Friday, September 25, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#386)

  • Meet the hawkish liberal think tank (CNAS) powering Kamala Harris. 
  • RAND Corp., for first time, makes wargame available to the public; Defense Secretary Mark Esper visits RAND.
  • Senior think tanker at CSIS, among the 70+ Republican national security officials who has publicly endorsed Biden, lays out why a second Trump term is "dangerous."
  • Boston Consulting Group (BCG) organized and provided support for meetings between a Saudi delegation to US think tanks.
  • Ghislaine Maxwell and her think tanking "boyfriend," Scott Borgerson.
  • RAND launches Center to Advance Racial Equity Policy.
  • New Jamestown Foundation report has exposed "chilling details" of official measures to shrink the Uighur population in China.
  • Two largest think tanks in US led by black women. 
  • Joan Didion on the now defunct think tank Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions.
  • Founder of pro-Brexit think tank buys EU passport via Malta.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Think Tank Chief Suspected of Selling Info. to Chinese Spies

 Here is more from the BBC:

Fraser Cameron, who runs the EU-Asia Centre think tank, is suspected of passing sensitive information about the EU to two spies allegedly posing as Brussels-based journalists.

He is alleged to have exchanged the information for thousands of Euros.

But Mr Cameron told The Times the allegations were "ridiculous".

The businessman, who worked for Britain's Secret Intelligence Service from 1976 to 1991, says he has no access to any "secret or confidential information".

Numerous people who work at think tanks around the world have been accused of giving information to foreign spies.

Here is a link to the EU-Asia Centre, which was established in 2011.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

CFR Under Fire for Hosting Top Iranian Official

Here is more from The Washington Free Beacon:

A U.S. think tank is under fire from the Trump administration and its allies in Congress for hosting Iran's chief propagandist in an upcoming event that legal experts say runs afoul of American sanctions laws.

The Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan U.S. think tank that employs numerous former government officials, is scheduled to host next Tuesday Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, the regime's top spokesman and architect of the landmark nuclear accord, for a virtual conversation on the Zoom meeting platform. The event comes just days after Iran tortured and executed popular Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari over his participation in a peaceful protest. The execution sparked outrage across the globe and is casting a shadow over the CFR event.

Trump administration and congressional officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon about the upcoming event expressed outrage that CFR would host Zarif after his government executed Afkari, who has since become a poster boy for Iran's human-rights abuses.

Here is a video of the event, which took place on September 21.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Hackers Targeting Think Tanks Amid 2020 US Elections

 Here is more from Politico:

Russian, Chinese and Iranian hackers have mounted cyberattacks against hundreds of organizations and people involved in the 2020 presidential race and U.S.-European policy debates, with targets including the campaigns of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden, Microsoft said Thursday.

Microsoft said Russia's targets this time included political parties in the U.S. and Europe, while Chinese hackers went after people in Biden's campaign and Iranians attempted to breach the accounts of Trump's campaign staff. Hackers also attacked political consultants, think tanks and groups such as the German Marshall Fund and Stimson Center that promote international cooperation.

The New York Times notes that the Atlantic Council is among the think tanks that have been targeted in the most recent campaign. 

FBI Special Agent Matthew O'Brien recently said that if foreign adversaries are unable to breach an organization's computer systems via remote means, they have infiltrated the think tanks' offices in person and covertly installed keystroke logging software.

"We've got reports from the think tanks locally that they'll try to piggyback coming in through doors and just walk in and see if they can get access somewhere," said O'Brien.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Co-Founder of New America Foundation Think Tank Dies

From the Houston Chronicle:

The head of a climate activism group that brought together conservatives and major polluters like Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, died in a hiking accident last week.

Ted Halstead, the president of the Climate Leadership Council, fell to his death on Sept. 2 while hiking in Spain, where his wife and daughter live, a spokesman for the non-profit said.

Here is a press release from New America (previously New America Foundation), which he founded together with Walter Russell Mead, Michael Lind, and Sherle Schwenninger.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Chinese Think Tanks Severing Ties With Australian Think Tanks

 Here is more from The Australian Financial Review:

Academics working for Chinese government think tanks and top universities say they are cutting off communications with their Australian counterparts and cancelling plans to travel to the country because they fear they will be accused of being Communist Party infiltrators.

Five prominent academics in China specialising in foreign relations and Australian studies told The Australian Financial Review it was becoming almost impossible to collaborate with Australian universities because of the rise in anti-China rhetoric.

