Saturday, January 22, 2022

US a Backsliding Democracy for 1st Time, Says Think Tank

Here is more from the Washington Post:

The United States for the first time was added to a list of “backsliding democracies” in a report released Monday by the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

“The United States, the bastion of global democracy, fell victim to authoritarian tendencies itself, and was knocked down a significant number of steps on the democratic scale,” the International IDEA’s Global State of Democracy 2021 report said.

 The study, which analyzed trends from 2020 to 2021, found that more than a quarter of the world’s population now lives in democratically backsliding countries, which International IDEA defines as nations seeing a gradual decline in the quality of their democracy.


The article notes that an Oct. 2020 study by the Washington, DC-based think tank Freedom House found that democracy and human rights had worsened in 80 countries since March of that year. 

Meanwhile, in her new book How Civil Wars Start, Barbara Walter draws on data compiled by the Center for Systematic Peace, as well as Freedom House, Polity V, and Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project to highlight key factors that make civil war likely.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Billionaires Play Big Role in Funding of New Think Tank Institute for Progress (IFP)

Get ready to learn another think think tank acronym: IFP.  It stands for Institute for Progress, a new Washington, DC-based think tank that has been launched by Caleb Watney and Alec Stapp.  

Its mission is to "accelerate scientific, technological, and industrial progress while safeguarding humanity's future."  The founders say they will spend most of their initial attention on three key areas: 1) Metascience, 2) Immigration, and 3) Biosecurity.

Mr. Watney, the Co-CEO, was the director for innovation policy at the think tank Progressive Policy Institute (PPI).  Before that, he worked as a technology policy fellow at the R Street Institute and as a graduate research fellow at the Mercatus Center.

Mr. Stapp, the other Co-CEO, was the director of technology policy at PPI, a research fellow at the International Center for Law and Economics, a technology policy fellow at the Niskanen Center, and a graduate research fellow at the Mercatus Center. 

Scholars at the think tank include senior biosecurity fellow Nikki Teran, who previously worked with the Committee on International Security and Arms Control at the National Academy of Science, the Council on Strategic Risks, and the Open Philanthropy Project.  Another scholar is senior immigration fellow Jeremy Neufeld, who previously worked at the Niskanen Center.

There are currently three external board members: Tamara Winter, who formerly worked at the Charter Cities Institute and the Mercacuts Center; Dan Correa, a former Obama Administration official who was CEO of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and worked at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute as well as the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF); and Zachary Graves, a visiting fellow at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School who formerly worked at the Cato Institute and R Street Institute.

IFP, whose new website can be found here, only accepts funding from individuals and foundations.  It is currently funded with the support of Open Philanthropy, Emergent Ventures, Patrick Collison, John Collison, and Sam Bankman-Fried.

Facebook co-founder Dustin Muskowitz and wife Cari Tuna are the main funders of Open Philanthropy, an entity which supports numerous think tanks.  George Mason University's Mercatus Center houses Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program which was launched with a $1 million grant from the Thiel Foundation.  That foundation was created and funded by billionaire Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook.

Patrick Collison and his brother John Collison are Irish billionaires who co-founded online payment processor Stripe.  Sam Bankman-Fried, another billionaire, is the founder and CEO of FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange.

IFP joins a crowded field of policy shops in Washington, which has more than 400 think tanks large and small.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#434)

  • New America's Anne-Marie Slaughter tries to get the last word on think tank debacle.
  • Caleb Watney and Alec Stapp win Emergent Ventures award to found a think tank related to progress studies.
  • CSIS becomes 1st Washington-based think tank to establish an Australia chair.
  • New satellite imagery from CSIS shows a new high-tech Chinese aircraft carrier could launch in early 2022.
  • DoD sponsored a RAND Corp. study published in September that put forward a framework for helping commanders reduce the risk of military extremism.
  • Bogle Financial Markets Research Center, a think tank created by John Bogle.
  • Cowles Commission for Research in Economics: "Arguably the most influential economic think tank in history in its heyday."
  • The Baltimore Museum of Art's Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies "will serve as a think tank for BMA staff and other curators and scholars, helping to jumpstart new exhibitions, writing and research."
  • Pew Research released a brand new typology report.
  • Richard McGregor of the Lowy Institute reads 52 books a year; tips on how to read more books.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Tweet of the Month: Think Tanks

This tweet is actually from last year and comes from Richard Morrison, a research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI):

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Think Tankers Doing Creative Open Source Research on China

Here is more from The Wire:

Ryan Fedasiuk  a research analyst at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), says that he goes to great lengths to make sure that the open sources he uses do not get burned. In a recent report, Harnessed Lightning, which reviewed 66,000 government tenders to understand the Chinese military’s use of AI, Fedasiuk’s team built a web scraper that would only operate during Chinese business hours and only from Chinese IP addresses, to make it more difficult to identify.


