number of courses related to think tanks.

ALA also offers "Think Tank MBA," a 10-day strategic planning program for leaders within new and established think tanks.

Atlas Network, founded in 1981, promotes free-market economic policies around the world.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Did Google Buy Off Two Think Tanks?

Here is more from Wired:

In February, The New York Times Magazine published a cover story urging regulators to break up Google because the company abuses its dominance in search to crush promising competitors. The next day, representatives from two conservative think tanks published blog posts defending Google and attacking the article’s call for antitrust enforcement. Both think tanks have received funding from Google. Both blog posts referenced studies by a professor who has received funding from Google. In one post, the study referenced was published in a quarterly journal owned by third think tank, which has also received funding from Google.
In a company-wide meeting a couple of weeks later, on March 1, Google’s public policy team described the blog posts as the fruit of Google’s efforts to build deeper relationships with conservatives, according to an audio recording of the meeting reviewed by WIRED.
“Just to give you an example, last weekend The New York Times Magazine cover story was all about breaking up Google,” [Adam] Kovacevich [Google's US Director of Public Policy] said. “Among the people who wrote op-eds and blog posts rebutting that Times piece were two conservative think-tank officials who we work with closely—one from the American Enterprise Institute and one from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who both attended [Goog'e invite-only reception at CPAC].”

It should also be noted that more liberal-leaning think tanks, such as the Brookings Institution (which has been running into numerous issues of scholarly independence lately), receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from Google.

Last year, a scholar was fired from think tank New America (which takes Google money) for being critical of Google.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Huawei Paid Brookings to Write Favorable Reports

The Brookings Institution just can't seem to catch a break these days.  In recent years, numerous media outlets have exposed questionable practices at the top think tank, including pay-to-play schemes, conflicts of interest, and accepting money from "unsavory" foreign entities.

Here is the latest from Isaac Stone Fish, a contributing columnist for Washington Post's Global Opinions:
In October 2017, the Brookings Institution, one of Washington’s most prestigious think tanks, published a report entitled “Benefits and Best Practices of Safe City Innovation.” The report included a case study praising the Kenyan capital Nairobi and the Chinese city of Lijiang for implementing new technology in policing.
What the report failed to mention is that the controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei provided the technology for both cities, or that Huawei is one of the world’s leading sellers of Safe City equipment, which the company describes as “cutting-edge” security to improve policing and oversight. The Brookings report did, at least, disclose who provided support for the research: “Support for this publication was generously provided by Huawei.” In other words, Brookings praised Huawei’s technology in a report sponsored by Huawei.
Brookings has a conflict of interest problem with Huawei — the world’s second-largest smartphone maker, behind Samsung and ahead of Apple, and a company long seen as a threat to the United States.
Between July 2016 and June 2018, Huawei gave at least $300,000 to Brookings, via FutureWei Technologies, Inc., a U.S.-based subsidiary of the company, according to Brookings' annual reports. 
The person who wrote the Safe Cities report (along with a former Brookings intern) is Darrell M. West, Brookings vice president and founding director of its Center for Technology Innovation. Formerly a professor at Brown University, West has written 19 books, according to his LinkedIn page, and is a respected commentator on issues involving technology policy, privacy and security. Yet West’s relationship with Huawei raises questions about the independence of his scholarship — and represents a worrying example of China’s influence on one of America’s leading think tanks.

Most recently, Brookings was bashed for accepting money from Saudi Arabia, leading it to terminate certain connections to that government.

Several days ago, a group of China experts from think tanks and universities released a report saying that Beijing is trying to influence US think tanks.

Earlier this year, an Australian think tank report criticized Huawei for sponsoring overseas trips for Australian politicians.

In 2017/2018, the think tank Chatham House received between $62,000 to $125,000 from Huawei.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Inside the UN's Littlle-Known Think Tank

Here is more from Devex:

On the 12th floor of a pyramid-shaped, 14-story building in Tokyo’s energetic Shibuya district, sit the headquarters of the United Nations University. Just a few floors down, researchers are busy at Japan’s Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability. The two organizations are linked by more than shared office space, although the ties might not be obvious to the general public. In fact, UNU’s structure and activities aren’t overtly evident to those outside its walls.
The inner workings of the university — comprised of Japan’s IAS and 14 other research entities in 14 countries — have long been obscure, especially when compared to many more globally visible U.N. agencies, said Hillary McBride, who took over UNU communications nearly two years ago.
The U.N.’s research arm serves as a bridge between the international academic community and the U.N. system and was never meant to launch large communications campaigns to promote its projects, McBride told Devex. Still, the term “university” no longer captures the full scope of work of the institution without a traditional campus, set up in the early ‘70s to power collaborative research on the world’s most pressing problems.