The Chinese government is clearly not happy with some Australian think tanks.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Brookings Partnered With Shanghai Think Tank Under Scrutiny For Spying

 Here is more from The Washington Free Beacon:

The Brookings Institution, a prominent Washington, D.C., think tank, partnered with a Shanghai policy center that the FBI has described as a front for China’s intelligence and spy recruitment operations, according to public records and federal court documents.

The Brookings Doha Center, the think tank’s hub in Qatar, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences in January 2018, the institution said. The academy is a policy center funded by the Shanghai municipal government that has raised flags within the FBI.

The partnership raises questions about potential Chinese espionage activities at the think tank, which employs numerous former government officials and nearly two dozen current foreign policy advisers to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.

Since the partnership began, the organizations have teamed up to host a 2018 conference in Shanghai and a 2019 joint workshop in Doha. Both events focused on Middle East cooperation with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s multinational infrastructure project that the U.S. government has described as a global security threat.

The Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS), which employs nearly 800 people, was founded in 1958 and is China's oldest think tank for the humanities and social sciences.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

US Protests Lead to Major Diversity Push at US Think Tanks

 Here is more from Foreign Policy:

Hundreds of Washington think tank and policy professionals, including some directors and CEOs, have signed a letter advocating for more diversity in their profession after nationwide protests against racial injustice shook the country this summer. 

The letter, signed by more than 300 current and former employees from 43 think tanks and research organizations, provides a detailed blueprint for reforms in the largely white Washington policy scene, recommending that think tanks make public their diversity data and work harder to recruit and retain people of color by adding human resources staff and paid internships, and by interviewing more diverse candidates.

Prompted by nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of police in Minneapolis earlier this year, the pledge includes among its signatories current and former staffers from the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institution, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Council on Foreign Relations, and New America. 


The article also notes that two young academics in Germany, Sarah Bressan and Theresa Lutkefend, have launched an initiative called "Better Think Tanking," which aims to make professional advancement more dependent on expertise than an adherence to professional culture. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

British Trade Minister Hid Think Tank Meetings

Here is more from Reuters:

Britain’s trade minister has reclassified recent meetings with a pro-hard Brexit think tank as personal discussions, removing them from the public record and sparking opposition allegations that she wants to conceal their influence on public policy.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) is widely regarded as one of Britain’s most influential right-leaning think tanks. It promotes free-markets and has argued strongly for a clean break from the European Union since the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Two meetings with trade minister Liz Truss and the IEA had originally been included in quarterly transparency data published on the government’s website and described as discussing trade. They were removed on Wednesday with a note explaining they were personal meetings - the first such revision since the department was created in 2016.


 IEA was founded in 1955 by businessman and battery farming pioneer Antony Fisher.

 Update: Truss reverses decision to remove think tank meetings from public register.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#385)

  • At the Atlantic Council, foreign money talks.
  • Conservative think tankers, including China hawks, talking to Biden campaign; more than 2,000 people, including think tank experts, advising Biden on foreign policy.
  • NYT: How a tech-funded think tank (Global Antitrust Institute) influences global antitrust regulators.
  • FBI investigating Russia's Strategic Culture Foundation, which is reportedly directed by Russian intelligence agency SVR.
  • Rush Doshi, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, has led a months-long project on China's information influence operations.
  • US think tank rankings based on search engine performance.
  • Question: "Why did Rome fall?  Wrong answers only."  Max Abrahms answers: There weren't enough think tanks supplying empirically-based foreign policy advice.
  • US military contractors have been enlisting think tanks for years to sell armed drones overseas.
  • Jason Stahl, author of think tank book, resigns from university position.
  • How one think tank poisoned Australia's climate debate.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Committee Advising Biden on Tech Has Close Ties to Think Tanks

Scores of think tankers are advising the Joe Biden campaign, and more are joining every month.  Here is the latest from the New York Times:


One of Mr. Biden’s closest aides joined the campaign from Apple, while others held senior roles at firms that consulted for major tech companies. And a nearly 700-person volunteer group advising the campaign, the Innovation Policy Committee, includes at least eight people who work for Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times. Other committee members have close ties to the companies, including economists and lawyers who have advised them, and officials at think tanks funded by them.


Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on how Biden's think tankers got rich.  Here is another piece on the think tankers advising Joe Biden on the economy.  Here is a Foreign Policy piece on the team of 2,000+ people, including think tankers, advising Biden on foreign policy.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Brookings Will Not Hold In-Person Events for Remainder of 2020

Most think tanks have not held in-person events since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and many are starting to announce that they will not host any for the rest of the year.

The Brookings Institution has just announced that it will continue mandatory telework and public events will remain webinar-only through at least Jan. 4, 2021.  The think tank began mandatory telework on March 13.

