Saturday, October 24, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#388)

  • RAND Corp. chief: Think tanks in the era of truth decay.
  • RAND finds credible evidence of interference in the 2020 election on Twitter. 
  • Julian Castro joins board of directors at Center for American Progress (CAP).
  • Beware of COVID-19 punditry.
  • Vladimir Putin warns think tankers about climate change.
  • New free-market think tank launched in Montana: Frontier Institute.
  • Full-page ad to think tankers in the Wall Street Journal.
  • Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) laying off staff.
  • Nate Silver: Once someone gets a PhD, it becomes 10x harder to convince them they're wrong.
  • Conservative think tank AEI says Biden plan would cut taxes for most in 2021.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

New Chinese Video Warning of Foreign Think Tanks

The Chinese Consulate in Sydney has tweeted out a 40-second video on "how think tanks, the media, and politicians work together in driving anti-China sentiment worldwide":

https://twitter.com/ChinaConSydney/status/1316197031103401986?s=2https://twitter.com/ChinaConSydney/status/1316197031103401986?s=20https://twitter.com/ChinaConSydney/status/131619703110340

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on Chinese think tank scholars turning aggressive against the US, and here is a recent post about a Chinese company harvesting data on foreign think tankers.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Chinese Think Tank Scholars Turn Aggressive Against US

 Here is more from the New York Times:

Chinese propaganda is rarely subtle or particularly persuasive, but the torrent of bombast online and in state media in recent weeks is striking and potentially ominous.

The targets are China’s main adversaries: the United States and Taiwan, which are moving closer and closer together.

A harsher tone has spread not only in state media, but also among Chinese academics and analysts with government-linked think tanks who influence policy debates.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch post on a Chinese company harvesting data on overseas think tankers.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Will a Hoover Inst. Scholar Cost Trump the Election?

 Here is more from the Washington Post:

As summer faded into autumn and the novel coronavirus continued to ravage the nation unabated, Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist whose commentary on Fox News led President Trump to recruit him to the White House, consolidated his power over the government’s pandemic response.

Atlas shot down attempts to expand testing. He openly feuded with other doctors on the coronavirus task force and succeeded in largely sidelining them. He advanced fringe theories, such as that social distancing and mask-wearing were meaningless and would not have changed the course of the virus in several hard-hit areas. And he advocated allowing infections to spread naturally among most of the population while protecting the most vulnerable and those in nursing homes until the United States reaches herd immunity, which experts say would cause excess deaths, according to three current and former senior administration officials.

Atlas also cultivated Trump’s affection with his public assertions that the pandemic is nearly over, despite death and infection counts showing otherwise, and his willingness to tell the public that a vaccine could be developed before the Nov. 3 election, despite clear indications of a slower timetable.

Scott Atlas is the Robert Wesson Senior Fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, and his biography can be found here.  He is also a Member of the think tank's Working Group on Health Care Policy.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#387)

  • Brookings forcing all employees back to DC-area by Dec. 31? 
  • Condi Rice takes the reigns at Hoover Institution.
  • Diversity in think tanks: what needs to change?
  • Literary figures join Extinction Rebellion campaign against think tanks.
  • How philanthropy benefits the super rich (and think tanks).
  • Think tank quote of the month: "Silence is the think tank of the soul."
  • Australian think tank ASPI finds 380 detention camps in Xinjiang.
  • Jarrett Carter Sr.: Now is the time for HBCU think tanks.
  • A reading list of think tank credibility.
  • There exists a Center for International Policy and a Center for Global Policy.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Top 50 Think Tanks Raked in $1+ Billion From Defense Contractors & US Government the Past 5 Years

It is no secret that the US government gives a ton of money to US think tanks, which also receive a ton of money from defense contractors.

Now, a new report from the Center for International Policy's (CIP) Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative (FITI) tells us how much money the top 50 US think tanks have brought in the past five years from those entities: $1+ billion.

It should be noted, however, that most of that money - $1,209,100,000 to be more precise - was actually given to one think tank: RAND Corporation.  The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) was the 2nd largest recipient over the past five years, bringing in $8,946,000 (i.e., 1/135, or 0.7% of what RAND took in).  The third largest recipient was Atlantic Council, which brought in $8,697,000.

The amounts are likely much higher due to the fact that think tanks often report funding levels for a particular entity within a range of figures, and FITI used the minimum amount from those ranges.  Moreover, many think tanks grossly underreport or simply do not disclose funding information.