A number of large institution's have internal "think tanks," including the World Bank, US Congress, and US Department of Defense.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Canceled Think Tank Event Led to Bannon-Guo Partnership

Trump's former strategist Stephen Bannon and fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui (also known as Miles Kwok) met after a think tank event was canceled last year.

Here is more from the New York Times:
They met only after Mr. Bannon was forced out of the White House. Mr. Bannon says he received a call from Bill Gertz, a Washington journalist who has long been critical of China. Mr. Gertz told him that Mr. Guo was scheduled to give a talk in Washington at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank. The talk was canceled at the last minute.
Over lunch, Mr. Guo and Mr. Bannon discussed China’s military capabilities, as well as the financial implications of Beijing’s rule, including what impact the country’s mounting corporate debt might have on its economy. A friendship emerged.

As Think Tank Watch previously reported, in the days leading up to that canceled Hudson event, the Chinese Embassy reportedly had been calling the think tank and warning them not to host Guo.

The two have now formed a partnership and plan to set up a $100 million fund to investigate corruption and aid people they deem victims of Chinese government persecution.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Serious Spearphishing Campaign Against Think Tanks

Here is more from Politico:

A spearphishing campaign that targeted nonprofit groups and think tanks in Washington, D.C., drew Microsoft’s attention because it had “characteristics of previously observed nation-state attacks,” the tech giant said Monday. Because of the people being targeted and the specifics of the spearphishing messages, “Microsoft took the step of notifying thousands of individual recipients in hundreds of targeted organizations,” the company explained in a blog post that shared the technical specifics of the attack. Cyber firm FireEye first publicized the campaign last month, and MC and Reuters subsequently added details.
“Our sensors revealed that the campaign primarily targeted public sector institutions and non-governmental organizations like think tanks and research centers, but also included educational institutions and private-sector corporations in the oil and gas, chemical, and hospitality industries,” Microsoft’s research and threat intelligence teams said in the blog post. The company acknowledged that other firms had attributed the campaign to APT 29, the Russian intelligence service also known as Cozy Bear, but it said it “does not yet believe that enough evidence exists to attribute this campaign” to that group.

Think tanks are a major target of foreign governments, with many of them facing cyber attacks on a daily basis.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Think Tank Lowy Institute Hit by Chinese Hackers

Here is what the Australian press in reporting:

Australia’s leading foreign affairs think tank has been the subject of at least two cyber attacks from China, in an apparent effort to view its dealings with the federal government and foreign dignitaries.
The attacks on the Lowy Institute mirrored a Chinese campaign against think tanks in the United States, in which hackers tried to view correspondence as well as information of people visiting its website.
The think tank has boosted its security controls considerably since the first attack, Fairfax Media reported on Tuesday.
The Lowy Institute was founded in April 2003 by Frank Lowy “to conduct original, policy-relevant research about international political, strategic and economic issues from an Australian perspective”, its website says.  It is based in Sydney.

Several US think tankers are affiliated with Lowy, including Dr. Michael Green and Bonnie Glaser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution.

Jake Sullivan, who served as senior policy adviser on Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and, during the Obama Administration, as national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, is listed as a 2017 Telstra Distinguished International Fellow at Lowy.

Every major think tank in the United States has been hit with cyber attacks over the past few years, and many major think tanks outside of the US have also been targets.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Microsoft Looking for Someone to Build Relations with Think Tanks

The Microsoft government affairs team is looking for a corporate affairs manager who will act as a liaison with think tanks.  Here is more:

The Microsoft US Government Affairs team (USGA) is seeking an experienced professional to serve as Manager for external affairs and constituency outreach, based in Washington, DC. The USGA team advocates for Microsoft’s public policy position before policymakers and other stakeholders in Washington, DC and in local communities. This position reports to the Senior Director of External Affairs and is responsible for building and maintaining strong external relations with identified audiences to include think tanks, trade groups, political and policy advocacy organizations at the national and state levels and Microsoft’s technology partners.