The piece also talks about Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation who has uncovered information about human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China.  Here is a clip on him:

Zenz became uniquely high profile starting in 2018. Despite living 6,000 miles away and only visiting Xinjiang once — as a tourist 15 years ago — Zenz’s research is fundamental to claims that the Chinese government’s actions there amount to a form of genocide, and his findings have been cited by the U.S. government.

Mining data from Chinese sites, he has documented the repression and securitization of the region, the extent of detentions in re-education camps, Uyghur forced labor programs, and most recently, troubling birth control policies. With fluent Chinese and a personality he describes as “dogged,” Zenz has also authenticated large leaks of official documents, including the Karakax List, and analyzed Xi Jinping’s speeches in the recently published Xinjiang Papers for clues about the central government’s policies.

There are numerous other examples of think tanks using open source resources for high-profile projects, including the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL) which publishes open source research analyzing elections around the world.

Hoover Institution think tanker Amy Zegart penned a new piece entitled "Meet the Nuclear Sleuths Shaking Up US Spycraft."

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Fun Think Tank Facts from "Global Political Cities"

Johns Hopkins University Professor Kent Calder has a new book called Global Political Cities which has a number of fun facts on think tanks. 

Here is an excerpt on one of the relatively smaller Washington think tanks:

Even the relatively modest Center for Global Development (CGD), with a staff of fewer than 100 and a 2018 budget of less than $20 million, has exerted broad influence on the international policy agenda and figures in the international rankings.  Five concrete recent cases in which the center has exercised concrete influence over global policy agendas outside Washington are illustrative.

  1. The Commitment to Development Index: Developed by CGD Europe and disseminated through Washington, this index has become a development performance metric for such countries as Finland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. 
  2. The Center for Global Development's universal health coverage initiative: The center's recent publication, What's In, What's Out: Designing Benefits for Universal Health Coverage, is now a resource for policymakers designing universal health coverage initiatives in India, Kenya, and South Africa. 
  3. Development impact bonds: Designed in a 2013 CGD report, this concept was implemented in 2014 in Rajasthan, India. 
  4. Pre-sponsoring forthcoming vaccines: Endorsed by the G7 finance ministers in 2009, this appraoch evolved into a $1.5 billion pilot program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and implememented in five nations. 
  5. Women in UN peacekeeping: CGD's campaign in this area led Canada to announce a C$15 million fund to support the development of female peacekeepers.

Here in an excerpt on the difference between think tanks in Washington and Beijing:

Perhaps the most striking Beijing-Washington difference is the character and role of think tanks.  Washington's think tanks are large, affluent, interactive with one another, often competitive, and increasingly transnational in their scope of operations.  They have converted the capital into a global political arena.  Beijing's think tanks, by contrast, are much smaller, more heavily regulated, and stove-piped, with limited horizontal communications with one another.  Rather than market conforming or transnational, they are developmentalist and parochial in character, although there are exceptions.  The most important differences in the agenda-setting capabilities of Washington and Beijing in international affairs lie in the think-tank structure and function.  American's capital city clearly gathers and processes strategic information more efficiently and transparently, China's rapidly rising national economic influence notwithstanding.

CICIR, CASS, and CIIS constitute Beijing's "big three" think tanks, the book goes on to note.

The book, published by the Brookings Institution Press, has a number of other think tank facts.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Think Tank Quickies (#433)

  • Aspen Institute organizes global coalition pledging to commit to zero-emission ocean shipping by 2040.
  • Kevin Rudd recently said that a Cold War between China and the US was "probable and not just possible."
  • New book "Only the Rich Can Play" documents rise of Economic Innovation Group and how it got Opportunity Zones legislation passed.
  • Council on Strategic Risks: Climate change could increase the potential for conflict between India and China.
  • Chinese state-owned think tank flags national security risks of metaverse, citing potential political and social problems.
  • Want to start a national security think tank?
  • Handbook on think tanks in public policy.
  • Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber: Why college rankings are a problem.
  • Interview with Yuang Peng, head of CICIR, suggests he is cautiously encouraged with Biden so far.
  • Institute of Creative Technologies: A Hollywood think tank that explores the potential uses of machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and video game engines.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Canadian Think Tank Chief: US Could Collapse

Here is more from CNN:

Political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon -- the executive director of the Cascade Institute, which focuses on ways to address threats to society -- penned a powerful op-ed in Canada's "Globe and Mail" warning that "by 2025, American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence."  He adds that "by 2030, if not sooner, the country could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship."


The Cascade Institute, which studies severe global stresses on the Earth such as environmental, economic, political, and technological, was founded in Jan. 2020 and is located at Royal Roads University in British Columbia. 