Here is a Think Tank Watch post from early June on the end of in-person think tank events.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Study: Think Tank Experts Are More Hawkish Than Professors

This is from a working paper by Richard Hanania of Columbia University and Max Abrahms of Northeastern University:

We argue that experts are more hawkish the closer they are to power, both figuratively and literally, and show this through the first study to use survey methods to inquire into the foreign policy preferences of think tank analysts and fellows (think tank employees, or TTEs) relative to professors who are experts in international relations. We find that TTEs are 0.47 standard deviations more hawkish than professors as calculated based on a standard survey measuring militant internationalism (MI). Controlling for self-described ideology mitigates this effect although it remains statistically significant. Among professors, those who have worked for the federal government are higher on MI, as are TTEs located closer to Capitol Hill. Differing levels of regional expertise generally cannot explain these differences, except perhaps in the case of Iran.

The full report can be found here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Researcher Who Provided Info. for Steele Dossier Linked to Brookings

Here is more from the New York Times:

Not long after the early 2017 publication of a notorious dossier about President Trump jolted Washington, an expert in Russian politics told the F.B.I. he had been one of its key sources, drawing on his contacts to deliver information that would make up some of the most salacious and unproven assertions in the document.

The F.B.I. had approached the expert, a man named Igor Danchenko, as it vetted the dossier’s claims. He agreed to tell investigators what he knew with an important condition, people familiar with the matter said — that the F.B.I. keep his identity secret so he could protect himself, his sources and his family and friends in Russia.

Born in Ukraine, Mr. Danchenko, 42, is a Russian-trained lawyer who earned degrees at the University of Louisville and Georgetown University, according to LinkedIn. He was a senior research analyst from 2005 to 2010 at the Brookings Institution, where he co-wrote a research paper showing that, as a student, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia appeared to have plagiarized part of his dissertation.

The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece saying that when the movie of the Trump-Russia conspiracy is made, it will feature "top Democrats and Brookings Institution officials who would be flattered if you ended up thinking of them as Steele dossier conspirators as some now wish to portray them."

Real Clear Investigations notes that Danchenko collaborated with Fiona Hill on at least two policy papers during his five years at Brookings.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on Hill, a Brookings scholar and Russia expert who served in the Trump Administration.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

DC Think Tanks Cashing in on Increasing Pentagon Budget

Think tanks in Washington, DC are raking in hundreds of millions of dollars from an increasing Pentagon budget, according to a new report from Center for International Policy's (CIP) Salome Pachkoria and Ben Freeman that was published by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

Here are some excerpts:
Outside the halls of Congress, contractors are able to significantly influence debates about the defense budget process through the sizeable contributions they make to many of Washington’s top think tanks.
In fact, as we have discovered while conducting research for a forthcoming report on defense contractor funding of think tanks, the arms industry has given hundreds of millions of dollars to the nation’s top think tanks in recent years. In many cases these are the very same think tanks that have been clamoring for more Pentagon spending. 
As the analysis for our forthcoming report revealed, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has received at least $6.6 million in donations in the last 5 years from leading defense contractors, who clearly benefit from a large defense budget. Moreover, CNAS has received huge amounts of funding directly from DoD, $500,000 in 2016 for example. CNAS thus has rather strong incentives to applaud huge defense budgets.

The authors note that they have identified more a dozen think tanks that have received sizable donations ($100,000+) from defense contractors in recent years.

Think Tank Watch will be closely following the release of the report, including reaction from various think tanks, stakeholders, and policy experts.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The US-China War Games at RAND Corporation

Here is a description from The Economist on war games that have recently taken place at the think tank RAND Corporation:

When conducting games between China and America, David Ochmanek of RAND Corporation, a think-tank, worries most about an invasion of Taiwan, the security of which is implicitly guaranteed by America. In one scenario the red team unleashes a “joint firepower strike” on Taiwan’s defence forces and on American forces, bases and command-and-control nodes in the Pacific, including on Okinawa and Guam. Many of the blue team’s planes are destroyed on the ground, and its runways disabled. China severs communication links as part of an effort to gain information superiority, part of a full-spectrum strategy called “system-destruction warfare”. Then comes the amphibious assault on the island. American submarines knock out some portion of the invasion force with torpedoes, but surface-level carriers and frigates are hammered by Chinese anti-ship missiles if they venture near the fight.  "We always assume that the United States intervenes forcefully and early," Mr Ochmanek says.  But now, in contrast to years past, "I would not have confidence that we would succeed."