A number of corporations have similar positions that involve engaging with think tanks.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Meet Trump's Go-To China Scholar

Here is more from Politico:

A day before President Donald Trump departed for the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, several top officials gathered in the Oval Office to strategize about Trump’s highly anticipated meeting there with China’s president.
Seated around Trump’s Resolute Desk were Vice President Mike Pence, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. On couches a few feet away were White House chief of staff John Kelly, Trump’s son in law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, and Matt Pottinger, the National Security Council’s top Asia hand. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro joined by speakerphone.
Before the discussion ended, Pence stepped out to fetch an outsider for a final briefing about Trump’s Saturday dinner with Chinese president Xi Xinping, which could determine whether the U.S. and China plunge deeper into a potentially disastrous trade war.
That outsider was Michael Pillsbury, a starchy academic at Washington’s conservative Hudson Institute enjoying a remarkable, and unlikely, influence. He has caught the ear of Trump, who during a November press conference proclaimed him “probably the leading authority on China.”
The former Reagan and George H.W. Bush Pentagon official has spent decades in the cold, dismissed by critics as a mix of conspiratorial and self-promoting. But now, current and former Trump officials say he is among the most important voices shaping a confrontational U.S. turn towards China which some analysts fear could trigger a new global cold war.
In addition to occasionally conferring with Pillsbury directly, Trump also catches and approves of his frequent television appearances, in which the China hand often lavishes praise on the president.
Pillsbury — a fluent Mandarin speaker who makes regular visits to China — has sometimes acted as a middle man between the White House and China’s government.
In October, the Wall Street Journal reported that he had discussed Trump’s trade policies — which have recently included mounting tariffs on Chinese goods — with Wang Huiyao, the head of a Beijing think tank with ties to China’s communist leadership. During a September visit to Hudson, Wang publicly unveiled proposals to tamp down the trade fight, which Pillsbury relayed to the Trump White House.
A persistent misconception is that his wealth — reflected in his posh Georgetown home — comes from the Pillsbury flour fortune of “doughboy” fame. 

The New York Times also wrote a piece about Pillsbury which adds some interesting tidbits, including the fact that he plays tennis with Peter Navarro and his house in Georgetown is worth $7.5 million.

A 2005 Wall Street Journal article says that he is a member of the Pillsbury flour family.  It also says that in the 1980s, he lost and regained his security clearance amid allegations of leaking secret information to the press.

When he was 27 years old, Pillsbury joined the RAND Corporation as a China scholar.  At that think tank, he did classified work for the US government.

A few weeks ago, Vice President Mike Pence gave an aggressive at the Hudson Institute that caused Beijing to lash out at the Trump Administration.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece about how the Hudson Institute has become a major anti-China platform.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#337)

  • New York Times publishes pro-Saudi writers from think tanks that have deep autocratic ties.
  • Robin Niblett: Rediscovering a sense of purpose - the challenge for Western think tanks. 
  • Top Saudi think tank studying possible effects of a breakup of OPEC.
  • IPPA hosts panel on think tank discourse and political change.
  • Healthcare lobbyists use think tanks to battle "Medicare for all?"
  • New GMF report: Why Trumpism will not prevail.
  • New think tank to focus on Cuban heritage. 
  • Hudson Institute brings on NATO Cyber Security Expert Merle Maigre. 
  • Food Tank: The think tank for food.
  • Tory think tank (Adam Smith Institute) unwittingly invited pedophile onto boat with underage guests.

Friday, November 30, 2018

China Specialists Say Beijing Trying to Influence US Think Tanks

Here is more from the Washington Post:

A distinguished group of China specialists who have long championed engagement with Beijing are now advocating the United States take a more skeptical view of what they see as growing Chinese efforts to undermine democratic values, including free-speech rights, both here and abroad.
“Except for Russia, no other country’s efforts to influence American politics and society is as extensive and well-funded as China’s,” the specialists say in a report to be issued Thursday by a working group convened by the Hoover Institution and the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations.
The report finds that though the Chinese are trying to shape the agenda of U.S. think tanks, the institutions are “very resilient” in resisting. “There’s very little evidence that the Chinese are successful when they’re trying to shape think-tank scholars’ writing on China,” said Economy, director of Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

For years the Chinese have been working to gain access to US think tanks, both through legitimate funding as well as through more nefarious methods such as cyber attacks.

