Wednesday, January 20, 2021

EastWest Institute Folds, Citing Coronavirus Pandemic

Here is more from the EastWest Institute (EWI), a think tank that focuses on international conflict resolution:

After four decades of distinctive service, the EastWest Institute’s (EWI) Board of Directors has resolved to establish a partnership with the College of Charleston to preserve the legacy of EWI visionary founder and leader, the late John Edwin Mroz; transition its programs to four new organizations to secure their continuity; and discontinue operation under the current business model, effective January 31, 2021. This decision was taken at the conclusion of a four-month strategic assessment in light of increasing challenges resulting from the global pandemic and related financial challenges facing many nonprofit organizations. The Board unanimously and enthusiastically approved the transition plan.

The second element of the transition involves the transfer of EWI’s ongoing programmatic work to four highly-respected foreign policy organizations: the Stimson Center, Observer Research Foundation America, the Atlantic Council and the George H. W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations.

 

The New York-based EWI, originally known as the Institute for East-West Security Studies, was founded in 1980.  In addition to its New York City headquarters, the think tank also has offices in San Francisco, Brussels, and Moscow.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

RAND Scholar Received Russian-Linked Postcard After Testifying Before Congress

 Here is more from Reuters:

The FBI is investigating a mysterious postcard sent to the home of cybersecurity firm FireEye’s chief executive days after it found initial evidence of a suspected Russian hacking operation on dozens of U.S. government agencies and private American companies.

U.S. officials familiar with the postcard are investigating whether it was sent by people associated with a Russian intelligence service due its timing and content, which suggests internal knowledge of last year’s hack well before it was publicly disclosed in December.

A disinformation researcher from the Rand Corporation, Todd Helmus, received a similar postcard in 2019, based on an image of it Helmus posted to Twitter. Helmus, who studies digital propaganda, said he received the postcard after testifying to Congress about Russian disinformation tactics.

 

Dr. Todd Helmus is a Senior Behavioral Scientist at the RAND Corporation and a member of the Pardee RAND Graduate School faculty.

Here is a picture of the postcard that Dr. Helmus received.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Think Tankers are Flooding Into the Biden Administration

The revolving door is spinning fast as the Biden Administration continues to hire think tankers from a wide swatch of largely center-left Washington think tanks.

Three think tank presidents have already been tapped by the Biden Administration, and a number of think tankers have been named to various senior positions in recent days, including:

  • Jake Sullivan, a former Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was named as Biden's National Security Advisor.
  • John Kerry, a Visiting Distinguished Statesman at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was named as as the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. 
  • Jen Psaki, former Vice President for Communications and Strategy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was named as White House Press Secretary.
  • Amanda Sloat of Brookings named as NSC Senior Director for European Affairs.
  • CSIS's Kathleen Hicks named as Deputy Defense Secretary.
  • Colin Kahl, who was formerly a Senior Fellow at CNAS and a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) International Affairs Fellow, has been named as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.
  • Kurt Campbell, the co-founder of CNAS, has been named for the top Asia position at the NSC. 
  • Lauren Rosenberger, Senior Fellow and Director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund (GMF), has been named as Senior Director for China at the NSC.
  • Atlantic Council board member Wendy Sherman named as No. 2 person at State Department.
  • Former CNAS CEO Victoria Nuland named as No. 3 at State.
  • Emily Horne, Vice President of Communications at Brookings, was named as an NSC spokesperson.
  • Peter Harrell, who has served as an Adjunct Senior Fellow at CNAS, was named as Senior Director for International Economics and Competitiveness at the NSC.
  • Caitlin Durkovich, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council's Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, was named as Senior Director for Resilience and Response at the NSC.
  • Tarun Chhabra, who was previously a Fellow with the Project on International Order and Strategy at Brookings, was named as Senior Director for Technology and National Security at the NSC.
  • Andrea Kendall-Taylor, who was a Senior Fellow and Director of the Transatlantic Security Program at CNAS, was named as Senior Director for Russia and Central Asia and the NSC.
  • Shanthi Kalathil, a Senior Director at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and former associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was named as Coordinator for Democracy and Human Rights at the NSC. 
  • Cara Abercrombie, who was a former Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has been named as Senior Director for Defense at the NSC. 
  • Bonnie Jenkins, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings, has been named as Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs.
  • Wally Adeyemo, a former Non-Resident Senior Adviser at CSIS, was named as Deputy Secretary of Treasury.
  • Jennifer Molina, was has worked at the Center for American Progress (CAP) and its Action Fund, was named as Senior Director of Coalitions Media.
  • Michael Fuchs, a Senior Fellow at CAP, has been named as Deputy Chief of Staff to the Vice President.
  • Jared Bernstein, formerly of CBPP and EPI, was named as a member of the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA).
  • Reema Dodin, a former term member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), was named as Deputy Director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.
  • Evan Ryan, who was named as Biden's Cabinet Secretary, is a member of CFR.
  • Joelle Gamble, a former Senior Advisor to the President and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute, has been named as Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy.
  • Thomas Zimmerman, who worked at the Pacific Council on International Policy and Center on International Cooperation, and used to work as visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, was named as Special Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel.
  • Sonia Aggarwal, who co-founded the think tank Energy Innovation, has been named as Biden's senior advisor for climate policy and innovation.