Mr. Ochmanek works in the Washington, DC office of RAND, and from 2009 to 2014 he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Development.

RAND has a page dedicated to wargaming, and says that it has "developed and can execute various types of wargames, including scenario exercises, tabletop map exercises, 'Day After...' games, and computer-supported exercises."

Last year, RAND analysts developed and hosted a wargame to help young women learn firsthand about national security.

The University of Maryland's International Communication & Negotiation Simulations (ICONS) Project is one entity that works with think tanks to support a number of Track II dialogue projects.

Last month the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) held a virtual panel discussion on how the Pentagon uses wargames to develop ideas and inform decisions.

On July 22, CNAS held a virtual wargame that explored a potential clash between the US and China in the East China Sea in 2030.  Here is more on that wargame from The National Interest.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#384)

  • COVID-19's effect on think tanks in ten headlines, via On Think Tanks.
  • Devin Nunes wants to know if Brookings was involved in developing Steele dossier.
  • How-to guide for economic think tanks, via CIPE.
  • Hudson Institute launches new Center for Defense Concepts and Technology.
  • An overwhelming majority of think tanks use Zoom.  Is it secure?
  • WaPo's Jennifer Rubin: Quality of Heritage Foundation has plummeted.
  • University of Alberta launches criminology think tank. 
  • NYC think tank predicts sizable employer move from city. 
  • Conservative think tank director says Lincoln Project members beholden to pro-business Republicans.
  • Mizuho Bank and its think tank, Mizuho Research Institute, lose millions of pieces of customer data.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Chinese Spy Targeted US Think Tank Events

Here is more from the Washington Post:

A Singaporean man pleaded guilty in Washington on Friday to acting as an unregistered agent of the Chinese government by identifying potential recruitment targets for Beijing’s intelligence services while working in Washington as an academic researcher and foreign policy consultant on China.
Dickson Jun Wei Yeo, 39, a doctoral degree candidate at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, pleaded guilty as charged in a one-count June 11 criminal information before U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutka.
A George Washington University (GWU ) spokeswoman confirmed that Yeo was a visiting scholar for six months in 2019 but had no employment or student relationship, nor did he receive any kind of funding from the university.
Yeo used his time as a GWU fellow from January to July 2019 to network with individuals with lobbying firms and defense contractors at events and think tank talks, according to the statement of offense.
Under the direction of Chinese intelligence, he said, he was instructed to spot targets in sensitive positions who were dissatisfied with their work or having financial difficulties.

The article notes that Yeo was recruited by intelligence contacts who claimed to represent Chinese-based think tanks and offered him money in exchange for political and economic intelligence.

The contacts reportedly approached him in 2015 while a doctoral student at the National University of Singapore during a visit to Beijing for a presentation he made.

The news comes as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been cracking down on Chinese spies in academia.

Here is a Wired piece on China's five steps for recruiting spies.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Think Tanks Supported by Millions of Dollars From Open Philanthropy

The grantmaking foundation Open Philanthropy has only been around for several years but it has already given millions of dollars to more than a dozen think tanks for a variety of projects.  Facebook co-founder Dustin Muskowitz and wife Cari Tuna are the main funders of the entity, which is based in San Francisco, California.

Here is a look at the think tanks that have received money from Open Philanthropies as well as some of the projects that the foundation has funded:
  • Center for Global Development (CGD): Research on the net health impacts of COVID-19 on various countries (here)
  • RAND Corporation: Research on the state of AI assurance methods (here); legalizing marijuana in Vermont (here)
  • Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP): To support the Full Employment Project (here)
  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Chinese and Indian perspectives on biotech security risks (here)
  • Urban Institute: History of Philanthropy Project (here)
  • Niskanen Center: Research on immigration policy (here)
  • Center for American Progress (CAP): Macroeconomic stabilization (here)
  • Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE): Macroeconomic research projects (here)
  • Roosevelt Institute: Macroeconomic policy research (here)
  • Economic Policy Institute (EPI): Macroeconomic policy research (here)
  • Center for a New American Security (CNAS): Outreach on technological risk (here)
  • Wilson Center: AI policy seminar series (here)
  • Washington Center for Equitable Growth: Macroeconomic policy research (here)

Muskowitz's net worth is estimated to be $14.9 billion, so it looks like he will have plenty of funds to continue funding think tanks for many years to come.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

On the Competition of Chinese Think Tanks

Lee Seong-hyon, Director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the Sejong Institute, has a new piece on China's think tanks.  Here are some excerpts:

China's various policy reports go up to the General Office of CPC Central Committee (zhongyang bangongting, abbreviated as "zhongban"). The name CPC stands for Communist Party of China. Zhongban is equivalent to the Office of the President in Korea. The policy report is carefully vetted by officials at zhongban and eventually gets placed on the desk of China's top leader for reading.
It's not easy for a researcher's idea notes to reach zhongban. There is a cutthroat competition among China's think tank scholars and university academics. CICIR is known to have its separate independent channel to reach China's top leadership. One view is that CICIR is under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Affairs Leading Small Group (FALSG), whose head is Xi Jinping, China's top leader.
The current president of CICIR is Yuan Peng. Both intelligent and a straight shooter, he was a visiting scholar to the Atlantic Council and the Brookings Institution.
Unlike the U.S., there is generally no "revolving door" between think tanks and public offices in China. The two are separate career tracks and usually there is no migration between them. In recent years, however, some retired Chinese officials took positions at think tanks.

Here is more about Lee Seong-hyun.  China now has 507 think tanks, according to the latest University of Pennsylvania survey of think tanks.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

New Think Tank Quickies (#383)

  • US spy drone seen over South China Sea headed for Taiwan, says Chinese think tank.
  • Washington Redskins should be renamed Washington Think Tanks?
  • UPenn organizes Global Think Tank Virtual Town Hall. 
  • "Think Tanks in the Tank" on the Manhattan Institute in the Trump era.
  • New Atlantic Council report on global strategy for shaping the post-COVID-19 world. 
  • Heritage Action for America deputy director of government relations Wesley Coopersmith is leaving to be legislative director for Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA).
  • The Daily Beast: Media outlets duped by "experts" who are fake personas pushing propaganda.
  • Washingtonian: "A think tank employee who watches porn with his girlfriend..."
  • Grayzone: "Influential DC-based Ukrainian think tank hosts neo-Nazi activist."
  • Axios: "Iran's former crown prince entered the Hudson Institute to a standing ovation...before calling on the US to support the will of the Iranian people - to bring down their government."

Monday, July 20, 2020

Chinese Threatening to Sue Think Tank and Researchers

Here is more from Asian News International:
After several reports of the Chinese government torturing its ethnic minority community surfaced, the authorities are now considering to sue the researchers and think tanks who are behind these revelations.
The Global Times has reported that German researcher Adrian Zenz and a think tank -- Australian Strategic Policy Institute -- will be sued for spreading "disinformation about China."

If the Chinese decide to pursue a case, it would be the first time that Think Tank Watch is aware of where a government has sued a think tank.

It was recently reported that the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) worked with Twitter to delete accounts tied to the Chinese government.

Earlier in the year, ASPI released a report on Uighur labor in China, and the think tank thinks that a more assertive China with rapidly growing military strength "means a direct threat to Australian interests could develop with little notice."

ASPI's donors include the US and Australian governments and numerous defense contractors.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Larry Hogan Launching 2024 Presidential Bid via Think Tanks?

While Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has not officially announced his intention to run for president in 2024, there is much speculation that he plans to do so.

He will soon go on a virtual book tour, and he is using think tanks for the release of that book.  Here is more from the New York Times:
Mr. Hogan also plans to appear at events with the American Enterprise Institute, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute, the Institute of Politics at Harvard University, and the Hoover Institute, among others.

Moreover, on July 21, Hogan will be joining Dr. Scott Gottlieb to discuss Maryland's COVID-19 response for an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) event.

Last year, it was reported that Jerry Taylor, President of the Niskanen Center, was trying to persuade Hogan to run against President Trump in 2020.

In 2016, the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a state-level free-market think tank, honored Hogan with an award.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Wilson Center Chief Jane Harman to Leave Think Tank in 2021

Former Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) announced she will step down as President and CEO of the Wilson Center when her contract expires in February 2021.

In a press release, the Wilson Center said it will now begin a "comprehensive search" for her replacement.

A few weeks ago, the White House announced its intent to nominate Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) as the new Chair of the Wilson Center's Board of Trustees.

The think tank recently issued a press release addressing recent calls for government entities and institutions to remove the Woodrow Wilson name from buildings and other places, saying it continues to "grapple" with the issue.  Earlier in the month, the Wilson Center announced a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution on its Race Initiative. 