Update: Here is the report cited in the above-mentioned article (and full PDF version).  Here is the section specifically on think tanks.  33 scholars from think tanks, universities, foundations, and the media were part of the working group that provided input for the report.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Lobbyists Relying on Think Tanks to Develop Ties to New Lawmakers

Here is more from Roll Call:

Instead of PAC dollars, corporate interests plan to rely on individual personal donations from their executives, lobbyists and other consultants, instead of the collective contributions from corporate PACs. In addition, lobbyists will be sure to attend meet-and-greets happening over the coming days and weeks with the new members.
Some lobbyists said they also would rely on policy partnerships with think tanks, grassroots activist organizations and charities — as well as shopping op-eds focused on specific lawmakers — for entree to the newly-elected members of Congress.

Individual corporations often pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to think tanks in order to influence policy and build relations with other organizations, lawmakers, and government agencies.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Hackers Impersonating State Dept. Officials to Attack Think Tanks

Here is more from Reuters:

Hackers linked to the Russian government are impersonating U.S. State Department employees in an operation aimed at infecting computers of U.S. government agencies, think tanks and businesses, two cybersecurity firms told Reuters.
The operation, which began on Wednesday, suggests Russia is keen to resume an aggressive campaign of attacks on U.S. targets after a lull going into the Nov. 6 U.S. midterm election, in which Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives, according to CrowdStrike and FireEye Inc.

Every major think tank in the US has been hacked by foreign governments over the past several years, and many face attacks on a daily basis.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#336)

  • Cornell cuts ties with Chinese school after crackdown.  Think tanks cutting ties next?
  • Another day, another Trump official (Peter Navarro) blasting China at a think tank (CSIS).
  • NYT: Why that hot new study may be flawed
  • Businesses turning to public record requests against academic researchers to challenge work at public universities.
  • Seeking work after Congress?  Sharp partisans too poisonous for think tanks?
  • CFR senior fellow Max Boot explains why he left the Republican Party ("Boot now regards the Iraq war, which he giddily championed in explicitly imperialistic terms, as a mistake.") 
  • The Guardian view on political dark money: think tanks must come clean.
  • Russia's RT: Dirty little secret - think tanks are among top culprits in media disinformation crisis. 
  • Banning civilian think tanks in China won't do any good.
  • Flashback to 2006: Think tank will promote thinking.

Monday, November 26, 2018

China Closes One of Last Remaining Independent Think Tanks

Here is more from the Financial Times:

One of China’s few independent economic think tanks has been forced to cease operations in the latest sign of Beijing’s growing intolerance of dissent as economic growth slows amid an ongoing trade war with the US. 
On Monday evening local time the Beijing-based Unirule Institute of Economics announced that “in the current institutional environment in China, unless normal protection by the Constitution and laws is confirmed, Unirule . . . will cease public activities under its name temporarily”, after the business license of its affiliate company was revoked
Sheng Hong, the executive director of Unirule who earlier this month was prevented from leaving China to participate in a forum at Harvard University on national security grounds, said in a statement dated November 9 and published on Monday evening that the license of the company, Beijing Unirule Consulting Co, had been revoked “for the wrong purpose, based on the wrong evidence, and executed at the wrong time and place”.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about China's crackdown on Unirule.

Here is more from Reuters.

Friday, November 23, 2018

CSIS Continues to Monitor China Via Satellite

Here is more from Fox News:

China appears to have constructed a new platform at a remote part of the disputed South China Sea that could be used for military purposes, according to satellite images reviewed by a U.S. think tank on Tuesday.
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies said the "modest new structure" appears to be anchored on Bombay Reef, and is topped by solar panels and a radome. A radome is an enclosure that protects radar equipment.
"The development drew attention given Bombay Reef’s strategic location, and the possibility that the structure’s rapid deployment could be repeated in other parts of the South China Sea," the group said in its report.

Earlier in November, CSIS used satellite images to detect secret North Korean missile sites.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Think Tanks Undergoing Fundamental Evolution

This is from David Brooks:

Washington think tanks are undergoing a fundamental evolution. A lot of them, like the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution, were built to advise parties that no longer exist. They were built for a style of public debate — based on social science evidence and congressional hearings that are more than just show trials — that no longer exists. Many people at these places have discovered that they have more in common with one another than they do with the extremists on their own sides.
So suddenly there is a flurry of working together across ideological lines. Next week, for example, the group Opportunity America, with Brookings and A.E.I., will release a bipartisan agenda called “Work, Skills, Community: Restoring Opportunity for the Working Class.”