 

Think Tank Watch will continue to track all revolving door movements as think tankers move into the incoming administration and as Trump Administration officials seek employment at think tanks.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#396)

  • President Donald Trump "refused to kowtow to the elites" who run think tanks.
  • CNAS Task Force on the Future of Coercive Economic Statecraft releases new report on US coercive economic statecraft.
  • Think tankers' secret to the perfect Zoom bookshelf?
  • Private support of think tanks "is not the culture of Japan."
  • Israel's INSS releases annual risk assessment. 
  • Taiwan's president makes the virtual rounds at DC think tanks.
  • How one Berkshires town is distancing itself from a local libertarian think tank's manifesto on herd immunity.
  • Appeals court upholds bribery conviction for Chinese think tank official linked to Hunter Biden.
  • Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) plans to launch new think tanks in 2021.
  • Nick Waters of Bellingcat: Quincy Institute publishing a convicted child molester.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Carnegie Endowment President to be Next CIA Director

Bill Burns, the President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has been selected by President-elect Joe Biden to be his Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director.

Here is more from the New York Times:

President-elect Joseph R. Biden has selected William J. Burns, a career State Department official who led the U.S. delegation in secret talks with Iran, to run the Central Intelligence Agency.

In selecting Mr. Burns, Mr. Biden is turning to an experienced diplomat with whom he has a long relationship. The two men have worked together on various foreign policy issues, not just during the Obama administration, but also while Mr. Biden led the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. Burns has also long worked with Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s pick for national security adviser, and has been influential in helped foster the younger man’s career.

 

Assuming Burns is successfully confirmed by the US Senate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank which focuses on foreign policy, will need to choose a new leader. 

As Think Tank Watch has reported, several other think tanks have either announced new presidents in recent weeks or are currently searching for new presidents.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Worst Think Tank Prediction of 2020?

What was the worst prediction from a think tank in 2020?  In a piece entitled "The Worst Predictions of 2020," Politico outlines a prediction made by Hudson Institution's Richard Epstein on March 16 and March 23:

Epstein, a noted constitutional scholar affiliated with the Hoover Institute, made a bold claim on March 16: Even as Covid cases were exploding in the United States, the virus would take the lives of just 500 Americans. His estimate, published at Hoover’s website, quickly won allies in Trump world, many of whom began circulating his numbers as a sign that coronavirus panic was overblown. But there was a problem with his numbers, as Epstein noted in updates a few days later: his estimate of 500 dead was 10 times too small; the more accurate projection was 5,000 dead Americans at most.

As of late-December, more than 333,000 Americans have died from Covid-19.

 

Epstein is the Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at Hudson.  He is also the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at New York University Law School, and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

CFR President: Post-America Era Started Jan. 6, 2021

Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), one of the US's most respected foreign policy think tanks, said that the post-American era likely started on Jan 6., 2021 when hundreds of Donald Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol and occupied parts of the building for several hours.

Here is a tweet from Haass:

 

Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer said that "100 years after the founding of CFR, its president declared the end of the American-led order."  

CFR was founded in 1921 and it is celebrating its 100 years of existence.  Here is a list of what the think tank says is its most significant contributions over the last century.

Here is a look at how CFR, which currently has 5,099 members, has grown its membership since 1921.

Interesting fact: No CFR members reside in four states: West Virginia, Mississippi, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

Meanwhile, Brookings Institution President John Allen has called on Vice President Mike Pence to lead the cabinet in invoking the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from office.

Cato Institute President Peter Goettler said mob rule is not the path to liberty.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#395)

  • Progressives list 100+ candidates, including think tankers, that they want to see join the Biden Administration.
  • Wilson Center's Polar Institute launches a new Arctic Infrastructure Inventory containing 8,000 projects.
  • WaPo's Jennifer Rubin: Think tanks need to do an internal review of the Trump years.
  • US-based China scholar reminds former Chinese Vice FM that USG cannot control think tanks.
  • Presentation: Think tanks in the MENA region.
  • China's Global Times: Media and think tanks need to play a more active and constructive role in impasse of Australia-China relations.
  • Two Boston think tanks urge Gov. Charlie Barker to reject the Transportation and Climate Initiative.
  • Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft: Russian "Pearl Harbor" is threat inflation of the worst kind.
  • PhDs who work in think tanks love talking about the value of vocational training.
  • "New hobby is googling the think tanks affiliated with every rabid anti-China op-ed writer, and then looking up how much weapons contractors have contributed to them lol."

Thursday, December 31, 2020

John Walters Named as New President & CEO of Hudson Institute

Here is more from the Hudson Institute:

Hudson Institute announced John P. Walters as its new president and CEO beginning January 1, 2021. Kenneth R. Weinstein, who first joined Hudson in 1991, has led Hudson as CEO since 2005 and as president and CEO since 2011. He will become the Walter P. Stern Distinguished Fellow.

Under Weinstein’s leadership, Hudson’s annual budget tripled, growing from $7.5 million in 2005 to $20 million in 2019. Hudson’s endowment grew by almost 500% from $11 million in 2005 to over $60 million in 2019. 

John P. Walters has served as chief operating officer since joining Hudson in 2009. In that role he has overseen Hudson’s research staff and operations, while also directing Hudson Institute Political Studies and Hudson’s Center for Substance Abuse Policy Research.

Prior to joining Hudson, Walters served as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy during President George W. Bush’s two terms in office, overseeing both domestic and international drug policy. He was one of only two cabinet officers to serve through the entirety of President Bush’s tenure. From 1996 until 2001, Walters served as president of the Philanthropy Roundtable, a national association of charitable foundations and individual donors. He also served as chief of staff to Education Secretary William J. Bennett during the Reagan administration.