In other think tank personnel news, Tyra Mariani, President and COO of New America, has been appointed President of the Schultz Family Foundation.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Russia Targeting Think Tanks in Coronavirus Vaccine Hacks

Here is more from the Wall Street Journal:

U.S. and U.K. government officials said a prominent state-backed Russian hacking group is responsible for ongoing cyber espionage against organizations involved in the development of coronavirus vaccines and other healthcare-related work, showing escalating security risks at a crucial time in the global response to the pandemic.
The National Cyber Security Centre, part of the U.K.’s GCHQ electronic-intelligence agency, and backed by U.S. and Canadian security officials, said Thursday they jointly assessed the source of the persistent hacking activity in several countries. The targets, officials said, include governments, think tanks, universities, private companies and other organizations working on vaccine research and testing globally.
They identified the hacking group as Russia-supported APT29, which is also known as Cozy Bear

APT29 has reportedly been involved in past hacking of US and other think tanks, and apparently targeted US think tanks in a post-election hacking campaign in 2016.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

New Book Highlights Chinese Intelligence Operations Using Think Tanks

The Daily Mail has published some adaptations from a forthcoming book by Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg entitled "Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Community Party is Reshaping the World."  Here are a few excerpts:

Chinese intelligence agencies have spent years cultivating relationships in Western universities and think-tanks, partly with the aim of winning friends over to the CCP’s point of view.
One of the most important organisations for this work is the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, whose 400 members include Chinese intelligence officers. Its stock-in-trade is academic exchanges and conferences, which are used as a way of gaining entry to the most closed circles of a host country.
It holds an annual dialogue with the EU’s Institute for Security Studies in Paris, and has met regularly with influential Washington think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to discuss cyber security.
These dialogues provide opportunities not only to create networks for intelligence gathering, but also shape the thinking of American and European experts, by, for example, presenting China as the victim of cyber intrusions and casting doubt on the U.S.’s ability to attribute hacking to China.

The authors also note that Chinese intelligence agents have posed as think tank staff in order to befriend people overseas and lure them to China for supposedly nefarious purposes.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Think Tank PIIE Has Deep Ties to Chinese Billionaires

Here is more from the Washington Free Beacon:

A former Chinese official has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to a prominent D.C.-based think tank over the last decade, influencing its research on at least one occasion.
Hong Kong-based billionaire Ronnie Chan sits on the board of directors of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, an influential think tank. He is also one of its most prolific supporters, donating between $350,000 to $575,000 to the think tank since 2010. And while the think tank insists that donors exert almost no influence on its publications, a 2013 report on U.S.-China relations credited Chan, noting that the report "has benefited from discussions with and the comments of" Chan and a litany of other donors.
Chan is an ex-government official in Hong Kong who mobilized his resources to support the election of Carrie Lam, the city's chief executive who cracked down on pro-democracy protesters at the behest of Beijing in recent years. Chan is also a governor of the China-United States Exchange Foundation, a nonprofit organization widely considered to be a front group for the Chinese Communist Party to exercise influence in academia. The foundation has also cut a check to PIIE, sending between $50,000 to $75,000 to the think tank in 2012.

The article says that another billionaire with close ties to China, Min Zhu, a former deputy governor of the People's Bank of China, sits of PIIE's board.  It also notes that PIIE's board of directors page does not mention Chan's or Zhu's past stints in government, even though it does so for other members.

Chan, according to the article, has appeared on a panel discussion hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and has served on the governing boards of the East-West Center and Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation.

Update: Here is a new Washington Free Beacon piece entitled "Huawei-Funded Think Tank Takes Aim at Top China Hawk," saying that PIIE works with Chinese government officials to rebut China criticism.  Among other things, it outlines PIIE's ties to Huawei.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

New Report: Heritage Foundation Has Cozy Ties with South Korean Weapons Maker

Investigative journalist Eli Clifton has penned a new piece on pay for play at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation.  Here are some excerpts:

The conservative Heritage Foundation has consistently fought international treaties banning weapons that pose an outsized threat to civilians in the war zone. This would include anti-personnel landmines, cluster munitions, and “killer robots”—as well as regulations that would enforce arms embargoes on human rights offenders. And yet, Heritage fails to disclose a possible financial incentive for taking these positions.
Heritage received at least $5.8 million from the Hanwha Group between 2007 and 2015, according to the organization’s annual reports reviewed by Responsible Statecraft. Between 2010 and 2014, Hanwha—a South Korean conglomerate that has produced landmine and autonomous weapons systems—contributed a minimum of $1 million per year, making Hanwa one of the Heritage Foundation’s biggest donors. Hanwha was not listed as a donor after 2015, but Heritage permits donors to make anonymous contributions and Heritage and the Hanwha Group did not respond to questions about whether the funding arrangement continued after 2015.
However, Korean media regularly reports on the close relationship between Heritage and Hanwha, and suggested their friendly relationship was alive and well, at least as recently as October 2018 when Heritage Foundation founder Edwin J. Feulner and Hanwha Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn met in Seoul.