It is different from the similarly-named Cascade Policy Institute, a think tank based in Oregon that was founded in 1991.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Dr. James McGann (aka "Mr. Think Tank") Dies

Dr. James McGann, Director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) at the University of Pennsylvania, died on Nov. 29.

Dr. McGann, also known as "Mr. Think Tank," is best known for creating the annual think tank rankings ("Global Go To Think Tank Index") that were closely followed across the globe but also came under increasing scrutiny for biased methodology and myriad errors.

While far from perfect, Dr. McGann's think tank rankings were the most comprehensive global think tank rankings available.

It is unclear what replacement for the rankings, if any, will emerge.

Besides the rankings, McGann authored several books on think tanks, including The Fifth Estate, Global Think Tanks, and Think Tanks: The New Knowledge and Policy Brokers in Asia.

Here is an obituary from the Philadelphia Inquirer published on Dec. 2

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Force Think Tanks to Disclose Foreign Funding

Here is more from Politico:

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) introduced new legislation that would place more stringent requirements on witnesses testifying at congressional hearings to disclose foreign funding. “Congress works best when all the cards are face up on the table,” Banks, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, said in a statement of the proposed revisions to the so-called Truth in Testimony rule.

Banks cited a report last year from the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative that found at least $174 million in foreign funding flowed to D.C. think tanks between 2014-2018. House Democrats put in place stricter disclosure requirements for witnesses at the beginning of the current Congress, but Banks pointed to an article in The New Republic that outlined how witnesses were able to skirt the rule by appearing in their personal capacity rather than on behalf of the think tank that employs them.

Banks’ resolution aims to close that loophole, requiring witnesses to disclose “all foreign government, foreign political party, and foreign state-owned entity payments, grants, or in-kind contributions, to any nonprofit entity at which the witness is employed or working as a contractor for over $5,000 a year, regardless of whether or not the witness is testifying on their own behalf."

It would also expand the requirements to apply to fellows at think tanks and require disclosures from agents and subsidiaries of foreign governments, foreign political parties and other state-owned entities, as well as paid consultants or advisers representing individuals from countries deemed by Trump to be “foreign adversaries” (China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba).


A summary of the bill can be found here

Here are some thoughts on the move from Josh Rogin of the Washington Post.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#432)

  • What buying the support of top think tanks gets you. 
  • Senate Republicans want Biden nominee to commit to briefing by think tankers.
  • A Chinese think tank has a serious beef with US Air Force.
  • Mitch McConnell joined Justice Clarence Thomas at Heritage Foundation to mark the 30th anniversary of the justice's confirmation to the high court on Oct. 15, 1991.
  • 10th China-Africa think tanks forum begins.
  • Is Trump running in 2024? The Claremont Institute hopes so.
  • Carnegie report on China's influence.
  • New ideas struggling to emerge from the sea of science. 
  • The science that isn't seen because it's not in English.
  • PLA analysts presented a research brief that analyzes 450+ policy reports and documents published in the past 4 years by the US government and broader policy community.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

New Virginia Governor Uses Heritage Staff for Transition

Here is more from Politico:

Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin has tapped two staffers at the conservative Heritage Foundation for prominent transition roles as his nascent administration takes shape. Heritage President Kay Cole James, a George W. Bush-era Office of Personnel Management director who’s served in Virginia administrations as well, will serve as co-chair of Youngkin’s gubernatorial transition team. And Lindsey Burke, director of the Center for Education Policy at the foundation, will help outline Youngkin’s education agenda “to ensure K-12 schools are accountable to families,” Heritage said in a press release — a nod that comes after education, and attacks on critical race theory, took an outsize role in the election, championed in part by Heritage and others on the right.


The Heritage Foundation recently announced that Kay Cole James will be replaced as president by Kevin Roberts later in 2021.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Powerful Think Tank-Like Entity Has Deep Ties to Heritage Foundation

Here are a couple excerpts from a new Washington Post piece on the closed-door Council for National Policy (CNP):

I learned about another dimension of CNP through a video featuring Jim DeMint, a former senator and tea party favorite. It was 2018, and he was telling CNP members about an initiative called the Conservative Action Project, which had been launched years earlier by CNP leaders.

CAP claims to include more than 100 groups “representing all major elements of the conservative movement — economic, social, and national security.” Its website publishes policy memos signed by the leaders of its member groups. It turns out that, according to documents, CAP shares an address with CNP, and many CAP activists are members of both groups. CAP also works hand-in-hand with yet another group that DeMint had started not long before called the Conservative Partnership Institute.


DeMint served as Heritage Foundation president from 2013-2017. 

Those that have spoken at CNP events include Kay Coles James, another former Heritage president.  Heritage co-founder Ed Feulner has also been involved with CNP.