 

2021 will bring lots of changes to think tank leadership in Washington, DC.  Effective Jan. 1, 2021, Sharon Parrott will replace Robert Greenstein as President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

If Center for American Progress (CAP) President and CEO Neera Tanden and Center for Equitable Growth President and CEO Heather Boushey get confirmed for positions in the Biden Administration, those two think tanks will also need to find new leaders.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Think Tank Tweet of 2020

The think tank tweet of 2020 goes to Peter Singer, a Strategist & Senior Fellow at New America, who succinctly captured the feeling of all think tankers big and small amid a global pandemic that has temporarily closed the doors of numerous policy shops.


 

The humble think tank cookie, while small in size, provides the fuel needed to sustain thousands of policy wonks along with the government officials, consultants, corporate chieftains, students, academics, foreign spies, lobbyists, embassy staffers, and others who cycle in out of the hundreds of US think tanks each day.

The pandemic may have halted this sacred practice for now, but Think Tank Watch predicts that the think tank event cookie shall return in 2021.

Update: Wyatt Scott of the think tank New America says he ate significantly less cookies from not attending think tank events in 2020.  RAND's Jonathan Wong notes that the cookies at RAND's Santa Monica office are baked in-house.  Erik Brattberg of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said he always tried to make sure his think tank had nice cookies from Le Pain Quotidien.  Apple's Bobby O'Brien said he considered think tank event cookies his salary when he was an intern at the Brookings Institution in 2008.  Meanwhile, New America's Kevin Carey says the cookies at American Enterprise Institute (AEI) are the best, even though he "hates" admit it.

 

(Disclaimer: Think Tank Watch does not take donations, but since its inception, it has accepted thousands of think tank cookies from conservative, liberal, and centrist think tanks alike.)

Thursday, December 24, 2020

New Report: Think Tanks as Platforms for Authoritarian Influence

Nadege Rolland, a Senior Fellow for Political and Security Affairs at the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) and a Nonresident Fellow at the Lowy Institute, has published a new report entitled "Commanding Ideas: Think Tanks as Platforms for Authoritarian Influence."

Here is a summary:

The report describes the ways in which authoritarian countries seek to use think tanks as instruments of sharp power, focusing specifically on why and how authoritarian powers target foreign private organizations dedicated to policy-related research. Authoritarian think tanks operate much like their democratic counterparts—organizing public conferences and events, publishing research in academic journals and on their websites, and sharing analyses with media outlets. But the antiliberal and antidemocratic political systems to which these entities belong repress any form of dissent and claim control over the discursive and ideational space. The overall effect lends regime-backed narratives an artificial legitimacy. Democratic think tanks and other civil society stakeholders have a critical role to play in strengthening democratic resilience and countering authoritarian attempts to undermine intellectual freedom.

 

The report was published as part of the International Forum for Democratic Studies' "Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience" series.  That Forum is housed within the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).  The report notes that the Smith Richardson Foundation provides financial support for the series.

Prior to joining NBR, Rolland was an analyst and senior adviser on Asian and Chinese strategic issues to the French Ministry of Defense.  She is the author of the book China's Eurasian Century? Political and Strategic Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#394)

  • Brookings launches Fritz Stern Chair on Germany and trans-Atlantic relations.
  • Sen. Cortez Masto (D-NV) has raised concerns about foreign influence operations that target think tanks.
  • North Carolina right-leaning think tanks (John Locke Foundation and Civitas Institute) are merging.
  • Hudson's Michael Pillsbury will be chair of DoD's Defense Policy Board.
  • Maya Harris, VP-elect Kamala Harris's younger sister, was a senior fellow at CAP.
  • Brookings President John Allen and Tsinghua University Center for International Security and Strategy Chair Fu Ying reflect on the output of 15-month closed-door Track 2 dialogue on AI and national security.
  • Leading candidate to replace Elez Biberaj at VOA is Robert Reilly, director of the Westminster Institute, a think tank in McLean, VA that focuses on "threats from extremism and radical ideologies."
  • Iran buys influence at Western think tanks?
  • "Grateful to have reached the point in the year when think tanks stop spamming me with requests for money they don't need and instead spam with with generic holiday greetings."
  • "You can have a PhD and still be an idiot! Education and intelligence are two different things."

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

"Think Tanker" In China Offered Axios Reporter Money for Sources

Here is a clip from Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, a China reporter for Axios:

A person on LinkedIn claiming to work for a think tank run by a high-ranking Chinese Communist Party department recently offered financial compensation for the names of my sources and for reports about the incoming Biden's administration's views on China.

Why it matters: It was a surprisingly clumsy attempt to gain insider information about the U.S. government's China policy, suggesting that amid a chill in U.S.-China relations and a global pandemic, it's gotten harder for people in Beijing to know what's happening in Washington.

Details: A couple of weeks ago, someone named Aaron Shen (沈岳 in Chinese) sent me a request to connect on LinkedIn. I accepted after I saw he claimed to be the assistant director of international liaison at the China Center for Contemporary World Studies — the in-house think tank of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee (IDCPC).

 

Here is more about the China Center for Contemporary World Studies (CCCWS), which was founded in 2010.  CCCWS serves as the secretariat of the Silk Road Think Tank Association (SRTA), a grouping that provides support for China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  SRTA held a major conference on Dec. 16.

Establishing fake think tanks and fake think tankers has become very popular in recent years.  Here is an example of a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) flagging a fake think tanker.  Here is previous Think Tank Watch piece on the new trend of deepfake think tank scholars.