Mr. Clifton is the research director at the Quincy Institute's Democratizing Foreign Policy Program.  Last month he wrote a piece about Taiwan's funding of US think tanks.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Brookings Scrubbed Biden Adviser's Biography

Here is more from The Intercept:

In the run-up to the 2020 election, former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign is putting together a foreign policy team for a potential future administration. Among those described as being part of the team is Avril Haines, former deputy director of the CIA during the Obama administration. According to an NBC News report from last week, Haines has been tapped to work advising on policy, as well as lead the national security and foreign policy team.
In addition to her past national security work and impressive presence in the D.C. think tank world, Haines has in the past described herself as a former consultant for the controversial data-mining firm Palantir. Haines’s biography page at the Brookings Institute, where she is listed as a nonresident senior fellow, boasted of this affiliation until at least last week, when it suddenly no longer appeared on the page.
Haines’s biography on the Brookings site was captured by the Wayback Machine, which archives websites, on May 9. At that time, the page showed the Palantir affiliation. A printout of the Google cache of the page as recorded on June 20 — the same day that Biden’s campaign announced Haines as an adviser — shows the affiliation. By June 25, the Google cache shows the Palantir affiliation has disappeared; it is not clear when between those dates the listing was removed.

Haines's current biography for Brookings notes that she is involved with the Biden transition team.

Brookings told The Daily Beast that Haines's office "had requested an update scrubbed of non-active affiliations broader than Palantir."

Friday, July 10, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#382)

  • Think tanks from 39 countries denounce Hong Kong security law. 
  • Independent think tanks in China that once reported on the economy have been closed.
  • Video: Chatham House event on the future of think tanks.
  • Atlantic Council serving as secretariat of The Free World Commission.
  • Robin Simcox launches new London-based think tank: Counter Extremism Group. 
  • Taiwanese defense think tank to work with Microsoft on defense technologies.
  • The reason the field of Chinese foreign policy lacks diversity.
  • New CSIS report on the escalating terrorism problem in US.
  • The Federalist: Jerry Taylor, President of Niskanen Center, "threatened" couple brandishing guns at protestors outside a St. Louis home.
  • The new deputy assistant secretary of defense for industrial policy, Jeffrey Nadaner, previously worked at think tank Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA).

Thursday, July 9, 2020

How Biden-Aligned Think Tankers Got Rich

The Prospect recently wrote about how Joe Biden's foreign policy team got rich, and it just so happens that most of the people mentioned in the piece are current or former think tankers.

Here are some excerpts:
They had been public servants their whole careers. But when Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, two departing Obama officials were anxious for work. Trump’s win had caught them by surprise.
Sergio Aguirre and Nitin Chadda had reached the most elite quarters of U.S. foreign policy. Aguirre had started out of school as a fellow in the White House and a decade later had become chief of staff to U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power. Chadda, who joined the Pentagon out of college as a speechwriter, had become a key adviser to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in even less time. Now, Chadda had a long-shot idea.
They turned to an industry of power-brokering little known outside the capital: strategic consultancies.  Michèle Flournoy had served as undersecretary of defense for policy from 2009 to 2012. Both Aguirre and Chadda had known her well in the Obama administration. Since leaving office, she’d spent several years in consulting and was hitting her stride. With Flournoy as senior adviser, Boston Consulting Group’s defense contracts grew from $1.6 million in 2013 to $32 million in 2016. Before she joined, according to public records, BCG had not signed any contracts with the Defense Department.
Flournoy, while consulting, joining corporate boards, and serving as a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center, had also become CEO of the Center for a New American Security in 2014. The think tank had $48 million on hand, and defense contractors donated at least $3.8 million while she was CEO. By 2017, she was making $452,000 a year.

Others mentioned in the piece include Tony Blinken (former senior fellow at CSIS), Nicholas Burns (former visiting scholar at Wilson Center and on board of directors of Atlantic Council and CFR), Kurt Campbell (co-founder of CNAS and former scholar at CSIS), Tom Donilon (distinguished fellow at CFR), Wendy Sherman (on board of Atlantic Council), Julianne Smith (adjunct senior fellow at CNAS and formerly at CSIS and German Marshall Fund), Jake Sullivan (nonresident senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), Robert Work (former CEO of CNAS), Dan Shapiro (visiting fellow at Institute for National Security Studies), and Avril Haines (nonresident senior fellow at Brookings and on CNAS board of directors).