Friday, November 12, 2021

New Gilded Age: Atlantic Council Throws Washington's "Oscars"

 Here is how Politico described Atlantic Council's annual awards party:

WASHINGTON’S ‘OSCARS’ TONIGHT: That’s how the Atlantic Council brands its black-tie Distinguished Leadership Awards — and to celebrate the organization’s 60th birthday, they’re going all out. 2021 Honorees are dominated by European officials and scientists, but the name that will be on everyone’s lips: recording artist Dua Lipa. Other honorees are European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen; Özlem Türeci and Uğur Şahin, the developers of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine; and Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO.


Here is more on this year's awards ceremony.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Fmr. Brookings Scholar Arrested for Lying to FBI

Here is more from the New York Times:

An analyst who was a key contributor to Democratic-funded opposition research into possible links between Donald J. Trump and Russia was arrested on Thursday and charged with lying to the F.B.I. about his sources.

The analyst, Igor Danchenko, was a primary researcher for claims that went into the so-called Steele dossier, a compendium of rumors and unproven assertions suggesting that Mr. Trump and his 2016 campaign were compromised by and conspiring with Russian intelligence officials to help him defeat Hillary Clinton.

In February, [special counsel John] Durham used a subpoena to obtain old personnel files and other documents related to Mr. Danchenko from the Brookings Institution, where Mr. Danchenko had worked from 2005 until 2010.

The inspector general report also said that a decade earlier, when Mr. Danchenko — who was born in Russia but lives in the United States — worked for the Brookings Institution, a prominent Washington think-tank, he had been the subject of a counterintelligence investigation into whether he was a Russian agent.


Here is a previous NYT piece about the Brookings subpoena, which notes that during his time at the think tank, Danchenko put forward analysis embarrassing to Russian President Vladimir Putin.  More specifically, he had evidence that Mr. Putin plagiarized parts of his dissertation.  Danchenko and Brookings colleague Cliff Gaddy revealed their findings at a 2006 Brookings event.

In 2009, Danchenko apparently made a comment to two Brookings colleagues that had sounded like a solicitation to pay for unauthorized disclosures of classified information, according to NYT.  

Danchenko also worked closely with Brookings scholar Fiona Hill, who served in the Trump Administration as deputy assistant to the president and senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council (NSC).

Here is Danchenko page on the Brookings website.  His LinkedIn page says he started off as a senior research assistant at the think tank and later became a senior research analyst.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Putin Refuses to be Pinned Down by US Think Tanker

Here is more from Bloomberg:

Russian leader Vladimir Putin refused to be pinned down by a former Donald Trump aide when asked during his annual meeting with analysts to comment on reports that the ex-president may run again in 2024.

Instead, Putin flipped the script on Christian Whiton, a Center for the National Interest senior fellow who advised Trump on strategic communications, and prodded him to say who he would vote for in a contest between Trump and a Democrats.


Here is a biography of Mr. Whiton, who ultimately said that he would vote for Mr. Trump.  Putin reportedly responded with a smile and said "I understand you."

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

CSIS Scholar Heather Conley Becomes President of German Marshall Fund

Ms. Heather Conley, Senior Vice President for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic, and Director of the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), will become the next president of the German Marshall Fund (GMF).

Conely will become GMF's sixth president in January 2022, replacing Dr. Karen Donfried, who joined the Biden Administration as Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia after leading the Washington, DC-headquartered think tank for seven years.

GMF will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022.  Founded in 1972 through a gift from Germany as a tribute to the Marshall Plan, GMF also has offices in Berlin, Brussels, Ankara, Belgrade, Bucharest, Paris, and Warsaw.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#431)

  • Brookings and Brookings Doha Center end their affiliation. 
  • Should Nielsen do ratings for think tank discussions?
  • Microsoft: Russia the most prevalent hacker of US think tanks in the past year.
  • There are very few significant think tanks in Canada that are not recipients of Chinese funds.
  • James McGann: How do think tanks remain relevant in today's world? 
  • Prof. Lawrence Freedman: "I always felt that universities are sometimes better than think tanks because of their students, their engagement, their fresh and changing ideas."
  • Citing donor pressure, Yale professor resigns.
  • National Science Foundation (NSF) swamped by investigations of foreign influence on grantees.
  • "Western think tanks regularly convene events on Gulf issues. Gulf people are massively underrepresented at these events primarily due to their indifference to such gatherings."
  • Who has the most coherent and comprehensive model for the bizarre state of our current world?

Friday, October 29, 2021

CNAS War Game: War Could Break Out Over Taiwan

Here is more from CNN:

If China were to seize one of Taiwan's outlying islands, the US would have few good options to respond without risking a major escalation and a war between the superpowers, according to the conclusions from a recent war game conducted by foreign policy and defense experts.

The scenario, outlined in a report from the Center for a New American Security, began with China using military force to take control of Dongsha, a tiny atoll in the South China Sea between Taiwan and Hong Kong, where approximately 500 Taiwanese troops are stationed.