Here is a recent piece on a pro-India disinformation campaign that resurrected "dead" think tanks in order to target the European Union and United Nations.

Here is Wired's piece on China's 5 steps for recruiting spies.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Big Tech Using Think Tanks in EU Lobbing Effort

Here is more from the New York Times:

In Europe, [Silicon Valley technology] companies are spending more than ever, hiring former government officials, well-connected law firms and consulting firms. They funded dozens of think tanks and trade associations, endowed academic positions at top universities across the continent and helped publish industry-friendly research by other firms.

European officials criticized the biggest tech companies for laundering their influence through groups that appear impartial. In October, the European Center for International Political Economy published a report that said new tech regulations would cost the European economy two million jobs and €85 billion in lost gross domestic product. The European Center for International Political Economy is one of at least 36 trade groups, associations and think tanks that Google funds, according to Corporate Europe Observatory.

 

For years, the US's largest and most powerful technology firms, including Amazon, Alphabet (Google), and Facebook, have engaged with and donated to dozens of US-based think tanks.

Friday, December 18, 2020

HUD Secretary Ben Carson to Start a Think Tank

Here is more from Axios:

Ben Carson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has told confidants he wants to start a think tank after President Trump leaves office next month.  Carson, a neurosurgeon by trade who competed with Trump for the Republican Party's 2016 presidential nomination, wants to start an organization that will promote Trump's policies and foster bipartisan dialogue, a source in his inner circle told Axios.

It's unclear how any such group would be funded or mesh with any entity Trump launches in exile. The closest the source came to defining policy focuses was to say it would include "increasing self-sufficiency" and "promoting religious freedom."

 

While Cabinet members have often gone into the think tank world, it is very rare for them to start their own think tank.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Suspected Russian Hacking Spree Included Think Tank

Here is more from Bloomberg:

The suspected Russian hackers behind a global campaign of cyber-attacks that have breached U.S. government agencies also hit an American think tank, according to a cybersecurity firm that has been fighting them off.

For the better part of a year, investigators at Volexity have been battling hackers that they have dubbed “Dark Halo,” according to President Steven Adair. He said the hackers have made three attempts to access emails at one of its customers, a U.S. based think tank, which he declined to name.

Volexity worked on the breaches at the think tank in late 2019 and 2020, according to a blog post published Monday.

In the first breach, the attackers used “multiple tools, backdoors and malware implants” that allowed them to remain undetected for years, Volexity wrote. After being removed from the network, the hackers returned a second time and exploited a vulnerability in the organization’s Microsoft Exchange Control Panel, according to Volexity.

In the third incident, in July, the hackers breached the think tank through its SolarWinds’ software, according to the cybersecurity company.

 

Earlier this month, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a new advisory saying there are "advanced persistent threat actors" (APT) targeting US think tanks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#393)

  • New RAND Corp. study quantifies cost of rising inequality.
  • The Secure World Foundation (SWF), a think tank promoting "cooperative solutions for space sustainability and the peaceful uses of outer space."
  • "David Horowitz, an ex-leftist who was running a think tank devoted to combating the left's alleged war on American culture and white people."
  • WaPo Date Lab participant's dream date: "A Lebanese Cross-Fitter who works at a think tank."
  • CNAS, Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), and Asia-Pacific Initiative of Japan propose democratic countries form a "technology alliance" not subject to a formal treaty.
  • Former Green Beret who spied for Russia was a graduate of and teacher at the DC-based Institute of World Politics (IWP), a small but influential school in conservative policy circles.
  • CFR report proposes rich feast of reforms for America's foreign service.
  • Think tanks should not publish unsigned essays.
  • Think tanks in DC continue to sit empty amid pandemic.
  • Noah Barkin: "I am herewith proposing an OPEC-style summit of like-minded think tanks to forge agreement on a drastic reduction in the supply of webinars."

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Think Tank Report Sheds Light on How Biden Will Reshape Foreign Policy

Here is more from Foreign Policy:

Beginning in 2017, [Jake] Sullivan and a dozen others, mostly former officials in the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama, but also some veterans of Republican administrations, did something unusual for the Washington elite: They listened to what Americans outside the Washington bubble had to say. In a project organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and led by Salman Ahmed, a former Obama administration National Security Council official, the group conducted hundreds of interviews with small business owners, farmers, educators, state and local government officials, and others in Ohio, Nebraska, and Colorado, asking them what they wanted from U.S. foreign policy. The final result, published in September, was a report entitled Making U.S. Foreign Policy Work Better for the Middle Class.

The report deserves far more attention than it received in the run-up to the November elections. It embraces Trump’s most important insight—that the purpose of U.S. foreign policy is to make life better for Americans—even as it rejects Trump’s divisive nationalism on international trade and U.S. alliances. Americans want their country engaged in the world, the report argues, but not at any cost.

 

It is one of among dozens of reports that analysts, foreign governments, and other will be analyzing to get a sense of where US foreign policy may be headed in the years to come.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Liberty University's Think Tank Supported Trump Campaign

Here is more from Politico:

After shocking many in the evangelical movement by endorsing Donald Trump over other Republicans for the 2016 presidential nomination, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. pumped millions of the nonprofit religious institution’s funds into Republican causes and efforts to promote the Trump administration, blurring the lines between education and politics.

The culmination of his efforts was the creation of a university-funded campus “think tank” — which has produced no peer-reviewed academic work and bears little relation to study centers at other universities — that ran pro-Trump ads, hired Trump allies including former adviser Sebastian Gorka and current Trump attorney Jenna Ellis to serve as fellows and, in recent weeks, has aggressively promoted Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud.