While Mr. Brooks is correct to point this out, it is also important to remember that think tanks are facing other enormous challenges, including more competition from consulting firms as well as the ever-increasing number of think tanks, and credibility issues due to funding sources.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#335)

  • Atlantic Council's Global Energy Forum returns to Abu Dhabi in 2019. 
  • Atlantic Council launches new podcast: Resilient World.
  • Andrea Baertl: What makes a think tank credible?
  • Hudson announces political studies' 2019 summer fellowship.
  • Tracking think tank conference carpets?
  • CAP: Economic development subsidies ain't all that great
  • Joint AEI-CAP report on reforms needed to defend NATO, EU.
  • Miriam Goldstein to join CAP as Director of Ocean Policy.
  • CAP launches new website to track legal battles over the future of public land.
  • CAP visits Puerto Rico.

Monday, November 12, 2018

CSIS Finds Secret North Korea Missile Sites

The foreign affairs think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is making major headlines around the world after finding secret North Korean missile sites.

Here is more from the New York Times:

North Korea is moving ahead with its ballistic missile program at 16 hidden bases that have been identified in new commercial satellite images, a network long known to American intelligence agencies but left undiscussed as President Trump claims to have neutralized the North’s nuclear threat.
The satellite images suggest that the North has been engaged in a great deception: It has offered to dismantle a major launching site — a step it began, then halted — while continuing to make improvements at more than a dozen others that would bolster launches of conventional and nuclear warheads.
The existence of the ballistic missile bases, which North Korea has never acknowledged, contradicts Mr. Trump’s assertion that his landmark diplomacy is leading to the elimination of a nuclear and missile program that the North had warned could devastate the United States.
 The secret ballistic missile bases were identified in a detailed study published Monday by the Beyond Parallel program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a major think tank in Washington.
The program, which focuses on the prospects of North-South integration, is led by Victor Cha, a prominent North Korea expert whom the Trump administration considered appointing as the ambassador to South Korea last year. His name was pulled back when he objected to the White House strategy for dealing with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.
The report, which was also written with Lisa Collins, a research fellow at the center, supplemented the satellite imagery with interviews of North Korean defectors and government officials around the world.

More about the report can be found here and here.  Besides Victor Cha and Lisa Collins, the report was also co-authored by Joseph Burmudez, who is concurrently a senior fellow at CSIS, senior adviser and imagery analysts for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), author for IHS Markit, and publisher/editor of KPA Journal.

CSIS also uses satellite intelligence in many of its reports on China.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about the satellite imagery that CSIS uses, as well as funding for the project.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Canadian Think Tanks at Risk From Foreign Espionage

Here is more from The Globe and Mail:

Canada’s spy service is warning that Canadian research is “of interest to foreign states,” whose exploitation of such work poses potential harm to “Canada’s national interests.”
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) said on Tuesday that it routinely meets with universities to warn them of risks. The Globe and Mail reported this week that at least nine Canadian postsecondary institutions have conducted joint studies in recent years with researchers from Chinese military institutions, including the People’s Liberation Army Information Engineering University, China’s Air Defence College and the elite National University of Defense Technology.
In general, Canadian university policies require joint research to be published openly.
The collaborations, however, have raised concern that Canada’s academic establishment has become a target for Chinese intelligence-gathering, as Beijing conducts a sweeping technological modernization of its armed forces. Some Chinese defence scientists working with Canadian scholars have used the names of what appear to be non-existent civilian institutions rather than citing their military credentials in joint publications.

Think tanks all around the world have been targets of foreign espionage.  In October, US Vice President Mike Pence gave a major speech at the Hudson Institute in which he warned about Chinese espionage at think tanks.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Warning to Think Tankers: Someone May Be Impersonating You

This tweet is from Laurie Garrett, a former Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR):


Think Tank Watch is aware of several other similar instances where someone was impersonating a scholar using Twitter or other platforms.

Here and here are previous Think Tank Watch pieces about fake think tanks.