 This type of limited aggression could be a precursor to the seizure of other islands near Taiwan or an outright invasion of the democratically governed island as Beijing seeks to test and prod Washington's resolve to defend Taiwan.


CNAS has also designed non-China-related war games.

Here is further information on think tank war games.  War games at RAND Corp. continue to show the US losing to China. 

Thursday, October 28, 2021

RAND Corp. President to Retire in 2022

Here is more from the RAND Corporation:

Michael D. Rich, chief executive and president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation for the past decade, announced he will retire in 2022 following a search for his successor.

Rich, 68, became RAND's fifth president in 2011. He began his RAND career as a summer intern in 1975 and went on to hold a number of senior leadership positions.

Since Rich became president RAND has seen annual revenues grow from $250 million to more than $350 million, raised more than $190 million in philanthropic gifts as part of the Tomorrow Demands Today campaign launched last year, and tackled such policy challenges as health care costs, international security, the COVID-19 pandemic, and gun policy in America. He has personally co-led research efforts to address the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life, known as Truth Decay.


Mr. Rich will remain in place until a successor is found.  RAND's Board of Trustees Chairman Michael Leiter will lead the search committee.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Russia Launches New Campaign Targeting Think Tanks

Here is more from the New York Times:

Russia’s premier intelligence agency has launched another campaign to pierce thousands of U.S. government, corporate and think-tank computer networks, Microsoft officials and cybersecurity experts warned on Sunday, only months after President Biden imposed sanctions on Moscow in response to a series of sophisticated spy operations it had conducted around the world.

The new effort is “very large, and it is ongoing,” Tom Burt, one of Microsoft’s top security officers, said in an interview. Government officials confirmed that the operation, apparently aimed at acquiring data stored in the cloud, seemed to come out of the S.V.R., the Russian intelligence agency that was the first to enter the Democratic National Committee’s networks during the 2016 election.


Microsoft has previously documented Russia-origin attacks against think tanks.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#430)

  • Annual salary of CFR President Richard Haass: $1.78 million (more than 4x what US president makes). 
  • UAE often covertly funds think tanks; gave "secret" $20 million to Middle East Institute (MEI).
  • Former USTR under Trump Robert Lighthizer is joining America First Policy Institute (AFPI) to lead its Center for American Trade; former EPA chief Andrew Wheeler to chair the think tank's environmental center.
  • Wilson Center Polar Institute director Michael Sfraga tapped by White House to be commissioner for US Arctic Research Commission.
  • Why did a peer-reviewed journal publish hundreds of nonsense papers?
  • CIGI President Rohinton Medhora stepping down May 2022.
  • Daniel Correa named CEO of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).
  • Back to caring about the future, via CSIS's Congressional Foresight Initiative.
  • Think tanks should start prioritizing lived experience over academic credentials.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Heritage Foundation Names Kevin Roberts as Next President

Here is more from the Heritage Foundation:

The Heritage Foundation today announced Dr. Kevin Roberts will become the seventh president in the think tank’s 48-year history. Roberts will succeed President Kay C. James later this year when he takes the helm of America’s premier conservative think tank.

Roberts currently serves as the chief executive officer of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), an Austin-based nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute and the largest state think tank in the nation. Under Roberts’ leadership, TPPF more than doubled in size. He also expanded the Texas think tank’s influence nationwide, opening an office in Washington, D.C., so that TPPF research might better inform federal policy debates.

James, who has served as Heritage president since 2018, will continue to serve on the Board of Trustees, a role she’s held since 2005. She says she looks forward to remaining active as a distinguished visiting fellow at Heritage and in the conservative movement going forward.


RealClearPolitics writer Philip Wegmann notes that Roberts, who was chosen from a list of more than 100 names, is a "DC outsider."  

Wegmann says that former White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was interested in the top post at Heritage but didn't make the final cut.  Former Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia and former Vice President Mike Pence were also considered for the position.

The Hill notes that while the think tank's influence waned during the Trump era, it is still a well-known conservative organization that will likely play a significant role in the 2022 midterm elections and 2024 presidential election.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#429)

  • Heidi Shierholz named as new president of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
  • Open Society Foundation is undergoing restructuring, causing a major shift in partnerships with think tanks. 
  • Cato Institute demands probe records in suit against FBI, DOJ.
  • Georgetown technology security policy think tank CSET received a $42 million grant to self-fund through 2025.  Established in 2019, the center's total funding is now over $100 million.
  • Simeon Djankov, ex-World Bank official under scrutiny on China, now works at PIIE.
  • New report: China bought influence at Indian think tanks.
  • Mattathias Schwartz: "I spent 5 years inside DC's foreign policy blob and here's why the experts keep getting the US into unwinnable wars like Afghanistan."
  • Sen. Todd Young was a low-level assistant at the Heritage Foundation on Sept. 11, 2001.
  • Pacific Forum cancelled webinar on US-Australia relations after receiving backlash for having a "manpanel." 
  • Parody site Duffel Blog: "National security think tanks launch surprise assault on Kabul."