The think tank — called the Falkirk Center, a portmanteau of Falwell’s name and that of GOP activist Charlie Kirk, who co-founded it — purchased campaign-season ads on Facebook, at least $50,000's worth of which were designated by the network as political ads, that promoted Trump and other Republican candidates by name.

Liberty’s actions, detailed for the first time by POLITICO, suggest the university is pushing the boundaries of its status as a nonprofit organization under section 501c(3) of the federal tax code, which forbids spending money on political campaigns.

 

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on the opening of the Falkirk Center.

Friday, December 11, 2020

EU: Disinformation Campaign by India Utilized Think Tanks

The EU DisinfoLab has a new report entitled "Indian Chronicles" in which it details findings it has uncovered of a massive operation targeting international institutions and serving Indian interests.  Among other things, the 15-year operation resurrected "dead" think tanks in order to target the European Union and United Nations.

Here is more from the full report:

In 2019, the EU DisinfoLab uncovered a vast network of 265 coordinated fake local media outlets in 65 countries serving Indian interests, as well as multiple dubious think tanks and NGOs.  This network was active in Brussels and Geneva in producing and amplifying content designed to, primarily, undermine Pakistan.

We can classify domain names connected to think tanks created by the Srivastava group to push specific agendas towards international institutions such as the United Nations Human Rights Council or the European parliament (iins.academy, iins.org, iins.uno, iinsmail.com, .net, .org for IINS -ICE-online.organd ice.uno for Indian Council of Education). Some of these think tanks such as the International Club for Peace Research (icpr-eu.com), or the previously defunct Commission for the Study for the Organization of Peace (CSOPUS.com), have been central in creating and maintaining a reputation smoke screen around the operation and ordering reports to specific individuals.

We could also find that other think tanks (iffras.org IFFRAS, sadf.eu South Asia Democratic Forum, westt.eu WESTT) have been established for instance with email addresses tied to some other of Srivastava Group’s websites, or by individuals with links to the Indian lobbying company. These think tanks have provided regular partisan reports on Indian-related topics as well as organising and/or sponsoring controversial events or visits in India or to places where Indian-related topics were discussed such as the United Nations.

Eventually, we also identified a domain name linked to the mysterious NGO Coordinating committee for Human Rights (ncchr.org), which may have helped to coordinate the presence of other NGOs in Geneva. This specific asset is officially a spin-off of the IINS think tank.

 

Here is a map of the fake think tanks and lobby organizations that have been exposed by the EU.

In recent years, there has been a proliferation of governments and various global actors setting up "fake" think tanks and creating "fake" think tank scholars (or mimicking real think tank experts) for various purposes.  However, this is the first time in recent memory that anyone has resurrected defunct think tanks in order to deceive someone.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#392)

  • AEI President Robert Doar calls on Trump to cooperate with Biden transition.
  • CAP chief Neera Tanden to remain at think tank through confirmation but has suspended her involvement in fundraising for CAP.
  • Heritage Action has trio of ads knocking Raphael Warnock in Georgia.
  • NATO should expand its focus to include China, says study commissioned by NATO that was co-chaired by Wess Mitchell, co-founder of the Center for European Policy Analysis.
  • More than 1,000 Chinese researchers have left the US amid a US crackdown on alleged technology theft, according to US security officials, who said that Chinese agents had already been targeting the incoming Biden Administration.
  • Win Without War and Center for International Policy (CIP) convene call with 100 other groups to try to get on the same page and make a more coherent pitch about left-wing personnel choices for Biden.
  • CSIS hosts Japan event entitled "An Equal Ally Alliance" with 9 American speakers and no Japanese speakers, Politico points out.
  • "Weirdest thing about Star Wars movies is probably the total absence of think tanks."
  • Welsh think tank funded by US group that promotes right wing ideology.
  • Thread on the pitfalls of think tank rankings.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

US Security Agencies: "Advanced Persistent Threat Actors" Targeting Think Tanks

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have issued a new advisory saying there are "advanced persistent threat actors" (APT) targeting US think tanks.

They note that the malicious activity is often, but not exclusively, directed at individuals and organizations that focus on international affairs or national security policy.

The advisory provides guidance to help assist think tanks in developing network defense procedures to prevent or rapidly detect these attacks.

The APT actors have used spearphising emails and third-party message services directed at both individual and corporate accounts, as well as exploiting vulnerable web-facing devices and remote connection capabilities.

The advisory also notes that increased telework during the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent reliance on remote connectivity "has afforded malicious actors more opportunities to exploit those connections and to blend in with increased traffic."

"Given the importance that think tanks can have in shaping US policy, CISA and the FBI urge individuals and organizations in the international affairs and national security sectors to immediately adopt a heightened state of awareness and implement the critical steps" listed in the advisory.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Trump Alumni Thriving in Think Tank World

While a number of current and former Trump Administration officials are worried about their job prospects going forward, several former high-level Trump officials have been thriving in the think tank world.  Here is more from The American Prospect:

 

After leaving the White House, [H.R. McMaster] quickly rose to the top of the think-tank industry. The Hudson Institute endowed a new role for him with support from the Japanese government. He also joined the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Soon, he was invited to sit on the boards of the Atlantic Council, Foreign Policy Research Institute, International Republican Institute, Smith Richardson Foundation, and West Point.