There have also been instances of fake think tank documents.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece about how fake Chinese think tank accounts were used for spy efforts on the French.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#334)

  • McKinsey and BCG escorted five emissaries from the Saudi royal court to make the rounds at Washington think tanks.
  • Politico: Domestic issues normally associated with Washington think tanks have been repackaged into cultural-resentment fodder.
  • Watching the North Korea watchers (at think tanks).
  • Think tanks unlikely to fund any work that has "income" or "wealth inequality" in its title? 
  • OpenSecrets: A look at the wide-ranging group of think tanks that might wield the Koch network's greatest power.
  • Legislation written by lobbyists and think tanks.
  • Australian think tank releases new satellite footage showing China's "re-education" camps.
  • IPF event (India): The role of think tanks.
  • Group behind Steve Bannon event in Canada funds Canada's biggest right-wing think tank.
  • RAND's got talent.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Think Tank: Half of Russians in London Are Spies

The neoconservative think tank Henry Jackson Society (HJS), based in London, has issued a new report entitled "Putin Sees and Hears It All: How Russia's Intelligence Agencies Menace the UK," which notes that up to a half on Russians living in London are spies.  Here are some of the findings:

  • Russia’s intelligence and security services are as much as 52 times the size of their British equivalents. 
  • There are up to five times the number of Russian case officers in the UK as there were in 2010.  These 200 ‘case officers’ are handling up to 500 agents. 
  • Out of an estimated population of 150,000 Russian ex-pats living in London, up to half are said to be FSB, GRU, or SVR informants – potentially, some 75,000 assets. 
  • As many as half of Russian Embassy diplomats are actively engaged in intelligence work, with as many – if not more – said to be working in Russia’s Trade Delegation.

Russia's Sputnik took aim at the report, calling it "ludicrous."

In 2017, The Times accused HJS of running an anti-China propaganda campaign after the Japanese embassy gave them a monthly fee of around $13,000.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Trump's Favorite Think Tank Trade Economist

President Donald Trump often cites a single source when talking about trade statistics: Robert Scott of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).  Now, Scott is saying that tariffs will not bring back lost jobs, a long-held belief of President Trump.  Here is more from Axios:

President Trump's trade war with China won't bring back the jobs lost from the trade deficit with China, according to Robert Scott, a senior economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, whose work Trump cited on the campaign trail and during his presidency.

Here is Scott's latest report on China, which was co-authored by Zane Mokhiber.

Here is what Robert Koopman, the chief economist at the World Trade Organization (WTO) has to say about EPI:

Monday, November 5, 2018

Think Tank Tweet of the Week: View of Think Tanks With Fresh Eyes

This is from Eli Lopez, Senior Editor for Global Opinions at the Washington Post:

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#333)

  • Did alleged Russian spy Maria Butina spy on US think tanks while at American University?
  • Heritage Foundation formally installs Barb Van Andel-Gaby as its new chairman of its Board of Trustees; names two new VPs: Thomas Binion and Andrew McIndoe.
  • Hudson Inst. becomes shadow gov't, hosting US-EU-Israel talks and India-US-Japan talks.
  • Russia's RT goes after AEI for free trade tweet. 
  • Chinese think tank (Charhar Institute) launches National Committee for China-US Relations.
  • Gov. Pete Ricketts (NE) disagrees with tax survey from think tank (Platte Inst.) he helped found.
  • Pic: Penn State visits CSIS.
  • Think tanks are in "The Box." 
  • Heritage Foundation scholars differ on approach to birthright citizenship.
  • Brookings hires Stephanie Aaronson, formerly with the US Federal Reserve Board, as VP & Director of its Economic Studies Program.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Fake Chinese Think Tank Accounts Used for Spy Efforts on French

This is from the Epoch Times:

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is trying to recruit or spy on thousands of French experts using fake LinkedIn accounts, according to Le Figaro.
Several hundred people have been compromised, the French paper reported.
Chinese agents targeted some 4,000 French individuals, including civil servants, scientists, high-level managers, and other influential figures, Le Figaro reported on Oct. 23. Of that figure, about 1,700 are employed or otherwise involved with national institutions.
The agents use fake LinkedIn accounts to present themselves as entrepreneurial representatives, think tank members, or consultants, who offer all-expenses-paid trips to China to the experts they are trying to recruit.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece about Chinese think tankers being targeted by the US Department of Homeland Security.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Libertarian Think Tank Dumps Libertarianism

A libertarian think tank has decided it no longer needs libertarianism.