According to the report, the top 5 defense contractor donors to US think tanks are:

  1. Northrop Grumman: $4,551,252
  2. Raytheon: $2,830,000
  3. Boeing: $2,746,075
  4. Lockheed Martin: $2,670,000
  5. Airbus: $2,140,000

And the top 5 US government donors to think tanks are:

  1. Office of the Secretary of Defense (and other national security agencies): $391,720,000
  2. US Air Force: $281,400,000
  3. US Army: $246,321,000
  4. Department of Homeland Security: $111,192,255
  5. Department of State: $9,090,478

The full report, which contains a handful of errors and questionable details, can be found here.   

Here is some more commentary from FITI's Holly Zhang and here is some from FITI's Cassandra Stimpson. 

Here is more about the report from The American Conservative.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Private Briefings at Think Tank Fueled Market Sell-Off

Let's face it, most think tank meetings are soporific affairs of questionable importance that are rarely newsworthy or noteworthy.  But on rare occasions, an event can really create waves, including ones that can roil global markets.

Here is an example from the New York Times.

On the afternoon of Feb. 24, President Trump declared on Twitter that the coronavirus was “very much under control” in the United States, one of numerous rosy statements that he and his advisers made at the time about the worsening epidemic. He even added an observation for investors: “Stock market starting to look very good to me!”

But hours earlier, senior members of the president’s economic team, privately addressing board members of the conservative Hoover Institution, were less confident. Tomas J. Philipson, a senior economic adviser to the president, told the group he could not yet estimate the effects of the virus on the American economy. To some in the group, the implication was that an outbreak could prove worse than Mr. Philipson and other Trump administration advisers were signaling in public at the time.

The next day, board members — many of them Republican donors — got another taste of government uncertainty from Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council.

The document, written by a hedge fund consultant who attended the three-day gathering of Hoover’s board, was stark. “What struck me,” the consultant wrote, was that nearly every official he heard from raised the virus “as a point of concern, totally unprovoked.”

 

The memo that the NYT referenced was written by William Callanan, a Hoover board member and hedge fund consultant.

NYT also notes that Hoover has close relations with the Trump Administration, and the White House has "pulled from its ranks" to fill top positions.

"Joshua D. Rauh, one of the White House economists addressing the Hoover crowd on Feb. 24, has returned to the institution, where he worked previously. Kevin Hassett, who moderated the panel and has served as the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, is now a Hoover Institution fellow.  Dr. Scott W. Atlas, a Hoover fellow and Stanford professor known for his unorthodox positions on encouraging 'herd immunity,' was named to Mr. Trump’s coronavirus task force in August," says the newspaper.

Here is a piece from Institutional Investor entitled "Who is William Callanan, the Hedge Fund 'Outsourced Strategy Officer' at the Center of an Explosive NYT Report?"

Update: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has asked two US financial market regulators to investigate whether the private Hudson meeting with Trump officials spurred insider trading.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Trump Admin. Demands Foreign Donor Disclosure From Think Tanks

 Here is more from Politico:

The Trump administration is demanding that U.S. think tanks and academic institutions publicly disclose what funding they receive from foreign governments or otherwise risk losing access to State Department officials.

The move, unveiled in a statement Tuesday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, comes amid growing bipartisan concern about the role outside governments, ranging from China to the United Arab Emirates, play in shaping academic and policy debates in the United States.

“To protect the integrity of civil society institutions, the [State] Department requests henceforth that think tanks and other foreign policy organizations that wish to engage with the department disclose prominently on their websites funding they receive from foreign governments, including state-owned or state-operated subsidiary entities,” Pompeo said in the statement.

“Disclosure is not a requirement for engaging with such entities,” he added. “Department staff will, however, be mindful of whether disclosure has been made and of specific funding sources that are disclosed when determining whether and how to engage.”

 

Politico says that it is not immediately clear what prompted the demand for the disclosure, while noting that critics have long raised concerns about foreign funding of think tanks and universities.

Another Politico story says that the move has no legal force behind it.

Here is what the Washington Free Beacon had to say about the move.

Here is the statement from the US State Department.  Here is a tweet from State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus about the measure, and one from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Here is what the White House's Peter Navarro had to say.

Here is what the Atlantic Council had to say about State's announcement.

The Heritage Foundation praised the measure.

Ben Freeman, Director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative (FITI), says that the State Department's announcement is "exactly" what FITI's Jan. 2020 report on foreign funding of US think tanks recommended.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

First-Ever Ranking of Think Tanks via Artificial Intelligence

A new ranking of think tanks uses artificial intelligence to determine the world's most influential policy shops.