Academia welcomed him, too. He snagged a two-book deal from HarperCollins and went to write the first book at Stanford. The university’s Hoover Institution named him the Fouad and Michelle Ajami Senior Fellow.  Condoleezza Rice now directs the Hoover Institution, where COVID quacks Scott Atlas and Richard Epstein sit. (In a press release, Stanford recently rebuked Atlas, who serves on the White House coronavirus task force, but McMaster declined to comment on his colleague.)

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis has a board seat at the giant weapons-maker General Dynamics, a day job at the powerful consultancy the Cohen Group, and a fellowship from Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

Lesser-known aides have also thrived. National-security assistant Dina H. Powell McCormick secured a senior fellowship at Harvard’s Belfer Center (alongside many Biden officials-in-waiting). She returned to Goldman Sachs and was immediately promoted to a more senior role. Mira Ricardel, Bolton’s deputy, is now consulting for the Chertoff Group, and Nadia Schadlow, McMaster’s chief strategist, got a plum job at the far-right Hudson Institute think tank, where fellow Trump compatriots sit.

 

Just as the Hudson Institute, Hoover Institution, Heritage Foundation, and other conservative think tanks staffed up the Trump Administration, it is now time for the revolving door to bring them back in for plum think tank assignments.

The think tank Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) runs the Revolving Door Project (RDP), which scrutinizes executive branch appointees "to ensure they use their office to serve the broad public interest, rather than to entrench corporate power or seek personal advancement."  

RDP has been carefully following the incoming Biden Administration and has been critical of some potential Biden nominees from think tank land.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#391)

  • Sharon Parrott replacing Bob Greenstein as president of CBPP.
  • CSIS's Burke Chair in Strategy examines how think tanks have failed to cover the Afghan peace process.
  • Aspen Institute to get $1 million donation from Bank of America.
  • Emmanuel Macron - a "think tanker-in-chief." 
  • Matthew Yglesias is joining Niskanen Center as a senior fellow.
  • Conservatives groups, including some think tanks, have backed off from hiring soon-to-depart Trump Administration officials after growing concerned about the consequences.
  • First think tank state of the sector report, via On Think Tanks.
  • New trend in French high schools: Think tanks rather than student unions.
  • Trump Administration has opted to extend background vetting of DoD appointees to nonpolitical roles, a move that is said to be hampering top think tank experts from consulting with the Pentagon on policy matters.
  • New Consensus, a left-wing think tank led by AOC's former chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti, argues that Biden could team up with the Fed and Treasury to provide trillions of dollars of low-interest loans to build the "industries of tomorrow" and help small businesses suffering because of the pandemic.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan Joins CSIS Board of Trustees

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has joined the Board of Trustees at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Since leaving Congress, he launched the American Idea Foundation (AIF), an organization that expands economic opportunity by partnering with local organizations and academics to advance evidence-based public policies.

Ryan is also a Distinguished Visiting Fellow in the Practice of Public Policy at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI). 

It is possible that Ryan could be named to head a major US think tank in the next few years, and AEI and CSIS are possible candidates.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post about the American Idea Foundation.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Think Tank Founder Tapped for CEA Comes Under Fire

Anyone following the presidential transition closely knows that Neera Tanden, the President and CEO of the Center for American Progress (CAP), is taking incoming from all sides after being tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to be director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

What is not as well known is that another of Biden's recent economic picks is also under fire: Heather Boushey, the President, CEO and Co-Founder of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.  Here is more from Bloomberg:

Heather Boushey, named by President-elect Joe Biden as a member of his Council of Economic Advisers, was criticized on Tuesday by a former employee who alleged she was pushed out of her job after publishing a blog post that Boushey didn’t like.

Claudia Sahm, a former Federal Reserve economist, worked at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth that Boushey leads but left the position in October, two months after publishing a viral blog post that claimed racist, sexist and elitist harassment in the economics field.

“I no longer see Heather Boushey as committed to diversity and inclusion,” Sahm wrote in the post published on her blog.

She says she was subject to performance reviews following her initial post, and that Boushey never replied to a request to meet after the essay went viral.

Five staff members left Equitable Growth from 2014 to 2015, citing her management as a factor for their resignations. That’s according to an internal Center for American Progress document in 2015 and disclosed in the WikiLeaks hack of the personal email of John Podesta, a founder of CAP and the Center for Equitable Growth. Equitable Growth was started at CAP in 2013.

 

Should Tanden and Boushey ultimately get the nod to work in the Biden Administration, both CAP and Equitable Growth will need to choose new leaders.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Think Tank Files as a Foreign Agent for Korea

A longtime Washington think tank has just registered as a foreign agent for South Korea, an exceedingly rare move that was spurred on by the US Department of Justice, which administers the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), taking an increasingly broad view of FARA's scope in recent months.

Here is more from Foreign Lobby Report:

The progressive Center for International Policy (CIP) in Washington has registered as a foreign agent of the Korea Foundation, a Korean think tank that is partly funded by South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Henri Feron, a senior fellow on East Asia and International Law at CIP, has been awarded a one-year, $30,000 grant to conduct a study aimed at identifying a “a middle ground for all three conflict dimensions in Korea — the Korean War, the Korean Peninsula in Sino-American rivalry, and nuclear weapons.” The center objected to registering with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) but felt compelled to under the department’s increasingly expansive interpretation of the law in recent years.

 

Interestingly, CIP has recently written several reports critical of foreign funding of think tanks.  Donors to CIP include the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), a directorate under the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Waxman Strategies, a lobbying firm founded by the son of former Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), has registered as a foreign agent for Norwegian-funded projects with CIP.