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Think Tankers Joining New Group Focused on Emerging Technology

Here is more from Politico:

ERIC SCHMIDT, the former Google CEO, is launching a new initiative called the Special Competitive Studies Project — inspired by the Rockefeller Special Studies Project of the late 1950s — to “make recommendations to strengthen America’s long‐term global competitiveness for a future where artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies reshape our national security, economy, and society,” according to a news release.

Joining Schmidt on the SCSP’s board are ROBERT WORK, former deputy secretary of Defense and National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence co-chair; Schadlow, former deputy national security adviser for strategy; MICHÈLE FLOURNOY, former undersecretary of Defense for policy; and MAC THORNBERRY, former House Armed Services Committee chair. YLLI BAJRAKTARI will be the SCSP’s chief executive officer.


Nadia Schadlow, former Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy, will also be joining the board.  Schadlow is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Robert Work is the Distinguished Senior Fellow for Defense and National Security and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).  He previously spent one year as CEO of the think tank.

Michele Flournoy co-founded CNAS, and Mac Thornberry recently joined RAND Corporation as an Adjunct Senior Fellow.

Here is more on SCSP in a piece from Air Force Magazine entitled "As National AI Panel Shuts Down, New Think Tank Emerges to Continue Its Work."

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Think Tankers Exploiting Loopholes in Congress's New Conflict of Interest Rules

Here is an excerpt from The New Republic (TNR):

I recently reached out to more than two dozen nongovernment witnesses who testified in the first eight months of 2021, contacted 14 House committee staffers, and analyzed all of the accessible witness disclosures online. I found that even the enhanced [disclosure] rules continue to have significant loopholes that undermine the push for greater transparency. It’s still all too common for think tank–affiliated witnesses to sidestep the enhanced disclosure rules by claiming they’re not representing their organizations but merely testifying on their own behalf, thereby bypassing the need to disclose any federal or foreign funding that might influence their testimony.

[New America CEO] Anne-Marie Slaughter is hardly alone in this regard. Three other witnesses affiliated with New America also claimed to represent themselves, not the think tank, in testimony before House committees this year. The same is true for many of their peers at other think tanks who have testified in 2021. This despite the fact that House Democrats, to better identify potential conflicts of interest, in January strengthened the rules about what nongovernment witnesses must disclose prior to their testimony, now requiring that they divulge their ties with all relevant organizations, including any foreign or federal funding those organizations received that is related to the subject matter of the hearing.


The article notes that the US House first adopted the Truth in Testimony rule in 1997 as part of a conservative led effort to identify witnesses dependent upon federal funding.  At that time, the rule only asked witnesses to disclose any grants or contracts they had with the federal government.  It was amended in 2015 to require witnesses to also disclose any foreign funding that they or their organization had received.  The Truth in Testimony rule was further tightened in Jan. 2021.

The US Senate currently does not have any rule requiring nongovernmental witnesses to disclose potential conflicts of interest before they testify.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Think Tanks Distance Themselves from Hungary Money

Here is more from the New York Times:

Last year, two prominent foreign policy think tanks in Washington severed ties with the Hungary Foundation, a group funded by the Hungarian government, amid concerns about its connections.

To finance some of the efforts in the US, [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orban’s government authorized the creation and funding of a nonprofit group in 2012 that would come to be known as the Hungary Foundation.

It has donated more than $5.2 million through the end of last year to think tanks, conservative groups, colleges and Hungarian-American organizations.  
[Hungarian Foundation] executive director Anna Smith Lacey appeared at exclusive gatherings with US officials overseeing Central Europe organized by recipients of foundation grants, including the Atlantic Council and the Center for European Policy Analysis, each of which had received more than $200,000 from the Hungary Foundation.


The article goes on to note that in 2020, Atlantic Council returned a $158,000 grant and ended its relationship with the Hungary Foundation.  CEPA also ended its relationship with the foundation amid concerns about its ties to Mr. Orban as well as a potential conflict between diplomat Kurt Volker's role as a board member of the foundation and a fellow at CEPA.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about Hungary sponsoring English-language think tanks to promote Orban.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#428)