Here is more from Jerry Taylor, President of the Niskanen Center:

When we launched the Niskanen Center in January 2015, we happily identified ourselves as libertarians. Sure, we were heterodox libertarians, but there are many schools of libertarianism beyond those promoted by Charles Koch’s political operations. The school we identified with was a left-libertarianism concerned with social justice (a libertarian perspective that I’ve defended in debates with more orthodox libertarians here and here). That worldview lacked an institutional voice in 2015. Our ambition was to create a space for it and, in so doing, redefine what it meant to be libertarian in the 21st century.
I have abandoned that libertarian project, however, because I have come to abandon ideology. This essay is an invitation for you to do likewise — to walk out of the “clean and well-lit prison of one idea.” Ideology encourages dodgy reasoning due to what psychologists call “motivated cognition,” which is the act of deciding what you want to believe and using your reasoning power, with all its might, to get you there. Worse, it encourages fanaticism, disregard for social outcomes, and invites irresolvable philosophical disputes. It also threatens social pluralism — which is to say, it threatens freedom.

Here is what Quartz has to say about the Niskanen Center news.

Here is more about the launch of the Niskanen Center.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

GMF Trying to Make Sure Georgia Stays United With West

Here is more from Axios reporter Dave Lawler:
I'm coming to you from the Republic of Georgia, where I spent the past four days as part of a German Marshall Fund delegation observing Sunday's presidential election and meeting with the leading candidates, the current president, foreign minister, speaker of parliament, and leaders in civil society, the clergy and business. What I saw and heard here will comprise the top half of today's edition.

The German Marshall Fund (GMF) recently held an event entitled "Keeping Georgia's Euroatlantic Future on Track."  GMF Senior Fellow Laura Rosenberger recently spoke about foreign election interference.

Last year, GMF, in partnership with the government of Georgia and the Heritage Foundation, held a conference marking the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the US and Georgia.

In 2012, GMF, in partnership with the Center for Independent Journalism from Romania, organized a study tour to Georgia prior to elections there.

Funding for GMF comes from a number of domestic and foreign entities, including USAID, US State Department, US Defense Department, US Mission to the European Union, NATO, the European Commission, Airbus, BP, Boeing, Daimler, Google, Exxon, Microsoft, and the governments of Germany, Sweden, Norway, Taiwan, Finland, Latvia, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

In related GMF news, Karen Kornbluh will join the think tank as director of its new technology policy program and senior fellow.  She most recently was a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and served as policy director to Barack Obama in the Senate and was ambassador to the OECD in the Obama Administration.

Also, GMF and Energy Cities just launched an 18-month transatlantic project addressing the role of cities in driving the energy transition.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Conservative Think Tanks Get Mega Millions

They may not have won Powerball of Mega Millions, but a pair of conservative think tanks is getting a huge injection of funds from generous donors.

The Heritage Foundation is getting a $43 million bequest from the estate of Judge Allison and Dorothy Rouse.  It is one of the largest gifts in the think tank's 45-year history.

Heritage is also establishing the Grover M. Hermann Center for the Federal Budget from a separate $5 million grant that coincides with the sunsetting of The Grover Hermann Foundation.

The Hudson Institute is also getting a few million dollars:

Hudson Institute announced the creation of the Ravenel B. Curry III Chair to be held initially by Hudson distinguished fellow Walter Russell Mead for a five-year period. The position is made possible by a $3 million gift to the Institute by Ravenel B. Curry III.
Ravenel Curry III is the managing director and chief investment officer of Eagle Capital Management LLC. He co-founded the investment firm in 1988 with his wife, Elizabeth Curry, who passed away in 2015. Previously, Curry served as a portfolio manager at the Duke Endowment, and as a partner at H.C. Wainwright. He is a member of Hudson Institute’s Chairman’s Advisory Board and is also a trustee of the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute, and The New York Historical Society. 

Both Heritage and Hudson have very close ties to the Trump Administration and have played an influential role in terms of policy.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#332)

  • The Georgetowner cover story: Think tanks - shadow governments in plain site. 
  • Report from Trump's favorite think tank (Heritage Foundation) calls for a larger Navy fleet.
  • WSJ editorial board: A liberal think tank (Tax Policy Center) makes the case for tax deductions for the rich. 
  • Think tank ISIS: Iran was closer to nukes than we thought. 
  • White nationalist Richard Spencer's wife says he repeatedly registered his think tanks to the addresses of female relatives.
  • Nassim Taleb: "Someone sitting in the comfort of a think tank office (with a fridge full of yogurt drinks) dictating what aid people on the ground in Syria should receive in order to satisfy her grand principles."
  • Think tank experts from Sri Lanka visit the US State Department.
  • McCain Institute for International Leadership launches online ad campaign calling for a new generation of "mavericks."
  • Atlantic Council partners with law firm Baker McKenzie to host 2018 Global Diversity & Inclusion Summit.
  • The Palm, a swanky DC restaurant, has a picture of CSIS communications chief Andrew Schwartz on the wall (for eating their often enough).