Meanwhile, a number of larger Washington think tanks that work with and essentially lobby on behalf of foreign governments, such as the Brookings Institution, Atlantic Council, and Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), have so far declined to register as foreign agents.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece entitled "Think Tanks May Soon Have to File as Foreign Agents Under FARA."

The US Congress has toyed with the idea of clarifying FARA rules for think tanks over the years with little success.  As noted in a recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, a 2016 Inspector General report suggested refining FARA's broadly worded exemptions which sometimes make it difficult for think tanks that receive funding and direction from foreign governments to determine whether they qualify as foreign agents.

In October, the Trump Administration demanded that US think tanks and academic institutions publicly disclose what funding they receive from foreign governments or otherwise risk losing access to State Department officials.

After that declaration, some law firms suggested that think tanks should seriously consider filing under FARA.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Brookings Scholar Janet Yellen Tapped as Biden's Treasury Secretary

Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, who is currently a Distinguished Fellow in Residence for Economic Studies at the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institution, has been nominated for Treasury Secretary in the incoming Biden Administration.

Here is more from The Hill: 

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday named former Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen as his nominee for Treasury secretary, formalizing a nomination that has been expected for more than a week.

Biden announced Yellen as his Treasury pick in a release that also tapped a number of others for posts on his economic team, including Neera Tanden as his budget director and Cecilia Rouse as chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Yellen, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, would be the first woman to serve as Treasury secretary. Her credentials among liberal Democrats and decades of federal government experience made her an early front-runner for the crucial post, though many progressives had hoped Biden would pick Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

 

Brookings notes that she is now on leave from Brookings.

In related news, think tankers Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey were selected as members of Biden's Council of Economic Advisers (CEA).

Bernstein is a Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), and Boushey is the President, CEO, and Co-founder of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

Monday, November 30, 2020

President of Liberal Think Tank CAP Tapped as Biden's OMB Chief

Here is more from the Wall Street Journal:

President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to nominate Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget is already stirring tensions on Capitol Hill, where Republicans say her past comments will threaten her confirmation and undercut the new president’s pledge to calm political waters.

Ms. Tanden, currently the head of the Center for American Progress, a center-left think tank, has become an early lightning rod in Mr. Biden’s rollout of his team in part due to comments she has made on Twitter. She has used the platform to regularly criticize President Trump and Republican lawmakers, including floating allegations involving Russia, while also tussling with the left wing of the Democratic Party.

 

Fox News notes that Tanden privately trashed him in 2015, saying he would make Hillary Clinton look better by comparison.

Socialist magazine Jacobin says the Tanden pick "even is worse than you thought."

NBC lists five things to know about Neera Tanden.

If Biden gets confirmed by the Senate, it is unclear who would replace who as head of CAP.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#390)

  • White House bashes think tanks.
  • Atlantic Council launches LGBTI in Foreign Policy Fellowship Program.
  • Webinar: US think tanks in world politics.
  • Cornell event: Think tanks and the PhD.
  • Pic: How US think tanks are feeling after election season.
  • Experts from four international think tanks share thoughts on Biden's transition.
  • IISS event: How spies think.
  • CSIS paid interns "years before" most other think tanks.
  • Think tanks on where the US is headed following the election.
  • Twitt Lists best think tank Twitter accounts.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Japan's Major Outreach to US Think Tanks

The Center for International Policy's (CIP) Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative (FITI) has published a new report on Japan's influence in the US.

The report was fairly narrow in scope, and only analyzed Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) statements from 2019.  It showed, among other things, that 51 different firms served as Japan's registered foreign agents in the US, and there was reported spending of nearly $32 million by Japan on FARA-registered firms.

The report showed that think tanks were contacted at least 476 times in Japan's influence efforts in 2019.  "[With think tanks, there is] little or no information on who was potentially influenced, as 444 of the 476 contacts were unreported by the Okinawa Prefecture DC Office."

Added the report: "More contact definitely took place than what was reported in FARA, with think tanks perhaps even less forthcoming about their donors than FARA-filing forms are about their outreach on behalf of foreign governments, as demonstrated in other FITI reporting."

FITI notes that it previously found that from 2014-2018, Japan contributed close to $5 million to US think tanks as the largest East Asian donor and ranking 11th among all foreign funders.

The report received financial funding through the Charles Koch Foundation and the Open Society Foundations.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Think Tank WRI Receives $100 Million Donation From Bezos

Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has just given the largest single donation a think tank has ever received, with $100 million going to the World Resources Institute (WRI) based in Washington, DC.

Here is more from the Washington Post:

Jeff Bezos said Monday he is giving $791 million to 16 groups fighting climate change, the first grants from his Earth Fund, saying the money is “just the beginning of my $10 billion commitment to fund scientists, activists, NGOs, and others."

More than half of the donations went to established environmental groups, with $100 million donations each going to the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Nature Conservancy, the World Resources Institute and the World Wildlife Fund.

Leaders of the groups receiving funds said they met earlier this year with Bezos and his partner Lauren Sánchez to discuss what they would do with the grants. Bezos has a small team, including from his personal office, helping to figure out how to parcel out the funds, they said. He will likely hire more people to assist with the Earth Fund.

The World Resources Institute, which will receive $100 million over five years, said it will use the money for two major initiatives. This first is to develop a new satellite-powered land-use and carbon-emissions monitoring system to measure the impact of conservation and restoration of forests, grasslands, wetlands and agricultural lands on reducing emissions. The other project will try to spur the electrification of school buses, with a goal of converting more than 450,000 to zero-emissions vehicles by 2030, the organization said.