  • The America First Policy Institute (AFPI) names former SBA Administrator Linda McMahon as chair of its new Center for the American Worker.
  • "Think Tank 2022 Rally of Hope," hosted by Universal Peace Federation (UPF), held on 9/11.
  • Ken Cuccinelli is now senior fellow for immigration and homeland security at the Center for Renewing America, the think tank run by former Trump OMB Director Russ Vought.
  • Carnegie launches Indian Ocean Initiative. 
  • James Steinberg named new dean of SAIS at Johns Hopkins University.
  • Third Way is out with a $750,000 campaign praising 11 House members for their work on clean energy job creation and combating climate change.
  • Patrick Costello named new CEO of American Security Project after 11 years at CFR.
  • Defense Priorities: "A think tank urging military restraint."
  • Rush Doshi: "Kurt Campbell has mentored enough Asia hands over the last 25 years to staff a half dozen think tanks."
  • Father Lazlow Ladany was a Hungarian-born Jesuit priest and one-man think tank who spent a lifetime poring through official [Chinese] Party sources.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Think Tank Chief Quits After Violently Attacking Wife

Here is more from Politico:

Jerry Taylor, the co-founder and president of the Niskanen Center, recently resigned from the Washington, D.C.-based think tank after being charged with violently attacking his wife, according to court records obtained by POLITICO.

Taylor, who previously had been a longtime top official of the Cato Institute, was arrested in early June on a misdemeanor charge of assault and battery of a family member in Arlington, Va.

 He denies the accusations, but says he pleaded guilty in exchange for the charges being dismissed as long as he successfully completes a domestic violence and substance abuse prevention program.


According to Politico, the board at Niskanen was made aware of the incident in early September and immediately put Taylor on administrative leave.  He resigned on September 6.  Taylor co-founded Niskanen in 2014.

Joseph Coon, a co-founder of Niskanen, is now the interim president of the think tank.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Food & Beverage Companies Funding Think Tanks

The Atlantic Council has the usual donor mix of large defense corporations, technology companies, and foreign governments that a typical major think tank would have.

But over the years it has had an eclectic mix of food and beverage donors, including Starbucks (which gave $100,000 - $250,000 in 2018), Total Wine & More (which gave $100,000 to $250,000), Cafe Milano ($50,000 - $100,000), Chobani ($25,000 - $50,000), Coca-Cola, and Nestle.

An Atlantic Council spokesperson tells Think Tank Watch that the Cafe Milano donation is related to Franco Nuschese, who is a board director of the Atlantic Council and provides in-kind support with the use of his restaurant for leadership dinners and other private events. 


The donation from Total Wine is related to the think tank's former International Advisory Board member David Trone, who stepped down from that position when he was elected to the US Congress.  


The contribution from Chobani, according to an Atlantic Council spokesman, was in relation to the Global Citizen Awards when Atlantic Council honored Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya for his commitment to philanthropy and helping refugees. 


A number of other food-related entities contribute to think tanks.  One example is the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which is a donor to the Brookings InstitutionPepsiCo, another Brookings donor, also gives to other think tanks like the Aspen Institute and the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE).


Pernod Ricard, a worldwide producer of wines and spirits, in a donor to the Wilson CenterMcDonald's Corp. is a donor to the Aspen Institute.  And Japan's Kikkoman Foods, a soy sauce producer, is a donor to PIIE.


Besides the Atlantic Council, Coca-Cola gives to other policy shops such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).  Other donors to CSIS include Kikkoman and Kellogg's.

To be sure, donations to think tank land from the food and beverage industry are nothing new.  Joseph Coors of the Coors Brewing Company was a founding member and primary funder of the Heritage Foundation in its early years.

And at least up until the COVID pandemic, food (notably the humble think tank cookie) was the fuel that kept think tankers motivated and helped attract think tank event attendees to the thousands of talks that took place every year.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Pandemic Changes DC Think Tank Landscape

The COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the think tank landscape in Washington, DC, altering the way think tanks operate and leaving many to question whether a physical think tank space is even needed.

Here is more from the Wall Street Journal:

The 61-square-mile U.S. capital relies heavily on the federal government as its biggest employer—and officials have signaled that remote work is here to stay. That effect is trickling down to the legion of businesses in the government’s orbit, with some federal contractors, lobbyists and think tanks offering similar flexibility.

Still unknown is how many of D.C’s workers, in the government and beyond, will be back full-time after the pandemic.

The glad-handing, Capitol Hill visits and long lunches of K Street have no virtual equivalent. Some policy shops—including the 450-employee Brookings Institution—have said they want their employees living in the Washington metropolitan area. That has prompted some workers to quit, one former employee said.

A Brookings spokeswoman said the institution’s collaborative environment greatly benefits from in-person interactions, and added that Brookings is exploring accommodating employees who want to live farther afield.

[Then there is think tanker Ben Freeman.]  One unknown is that his employer, the Center for International Policy, left its office space during the pandemic and decided to become “a think tank without walls” for the foreseeable future, Mr. Freeman said.


Here is a recent Think Tank Watch post on private salons replacing think tank events.