The article notes that Flournoy went on to form WestExec Advisors with Tony Blinken, and they partnered with Jigsaw, which is Google's in-house think tank.

Here is an Al-Monitor piece on some of Biden's foreign policy advisors.  Besides the above-mentioned Tony Blinken, Jake Sullivan, Julianne Smith, and Nicholas Burns, others advising Biden include Colin Kahl (former fellow at CFR and CNAS), Brian McKeon (on leave as Senior Director at Penn Biden Center), Jeffrety Prescott (Senior Fellow at Penn Biden Center), Ely Ratner (CNAS), and Elizabeth Rosenberg (CNAS).

It notes that many of Biden's foreign policy advisers come from four entities: Foreign Policy for America, National Security Action, Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, and WestExec Advisers.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Think Tanks Received Millions in PPP Loans

Today the US's Small Business Administration (SBA) released information on nearly 700,000 loans issued as part of the $660 billion Payroll Protection Program (PPP), and Think Tank Watch has been scouring SBA's database in search of think tanks that received money.

The database consists of small businesses and nonprofits that received at least $150,000.  Here are a few of the think tanks we found that received PPP funds:

  • Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC): $1-$2 million
  • Center for a New American Security (CNAS): $350,000 - $1 million 
  • Center for Security Policy (CSP): $150,000 - $350,000
  • Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA): $350,000 - $1 million
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS): $2-$5 million
  • Economic Policy Institute (EPI): $350,000 to $1 million
  • Institute for Policy Studies (IPS): $350,000 to $1 million
  • Institute for the Study of War (ISW): $150,000 to $350,000
  • Middle East Institute (MEI): $350,000 to $1 million
  • New America: $2-$5 million
  • Stimson Center: $350,000 to $1 million
  • Third Way: $350,000 to $1 million

As previously noted by Think Tank Watch, the Aspen Institute returned $8 million that it had received from the PPP.

The libertarian Cato Institute is one of the few think tanks that has promised not to take bailout money.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Russia Jails Think Tanker for Selling Secrets to German Firm

Here is more from Reuters:

A Russian court jailed a Russian think-tank expert specializing in military affairs to seven years on Thursday after convicting him of treason for allegedly selling secrets to a German consulting firm.
The court in Saint Petersburg said Vladimir Neyelov had admitted to selling information linked to how the Federal Security Service, the successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB, trains and retrains its operational staff. But, it said, Neyelov did not consider the data classified.
The trial was held behind closed doors because of what the court said was its classified nature, and details of the case have not been made public. The court did not name the German consulting company. 
Prior to his arrest in 2018, Neyelov had written about private military contractors and worked for two think tanks including one called the Centre for the Study of Strategic Outlooks, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper said. 

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) said that Neyelov worked with Moscow's Center for Strategic Forecasting.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#381)

  • Senior Trump economic adviser Kevin Hassett will return to his posts as Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution and VP/Managing Director of The Lindsey Group.
  • Nicol Turner Lee named as new director of Brookings Center for Technology Innovation. 
  • Julian Brave NoiseCat, VP of Policy & Strategy for the think tank Data for Progress, has been in touch with Biden's campaign about climate issues and is one of many progressives compiling a list of names for staffing a new executive branch.
  • Think tanks must abandon their saviour complex.
  • "Manpanels often held in rooms at think tanks I call Splainatoriums."
  • Rory Fleming: "Today I thought I should start a stink tank, a think tank that investigates and critiques other think tanks." 
  • Brookings has new "How We Rise" blog that offers policy solutions to upend structural racism and inequality. 
  • Event: US foundations and think tanks in world politics.
  • Asia Pacific Initiative: A Tokyo think tank which organizes exchanges between US and Japanese military officials.
  • Are think tanks too "pale, male, and Yale?"

Monday, June 29, 2020

Fact-Checker Scolds Biden on Think Tank Claim

The nonpartisan, a project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, recently wrote a piece fact-checking Joe Biden's claim that "most of the conservative think tanks," including the Heritage Foundation, agree that tax cuts championed by President Donald Trump "generated virtually no growth at all."

Here is more:
There are many economists who might agree with Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, that the tax cuts have not generated much, if any, economic growth, but most conservative think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, are not among them.
Biden’s campaign cited three articles that it says came from conservative institutions: two from the American Enterprise Institute and one from the Tax Foundation. None of them support Biden’s claim, though.
As for Biden’s specific claim that “even places like the Heritage Foundation said that [TCJA] didn’t grow the economy,” the Biden campaign did not get back to us with backup for that. But the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, says that’s false.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on the think tankers that are advising Joe Biden.