 

Here is a press release from WRI, which was established in 1982 with funding from the MacArthur Foundation.

Although not as well known as other think tanks, such as the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation, WRI has fairly hefty annual revenues: $132 million according to the latest disclosure in 2019.

WRI donors include: Asian Development Bank (ADB), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Cargill Inc., Citi Foundation, FedEx Corp., Ford Foundation, IKEA Foundation, National Geographic Society, PepsiCo, Inc., Google Inc., 3M, eBay, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Hershey, Mars Inc., Shell, Target, Walt Disney, Pfizer, Bank of America, Microsoft, Shell Foundation, UPS Foundation, Walmart Foundation, USAID, FDA, and US Department of State.  

The governments of Australia, Ireland, UK, Sweden, Poland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, France, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands are also donors.

While colleges and universities have received $100+ million gifts, it is the first time any think tank has received that amount.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Dozens of Think Tankers Helping with the Biden Transition

The transition team of Joe Biden has just announced agency review teams to help with the transition of presidential power, and a number of think tankers are helping with the effort.

There are at least 42 people from 16 different think tanks on Biden's agency review teams, including:

  • Ellen Hughes-Cromwick: Third Way
  • Todd Tucker: The Roosevelt Institute
  • Kath Hicks: Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
  • Susanne Blume: Center for a New American Security (CNAS)
  • Sharon Burke: New America
  • Melissa Dalton: CSIS
  • Andrew Hunter: CSIS
  • Stacie Pettyjohn: RAND Corporation
  • Ely Ratner: CNAS
  • Terri Tanielian: RAND Corporation
  • Christine Wormuth: RAND Corporation
  • Kathryn Alvarez: Aspen Institute
  • Jeremy Konyndyk: Center for Global Development (CGD)
  • Sharon Parrott: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP)
  • Blas Nunez-Neto: RAND Corporation
  • Erika Poethig: Urban Institute
  • Peggy Bailey: CBPP
  • Solomon Greene: Urban Institute
  • Jocelyn Frye: Center for American Progress (CAP)
  • Viv Graubard: New America
  • Jenny Yang: Urban Institute
  • Hady Amr: Brookings Institution
  • Derek Chollet: German Marshall Fund (GMF)
  • Ellison Laskowski: GMF
  • Dana Stroul: Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP)
  • Margaret Taylor: Brookings
  • Kate Kelly: CAP
  • Andy Green: CAP
  • Nancy Lee: CGD
  • Elizabeth Rosenberg: CNAS
  • Kayla Williams: CNAS
  • Bill Baer: Brookings
  • Jung Pak: Brookings
  • Kelly Magsamen: CAP
  • Christine Linke Young: Brookings
  • Kim Leary: Urban Institute
  • Elizabeth Kelley: Urban Institute
  • Brad Setser: Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
  • Ryan Zamarripa: CAP
  • Jack Smalligan: Urban Institute
  • Margaret Taylor: Brookings
  • Leonardo Martinez: World Resources Institute (WRI) 

 

Many of these people will eventually go into a Biden Administration, and others will go back to the think tank world and beyond.

The list tilts heavily toward center-left think tanks, although there are a handful of scholars from progressive think tanks.  It is not a shock that none of the major conservative-leaning think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation, Hudson Institute, Hoover Institution, and American Enterprise Institute (AEI), are on the list.

There is nobody from Atlantic Council or the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on the agency review teams, although a number of scholars from those institutions are on the broader transition team.

A headline from the socialist Jacobin magazine: "Biden is Already Loading His Pentagon Transition Team With Pro-War Think Tank Staffers."

Air Force Magazine's headline: "Biden's DOD Transition Team Taps Think Tanks, Cross-Agency Experience."

In These Times notes that one third of Biden's Pentagon transition team hails from organizations financed by the weapons industry, including think tanks.

Here is a Think Tank Watch post from 2016 about the tectonic shift from liberal-leaning think tanks to conservative ones as Trump was coming into office.  The past four years, the most powerful US think tanks all started with the letter "H."

Fun fact of the day: There is a think tank that studies transitions - Center for Presidential Transition.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#389)

  • China's top climate think tanks push for more cuts to coal use and emissions. 
  • Top Biden economic adviser Ben Harris rose through Washington's think tank world.
  • The progressive think tanks favored by Biden's top economic advisor.
  • AFPC chief: Think tanks should disclose foreign funding.
  • Network of nearly 1,300 websites that masquerade as news outlets but are propaganda ordered up by think tanks.
  • The story about German Marshall Fund's (GMF) home in DC.
  • EURACTIV:  Think tanks and ethics - a contradiction in terms?
  • Stanford Daily: Thinks tanks vs. universities.
  • How think tanks and the media shape Australia's foreign policy.
  • Taiwan, Indian think tank sign cooperation deal.
  • Think tanks square off over more gov't oversight of Michigan's charter schools.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

North Korea Targeting Think Tanks

Here is more from ClearanceJobs:

This week, a joint cybersecurity advisory was released by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the U.S. Cyber Command Cyber National Mission Force (CNMF). The advisory warned that a North Korean advanced persistent threat (APT) group known as “Kimsuky” was directed at worldwide targets in an effort to gain intelligence on various topics of interest to the government in Pyongyang.

Its intelligence collection activities have focused on foreign policy and national security issues related to the Korean peninsula, nuclear policy, and sanctions. The main targets have been experts in various fields, think tanks, and South Korean government entities.

North Korea is one of numerous countries that has targeted think tanks in recent years.