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Chinese Think Tankers Targeted by DHS

Here is more from the Washington Post:

Alarms over the souring relationship went off in Beijing this year when Department of Homeland Security agents at the San Francisco airport stopped a half-dozen senior Chinese researchers, including some employed by the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations — an influential think tank that answers to China’s intelligence agency. The agents confiscated the researchers’ laptops and phones and demanded their passwords, according to two people familiar with the incident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.
Outraged Chinese scholars suspected the searches were politically motivated and wrote to the State Department saying they would cancel future trips to the United States, according to a copy of an email from the think tank seen by The Washington Post. (The institute later resumed travel to the United States after receiving State Department assurances.)

The article notes that the Chinese have reached out to long-standing contacts at US think tanks in order to better understand the Trump Administration.  China has even dispatched a number of former government officials for "Track 2" meetings with US think tankers, but those meetings have not been very useful because "Washington's most prominent think tanks are populated by establishment figures who lack close ties to [President] Trump."

Hudson Institute China scholar Jonas Parello-Plesner recently said that CICIR is "an acknowledged part of the Chinese Ministry of State Security: the equivalent of the CIA running a front-end think tank."

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Middle East Think Tanks Adapting to Trump Era

This is from a new piece by Brian Katulis, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP):

The waning focus on Iraq is just one of many shifts that have occurred among Washington think-tanks that focus on the Middle East over the past few years – and there are more profound shifts underway during the Trump administration that point to the possibility that overall policy analysis on the Middle East in the next few years may follow the same path as Iraq over the past few years.
In three key ways, Washington think-tanks that focus on the Middle East have shifted during the Trump era – and it’s important to note that some of these shifts were already in motion long before President Trump was elected.
1) A trend towards more policy advocacy rather than putting analysis first.
2) An increasing polarization and lack of dialogue among different views.
3) A growing focus on human rights, democracy, and dignity.
Iraq’s trajectory in the DC policy debate over the past decade may serve as a harbinger of things to come on Middle East policy overall in the next ten years. The declining attention in the broader political and media environment, a less rich and textured policy discussion inside government, and an increasing disinterest in wrestling with the detailed challenges – all of these factors may lead to what ultimate leads to the death of think-tanks analysis on Middle East policy in the coming years.

This prediction comes amid intense scrutiny of Middle East funding at influential US think tanks over the past several weeks.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch post on the Saudi think tank whisperer.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Saudi Think Tank Whisperer

Here is more from Politico:

Even as evidence mounted last week that a Saudi Arabian hit squad had murdered and dismembered his friend, Jamal Khashoggi, Washington operative Ali Shihabi took to Twitter to do what he does best: defend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The global outrage over Khashoggi’s murder has forced many Washington lobbyists and public relations pros to cut ties with the Saudi government. But not Shihabi, a Saudi national who may be the country’s most effective defender in the U.S. capital. Media savvy and politically shrewd, Shihabi has relationships with prominent journalists, Trump administration officials and think tank experts throughout Washington. The Saudi ambassador left Washington earlier this month and reportedly may not return, but it matters less given that many already consider Shihabi, who is close to the Saudi leadership, to be the kingdom’s unofficial envoy.
A former banker and novelist who leads the nonprofit Arabia Foundation — a think tank founded in the belief that the Saudi government was not making an effective case in the U.S. — Shihabi can often be seen on the D.C. circuit, hitting book parties hosted by the likes of the operative-hostess Juleanna Glover and dining at spots like the Monocle and the Four Seasons with such A-list media figures as Fox News host Tucker Carlson. He also hosts off-the-record dinner-discussions in Georgetown for journalists and policymakers.
He describes the foundation as an independent think tank funded by himself and other Saudi businessmen. The foundation doesn’t take Saudi government money, Shihabi says, though he acknowledges that he informed Saudi officials about his plans to establish the foundation, partly to ensure financial support from other Saudis. 

Here is a link to the Arabia Foundation.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post about think tanks weighing whether or not to take Saudi money.