Here is more:

Founded in October 2016, with funding assistance from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Influence Networks created proprietary machine learning technology—the Influence Engine—to measure true influence. Using this technology, AcademicInfluence.com examines billions of open-source, crowd-edited data points, mapping lines of influence through continuously updated data repositories, including Wikipedia and Crossref. These databases result in analysis that resists being gamed or undermined by single-source editorial bias. AcadmicInfluence.com now opens access to these user-customizable search capabilities so that students, researchers, and inquirers can discover the most influential people and institutions, providing the answers users seek with the objectivity they need.

Based on its machine learning algorithm, Academic Influence lists the top 10 think tanks as:

  1. Brookings Institution
  2. Heritage Foundation
  3. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
  4. Cato Institute
  5. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
  6. American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
  7. RAND Corporation
  8. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  9. Atlantic Council
  10. Hoover Institution

Here is a full list of the 50 most influential think tanks in the world, as well as more information on how the ranking was determined.  Think Tank Watch expects that there will be a robust debate about the positives and negatives of this particular ranking.

The top-ranked non-US think tank is the Berlin-headquartered European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), which comes in at #16 on the list.  ECFR is followed by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which is #17 on the list.

Academic Influence recently ranked the 50 most influential universities in the world, with Harvard University at #1, University of London at #2, and Stanford University at #3.

It has also ranked the most influential political scientists (here), as well as the most influential historians (here).  And here is its list of the most influential people from 1800 - 2020.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Sleuth Finds Flaw in RAND Corp.'s "A Million Random Digits"

 Here is an excerpt from The Wall Street Journal:

For 65 years, Rand Corp.’s reference book “A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates” has enjoyed a reputation as the go-to source for random numbers.

Until, on a random whim, Gary Briggs came along and ruined it all.

Mr. Briggs, a Rand software engineer, spent his spring rifling through the million digits and discovered that while the numbers inside are indeed quite random, the venerated book is not quite right.

RAND was founded in 1948 and is headquartered in Santa Monica, California.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Khashoggi's Think Tank Launches

 Here is more from Foreign Lobby Report:

The brainchild of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi became a reality today, joining a growing chorus of human rights groups advocating for a rethink of US ties to Arab autocracies.

Friends and former colleagues of the late Washington Post columnist formally launched Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) almost two years to the day since his Oct. 2 killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The group’s executive director, Sarah Leah Whitson, described the nonprofit as a “hybrid organization” combining human rights research and advocacy, think tank analysis and a publishing platform for exiled voices from the region during a livestreamed launch event.

The organization is funded by friends of Khashoggi and “foundations,” Whitson said, and does not take government money.

Here is a Washington Post piece on the launch of DAWN.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Chinese Company Harvesting Data on Think Tankers

 Here is more from the Washington Post:

Biographies and service records of aircraft carrier captains and up-and-coming officers in the U.S. Navy. Real-time tweets originating from overseas U.S. military installations. Profiles and family maps of foreign leaders, including their relatives and children. Records of social media chatter among China watchers in Washington.

Those digital crumbs, along with millions of other scraps of social media and online data, have been systematically collected since 2017 by a small Chinese company called Shenzhen Zhenhua Data Technology for the stated purpose of providing intelligence to Chinese military, government and commercial clients, according to a copy of the database that was left unsecured on the Internet and retrieved by an Australian cybersecurity consultancy.

Aside from military figures, the database seemed to scoop up tweets from influential China watchers in Washington. Tweets from Scott Kennedy, a China trade expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, frequently surface in the database, as do missives from Bill Bishop, publisher of the Sinocism newsletter, and Lyle Morris, who studies the PLA at the Rand Corp.

 

On Sept. 29, Microsoft said it has seen a major spike in foreign efforts to target US think tanks. 

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on hackers targeting think tanks in an attempt to gather 2020 US election information.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Another New America Foundation Co-Founder Dies

 Here is more from Politico:

Sherle Schwenninger, one of the co-founders of New America, died Wednesday at 69. From his family: “Sherle was also founding director of the World Economic Roundtable, a joint venture of The Institute for New Economic and New America NYC … From 2007 to 2015, he was director of New America’s Economic Growth Program … The overreaching goal of Sherle’s life was advancing world peace and stability through his policy work and mentoring others to advance his ideals. Sherle wrote and spoke frequently on questions relating to the U.S. and world economies and on issues related to American foreign policy and international economic strategy. … A celebration of life will be held at a later date.”

A few weeks, ago, another New America Foundation co-founder, Ted Halstead, died.

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.