Think tankers and think event attendees are eagerly awaiting the opening of some think tanks so that they can begin sinking their teeth into those much-loved think tank cookies.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#427)

  • Former chair of the House Armed Services Committee Mac Thornberry has joined RAND Corporation as an adjunct senior fellow. 
  • Rebekah Koffler: US "experts" who created Afghanistan mess (including think tankers), should be fired for malpractice.
  • Heritage Action is launching an $860,000 digital ad campaign opposing Democrats' proposed inclusion of language from H.R. 3 in the reconciliation package as a pay-for. 
  • Human resources at RAND Corp. approved the relationship between two of RAND's employees that eventually led to marriage.
  • Is the UAE buying silence at US think tanks?
  • Israeli, Bahraini think tanks to cooperate on setting up network in Persian Gulf area.
  • Trumpies now doing think tanking.
  • Oregon think tank sues to block state legislative staff union.
  • New think tank for debt collection issues in California.
  • IBM Center for the Business of Government: "An independent business think tank that focuses on management issues in the US federal government."

Friday, September 24, 2021

Military Contractor CACI Funding Pro-War Think Tank

With the US withdraw of troops from Afghanistan, there have been numerous pieces written about how a number of think tanks over the years have taken donations from defense contractors while promoting the benefits of war in certain countries.

Here is the latest example, from Sarah Lazare of In These Times:

On August 12, the military contractor CACI International Inc. told its investors that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is hurting its profits. The same contractor is also funding a think tank that is concurrently arguing against the withdrawal. This case is worth examining both because it is routine, and because it highlights the venality of our expert”-military contractor feedback loop, in which private companies use think tanks to rally support for wars they’ll profit from.

CACI International is listed as a corporate sponsor” of the Institute for Study of War, which describes itself as a non-partisan, non-profit, public policy research organization.” Dr. Warren Phillips, lead director of CACI International, is on the board of the think tank. (Other funders include General Dynamics and Microsoft.)

In an August 20 paper, the think tank argued that Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey are weighing how to take advantage of the United States’ hurried withdrawal.”  Jack Keane, a retired four star general and board member of the Institute for Study of War, meanwhile, has been on a cable news blitz arguing against the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Kimberly Kagan, founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War, told Fox News on August 17 that the U.S. withdrawal could cause Afghanistan to become the second school of jihadism.”


Separately, Eli Clifton has outlined other think tanks that CACI has funded, including the Center for Security Policy (CSP).

Meanwhile, former think tanker Mattathias Schwartz wrote a piece for Business Insider entitled "I spent 5 Years Inside DC's Foreign Policy 'Blob.' Here's why the experts keep getting us into unwinnable wars in Afghanistan.

Here is a quote from that piece: "What I didn't do was actually go to Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead, I ate free buffet lunches, collected business cards, and mainlined off-the-record propaganda that both of America's long-running wars were worthy undertakings, steered by capable hands."

Here is another quote:  "Into one end of the Blob goes the money — gifts from corporations, wealthy individuals, and, in some cases, foreign governments. Out the other end comes white papers, books, op-ed articles, salaries, fellowships, and panel discussions."

Monday, September 20, 2021

Intelligence Contract Funneled to CSIS

Here is more from The Intercept:

In 2018, when the government awarded a massive $769 million contract to Alion Science and Technology, a defense contractor, the company promised that the money would go to “cutting edge” intelligence and technological solutions “that directly support the warfighter.”

The Alion contract supports work from the Remote Sensing Center, an intelligence hub that assists the military with ground, maritime, and airborne intelligence. Much of the work, records show, went to subcontractors such as Venntel, a firm that hoovers up location data from smartphones, and Leidos, a technology firm that services a variety of weapons systems and intelligence agencies.

But part of the money embedded in that contract also flowed to the nation’s foremost hawkish think tanks, which routinely advocate for higher Pentagon budgets and a greater projection of America’s military force.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, and the Pacific Forum are just two of the independent research institutes that were given parts of the $769 million to Alion Science as subcontractors. (The others — the Russia Research Network Limited, Center for Advanced China Research, and Center for European Policy Analysis — are less prominent.) The indirect funding, channeled through a contract meant for advancing the government’s warfighting ability, is unusual among the many Pentagon grants that flow to research institutes.


The Intercept quotes Jack Poulson, the founder of watchdog group Tech Inquiry, as saying that the commingling of projects appeared to be "blurring the lines between think tanks and intelligence contractors." 

The article also notes that the Hudson Institute received nearly $400,000 from a Pentagon contract to produce a report on aircraft defense.  It also says that the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has received more than $1 million in funding from the Pentagon.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Carnegie Names Tino Cuéllar as New President

Dr. Mariano-Florentino “Tino” Cuéllar, Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court, has been named as Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's 10th president in its 111-year history. 

He served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations.   Previously he was the Stanley Morrison Professor at Stanford Law School and Director of Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

He replaces William Burns, who stepped down earlier this year to become Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the Biden Administration.  Burns had been president of the think tank since 2014.